HERMISTON — With the wrestling postseason looming, the Hermiston Bulldogs are starting to get the itch. Tournament time offers the opportunity for redemption, a chance to reclaim the top spot in the state and rule over Class 5A once again.
“I can barely focus on school, let alone anything else,” Hermiston’s Tyler Berger said. “I mean all my time, I’m going up in the wrestling room, constantly visualizing myself in the state finals match and getting that championship as a team again.
There was one more obstacle on the schedule for the Bulldogs before wrestling’s regional and state tournaments later this month: the Pendleton Buckaroos on Wednesday. And that stop turned out to be more of a hurdle in the road than a brick wall.
The Bulldogs battered the Bucks 60-12 in a Columbia River Conference dual in Hermiston, winning 10 of the 12 contested matches and 12 overall with a pair of Pendleton forfeits. Five of Hermiston’s individual victories came by pin.
But the Bucks started the dual with the advantage. Dylan Holcomb put Pendleton ahead 6-0 with the quickest match of the evening when he pinned Brock McDonough in 54 seconds at 145 pounds. Brock wrestled in place of Berger at the weight, disrupting what could have been a state tournament preview match between Holcomb and Berger.
Holcomb finished third at 132 pounds in last year’s state bracket while Berger won the weight, his second state championship overall
Following Holcomb’s quick dismantling of his opponent, the Bucks’ success ran dry. Berger, now a junior, followed with a pin of Pyper McCallum at 152 to start a string of seven straight matches that bent the Bulldogs’ direction. By the time another Holcomb, this time Tristan, came around at 106 pounds, Hermiston held a commanding 33-6 lead. And even after he finished off Liam Tarvin with a pin in the second round, the Bucks were already done for.
Because of a forfeit coming up at 113 pounds, Hermiston’s victory in the heavyweight match gave the Dawgs enough cushion to mathematically clinch the dual-meet victory with six classes to go.
In that match, Hermiston’s Jake Batease faced off with Pendleton’s PJ Schubert in one of the marquee meetings of the night. A clash of the Nos. 2 and 3 ranked 5A wrestlers in the state according to the Oregon Wrestling Forum suggested that fans in The Dawg House would be treated to a close match.
But even before third-ranked Batease pulled off the slight upset with a second-round pin, the Hermiston big man had imposed his will on the mat. The 295-pounder led 8-1 at the time of the fall and had scored a pair of big takedowns to go with a three-point near fall.
Despite the rankings, the matchup favored Batease, the Bulldog said.
“I’d watched him and the way he wrestlers. He likes to stay high and lean and try and work his throws,” Batease explained. “My goal was to stay out of his tie-up and work for snatches and quick singles. Then as soon as I got double-under, I’m pretty good at trips and it’s taken me a long ways. As soon as I got him tripped and on his back, I knew I got him.”
While the expected close match was far from even, several of Pendleton’s losses were by just a few points. At 195 pounds, Kendall Shurts beat Joe Bliss in a 7-5 decision and Caleb Batease edged Jack Ezell, 5-4, a match later. Then in the match of the night, Hermiston’s Jesee Rodelo was able to hold off Alex Ferder for an overtime win, 3-2.
None of Hermiston’s victories — at least those that didn’t come by pin or forfeit — were by more than three points.
In the third match of the dual at 160 pounds, Rodelo and Ferder could each only score one escape point over the three two-minute rounds and went to overtime knotted at 1-1. That one-minute period, too, expired without a score as neither combatant could break the other’s hold.
“If you can overpower him, you sometimes have the thing but if you can over overpower for only a certain amount of time, you’re not going to do very good,” Rodelo said. “And especially like (Ferder), he was just fast. Just quick, quick, quick the whole time so it was hard for me to actually do stuff to him.”
But fatigue started to set in. By the second overtime, a pair of 30-second trade-offs with each wrestler once in the down position, conditioning came into play. Ferder clutched Rodelo’s right leg to his chest from a standing position but when he went in for the kill, the Bulldog took the upper hand and brought Ferder to the mat for two points.
Despite finally tallying a point with an escape in the second 30-second section, Ferder could not make up the difference.
“I was trying to get my opportunity so I could get my Half-(Nelson) in so I could take him down, but it didn’t show up,” Ferder said.
“I was tired at the end but you have to go through without acting like you’re tired.”
Pendleton coach Fred Phillips was disappointed that his boys lost each of those close matches. He said his team had some matchups that should have gone the Bucks’ way, but they couldn’t finish.
“Last weekend I thought we wrestled the best we have all year,” Phillips said, referencing Pendleton’s third-place finish at the Oregon City Tournament from Saturday. “Then we came here tonight and that’s as poor as we’ve wrestled all year. So I mean, in five days we went from what I thought was us peaking at the right time to what you saw tonight.”
Hermiston and Pendleton will join the two other CRC teams and seven Portland Interscholastic League schools in Portland at Marshall High on Feb. 15 and 16 for their regional competition.
The following week will be the state action back in Portland, where Hermiston will try to reclaim its team state title after a third-place finish last season that broke a string of five straight championships.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.