The hardwood floors of Warberg Court at Pendleton High were covered with foam mats Thursday as competitors from 14 schools descended on the gymnasium.
“Grab him and squeeze him and put him on his back!” Pendleton wrestling coach Fred Phillips exclaimed during a consolation round of grappling.
The Pendleton Buckaroos did just that, and better than any program save one at the Free-Berry Classic tournament where the Bucks took second place behind Crook County. Pendleton had three boys win weight-class championships, short of just Crook County’s four.
“I thought we wrestled a lot better this weekend than we did going into Christmas at the Adrian Irwin Tournament,” Phillips said. “A couple weeks ago ... some of our not as experienced guys were thinking too much about a big tournament. We talked to them and told them just to go out and wrestle and they did that pretty well.”
Buckaroos with victories were Trevor Hancock at 132 pounds, Dylan Holcomb at 138 pounds and Sean Van Pelt, who won the 285-pound division.
Van Pelt’s victory was his first tournament championship as a Buckaroo, and he attributed the success to a new maneuver he’s worked on recently. He employed a “foot stomp” to destabilize the lower leg of his opponent, Jason Williams of Crook County, and took the heavyweight down from there for a pin.
Holcomb’s victory came over Brandon Miller of Willamina. The junior scored his only two points of the match on a takedown in the first round, winning by the final score of 2-0.
“I kind of figured I had it in the bag with like 10 seconds left,” Holcomb said. “He was just leg riding me the whole time and tried to tip me over on my shoulder. But I think I’m a little too strong for that.”
Pendleton’s big winner on the day was Trevor Hancock, who won the 132-pound class over Miguel Vasquez. A three-time state tournament placer, Hancock had to come from behind in the third round. Trailing 5-4 with about 40 seconds left, he won a point on a stalling call to tie it up and broke a Vasquez hold seconds later for another tick on the scoreboard. The 6-5 decision capped off a day that would win Hancock the most outstanding wrestler of the tournament award — his second such nod in two meets for Pendleton.
“I was just kind of waiting for him because I knew I had time to get that stall call and tie up the match,” Hancock said. “I just used clock management to manipulate the match to my advantage.”
Other placers for the Bucks were Colten Skeen (113 pounds) and Colt Glenn (145 pounds) who each took second, and Alex Ortiz (170 pounds) who finished third.