BOARDMAN — For three seniors, a chance to wrestler in their final state championship was at stake — and each had different things on the line at Saturday’s Class 3A Special District 3 district tournament.
For Echo’s Logan Butler, his final postseason appearance as a high school athlete came down to a tough third place match. For Riverside’s Andrew Barker, he was wrestling in his own gym for his third consecutive trip to state. For Irrigon’s Alex Miranda-Walls, his first ever trip to state was on the horizon to cap off an impressive season.
Butler, at 182 pounds, was knocked into the consolation bracket after getting pinned by a Nyssa Bulldog in just 33 seconds. With a bye in the next round, Butler had time to recoup and went on to defeat senior Chris Ramirez of Nyssa by 7-0 decision. He was then pitted against Irrigon’s Reece Sheller, with the winner of the third place bout advancing to state.
The two scoped each other out for the first 30 seconds of the match, and then Butler made his first move — a lunge at the feet of Sheller. No points came from those efforts, but he would later get two points for a take down and then build his lead to 4-1 after the first round.
Through the second, Butler had a 9-2 advantage and he eventually ended things in 5:06 for the win and the third place finish.
“I saw that he was getting tired and I figured mentally I was ahead of him and I knew I’d be alright,” Butler said. “It’s my senior year and I have a lot to lose because after this I’m not doing any spring sports ... so I had to leave it all on the mat.”
In front of the home crowd, Barker didn’t feel any pressure when he was down in the championship match against Nyssa sophomore Raul Ruiz.
Tied at 2-2 after the first round, Ruiz took a narrow 5-4 lead, but as the four-year veteran knows, anything can happen on the mat. So, Barker fought through the pain of a sprained ankle and tied the score again at six points apiece. After a two-point reversal for Barker and then a one-point escape credited to Ruiz, Barker finally took the lead for good with a two-point take down to win his first-ever district title by a 10-7 decision.
“I’ve wrestled for so long that it’s not really stressful anymore when I’m losing or winning, but I just wrestled my match and fought through the pain,” he said.
And of the win, Barker added: “It just all around makes me feel pretty good that my senior year I won a district title in front of the home crowd.”
Five other wrestlers will join Barker at state, starting with sophomore Fernando Ortega, who won the 106-pound district title by fall in 3:04 over Nyssa freshman Efrain Caldera. Joining them will be Abraham Silva (2nd place, 113), Christian Reyes (3rd, 132), Ethan Snyder (3rd, 138) and Ivan Salgado (2nd, 182).
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t know if we could get more than five (wrestlers to state), so getting six we overachieved,” head coach Richard Rockwell said.
Irrigon brought 12 wrestlers to the district tournament, and all 12 placed in the top six of their respective weight class.
For Miranda-Walls, his first place finish couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I’m just really happy that I won, it’s been three years, it’s been tough but I’m glad it’s all starting to pay off,” he said after defeating sophomore Adam Simpson of Nyssa by a 5-4 decision.
Against a tough Nyssa opponent, Miranda-Walls didn’t fell much pressure.
“As soon as I won my semi’s match I was like, ‘This is it, I’m going to state for the first time,’” he said. “So, when I went into the (final) match all of the pressure didn’t feel like it was on me so I just let loose and I knew (Simpson) was a tough kid, but I just went out there and did what I thought I could do and it put me at the top.”
The 170-pound final match came down to the final seconds. After Miranda-Walls, who is 30-6 on the season, lead 3-1 going into the third and final round, Simpson began to chip away at his deficit. With 20 seconds left in the match, each wrestler had three points to their name but it was Miranda-Walls who would earn the final points and the district title.
The full day of wrestling gave spectators plenty of entertaining matches, and the local wrestlers fared well against a tough field.
Butler joins four other Cougars who will be making the trip to Portland on Feb. 16. Fellow senior Kyle Ranger, who made it to state in 2016 but was knocked out in the second round, will have one last chance to take the podium.
Ranger made it through the first round by pinning Vale’s Chris Mohammed in 2:41, but then moved to the consolation bracket after facing Irrigon’s Silvestre Vasquez. Vasquez won by fall in 4:58 and would go on to win first place by defeating fellow Knight Kyler Shelton by a 11-2 major decision.
Ranger’s fate would again come down to a bout against Mohammed, as the two met again in the third place match. He improved after their first showing and pinned Mohammed in 1:34.
The Cougars had three wrestlers make it to the finals, all guaranteed a spot at the state tournament. Senior Hayden Hilliard (132) and junior Mychael Pointer (145) finished in second place, and in one of the final matches of the day, senior Kenneth Bevan (195) earned Echo’s only first place finish.
Bevan, a Hermiston transfer who is 41-6 on the season, defeated Irrigon’s Brady Harrington by a 15-6 major decision.
“We did well, we wrestled well,” head coach Monty Toombs said. “We were focused, we had a plan and stuck to it. It was a good weekend for us. Out of our four years, this is the first season we’ve had kids in the finals and the most we’ve ever taken to state is two and now we’re taking five. So, it’s been a good season.”
Seven Knights are going to state, including Miranda-Walls. Juniors Silvestre Vasquez and Kyler Shelton were guaranteed the trip when they both made it into the 126-pound finals. Vasquez would go on to defeat his fellow Knight, and win the district title by an 11-2 major decision.
Shelton, along with Harrington — the Irrigon junior that was defeated by Bevan — and junior Kaleb Kendrick (285) each finished in second place.
“I’m very proud of my kids and always have been from Day 1,” head coach Jason Dunten said. “As (coaches) we’ve always had big goals and our goals sometimes don’t align with the kids goals but this year they did. Our goal was to take seven or more and this year it happened.”
Nyssa, the reigning district champions for the past three years, continued its reign by handily taking home the team district title with 270 points.
Burns followed in second place with 206.5, and Irrigon rounded out the top three with 160.5 points.
Riverside (148), Vale (129.5) and Echo (109) finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.