In the wake of the thrilling Intermountain Conference dual meet between Pendleton and Hermiston on Wednesday, I can say two things definitively about the state of wrestling in Umatilla County:

1) By beating a hard-charging Hermiston team despite being down two of its top wrestlers in Drew Guthmiller and Seth Cox, the Buckaroos are rightful county champs;

2) Umatilla County boasts two great wrestling teams, and it might not be long before the Bulldogs are back on top.

"We're excited about the youth of our program," Hermiston coach Curt Berger said. "We've got some guys who are pretty good workers, and form a cohesive group. They like each other, and they like to get after it."

Though Hermiston fell to Pendleton 31-29 on Wednesday, the unranked Bulldogs did enough damage to put some serious fear into the No. 2-ranked Bucks.

"(Hermiston) did a great job (Wednesday)," Pendleton coach Fred Phillips said. "They're getting better fast. They're going to be a force to be reckoned with in the district tournament and, yeah, I was scared."

Though his Bucks won the county clash, the Bulldogs prevailed in the marquee match of the night, when Brent Parks earned a 6-4 decision at 135 by dropping Keith Carter for a takedown with 16 seconds left in overtime.

Carter, ranked No. 1 in the state at 130, became the second elite wrestler to fall victim to Parks. In a Dec. 22 IMC dual meet against Crook County, Parks pinned Ben Neasham, the defending state champion at 125.

But the fact that Carter transferred from Hermiston in the past school year only fueled the fire.

"That was an exciting win for the crowd," Berger said. "There's a little animosity between the towns, but we just came in here to see a good wrestling meet, and I think we gave them that."

Indeed, the Bulldogs took their rivals to the final match of the evening, in which Pendleton's Landry Price held on against Marty Britt at 145 for a 6-4 victory.

But Britt had Price in a cradle as time expired, and might have sent the match into overtime - or earned a pin - if spotted an extra 15 seconds.

So while the Bucks might have left Hermiston feeling like they escaped, the Bulldogs certainly think they could have stolen one.

"It could have been a lot closer. There were a lot of ways we could have won," Parks said.

Though much attention has been paid to Pendleton, which boasts a 4-0 record in IMC duals and a 16-1 mark overall, Wednesday's match proved that Hermiston will be a major factor when the district tournament comes around in February.

"They don't have us ranked in the Top 10 ... but we're a lot better team than people think," Berger said. "We're not worried about it; we're just hoping to get better."

Hermiston faces another IMC challenge when it travels to Redmond on Friday.

"I think this (meet) lets everyone know that Hermiston's here to wrestle, and we know what we're doing," Berger said. "That was a very good dual for us."

The Panthers should consider themselves warned.

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Sports writer Tyler Roush can be reached at 800-522-0255 (ext. 1-236) or by e-mail at troush@eastoregonian.com.

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