By David Bashore
Herald sports editor
Hermiston In front of their home fans for just the third time this season, Hermiston put on a show for the Bulldog faithful by running away with the Intermountain Conference championship for the second straight year.
The Bulldogs, looking to go wire-to-wire as the top wrestling team in the 5A classification, qualified 13 wrestlers for this weekend's state championship en route to a 114-point win over their nearest rival, Crook County.
That point haul, built on the strength of nine individual champions believed to be an IMC meet record, according to Hermiston head coach Curt Berger easily dwarfed the 349 points registered by Hermiston's 2001 state championship team, a squad that did not win the conference championship.
Defending state champions Troy Kessell and Brent Parks both top seeds in their weight classes were the headliners among those nine champs and 13 state entrants, and each earned their crown in perhaps unexpected circumstances.
Faced with the prospects of wrestling his younger brother, sophomore and second-seed Ethan Parks, in the finals of the 140-pound bracket, Brent Parks took the title when the younger sibling conceded the match to him, eliminating a possible fun show for the home crowd but also more sensibly negating a possible chance for injury ahead of the state meet.
Both brothers, as well as Berger, explained that the forfeiture was something that was understood between everyone involved.
"That's just something where the older brother, a senior and a district and state champion, has earned the right to be a district champion," Berger said. "Hopefully they can meet up in the finals at state."
The tournament win gives Brent Parks a career record of 156-22 heading into the state meet, and he needs just two wins in Salem to eclipse Kyle Larson's school record for wins (157-7).
Kessell who owns the school record for pins in a season with 33, set last season put his penchant for the fall on display in his 189-pound match, taking the first minute of his championship match with Mountain View's Ben Atchison to set up his opponent before pulling off a lightning-quick toss and pinning Atchison in 1:06.
Aside from the two defending state title winners, it was a story of last year's near misses that told the tale for Hermiston.
Five of the 13 qualified Bulldog wrestlers finished fourth or fifth in districts last year, narrowly missing out on the chance to participate at the state meet.
A.J. Almaguer endured the pain of losing to teammate Kyle Saucillo in last year's district meet, in a match where only the winner would advance to state.
This year the junior 130-pounder left nothing to chance, reaching the finals before upsetting top-seeded Spud Simer of The Dalles-Wahtonka to win the title by a comfortable 10-4 score.
"I knew (Simer) was dangerous, and I knew I had to stay in good position," Almaguer said. "I knew if I could attack, I could come out on top."
Berger singled out the junior as having perhaps the most outstanding tournament performance of his wrestling career.
"You want to talk about a kid who had the tournament of his life, there's A.J. Almaguer," Berger said. "That's the best he's wrestled all season long."
Sophomore Ben Jorgenson continued to ride the wave of momentum stemming from his dominant win over Pendleton's Casey Davis in his previous home appearance and became the first Bulldog to punch his state ticket by dominating Brandon Bradley of Pendleton, and following that up with a convincing win over Rylee Omlid of Crook County in the finals.
Hermiston had eight of its nine top seeds qualify for state, the lone exception being senior Marty Britt, who aggravated a ribcage injury in a semifinal loss to Pendleton's Sam Stewart and subsequently defaulted his remaining matches.
"You can't really do anything about injuries," Berger said. "It's the same thing with Kyle Saucillo, who got injured, tried to come back and couldn't do it. It's unfortunate, but it's just one of those things."
Other victorious wrestlers for Hermiston included Chase Winters, Brandon Adolf, Ryan Barton, Kevin Verwey, and Garrett Later, the last of whom earned his 100th career victory by winning the 215-pound crown.
Second place finishers were Ethan Parks at 140 pounds and Randy Larson, the second-ranked wrestler in Oregon at 160 pounds.
Larson's loss came to top-ranked 160-pounder Ryan Smith of Crook County, an Oklahoma signee who pushed his season record to 37-0 by winning the bracket.
Josh Barraza earned a return to state after a one-year hiatus by finishing third in the 285-pound bracket, but perhaps the most compelling qualifier of the lot was senior Derek Harmon.
Harmon finished last season with a fourth-place finish at 160 pounds in the district meet, narrowly missing out at state.
He was sent to the losers' bracket after a 26-10 technical fall at the hands of Bend's Shane Cunningham, but won three successive matches to reach the third-fourth match again this season only to encounter Cunningham at that stage again.
Rather than dwell on the earlier handling Cunningham gave him, Harmon reflected upon the disappointment of not reaching state last season, and dug deep within himself to outlast Cunningham when it mattered most, winning 10-3 to qualify.
Not even a brief flare up of Harmon's mild case of asthma could deter him from finishing the job, and the elated senior said that he wasn't about to let his season and this time his career end one win short of state for the second straight time.
"I really wanted a chance to go to state, and (Cunningham) got to me last time," Harmon said. "But every time I scored (a point), the crowd would get really loud and I loved that, and I wanted to score some more. I finished fourth last year and remembered what that felt like, and I didn't want to feel like that again."
Harmon and his 12 teammates will break for Salem on Wednesday ahead of Thursday's first round, and Berger thinks that 13 will be just fine to achieve the team's goals.
"We're bringing 13, and I think that's enough (to win)," Berger said. "It might be a little scarier than we thought, but I think we'll be fine."
1. Hermiston, 472.5
2. Crook County, 358.5
3. Pendleton, 190
4. The Dalles-Wahtonka, 172.5
5. Madras, 155.5
6. Bend, 154.5
7. Mountain View, 103.5
8. Summit, 44
Final round results
103: Ben Jorgenson (H) dec. Rylee Omlid (CC), 7-2; 112: Chase Winters (H) pinned Nick Zubiria (P), 5:52; 119: Brent Gast (CC) dec. Brandon Perrine (MV), 2-0; 125: Brandon Adolf (H) dec. Michael Savage (P), 5-2; 130: A.J. Almaguer (H) dec. Spud Simer (TDW), 10-4; 135: Kenny Melton (P) dec. Cameron Rosenfield (Mad.), 4-0; 140: Brent Parks (H) won by forfeit over Ethan Parks (H); 145: Jeremy DuPont (Mad.) dec. Sam Stewart (P), 5-1; 152: Ryan Barton (H) dec. Kelly Puckett (CC), 6-2; 160: Ryan Smith (CC) dec. Randy Larson (H), 11-4; 171: Kevin Verwey (H) dec. Dustin Chapman (CC), 12-7; 189: Troy Kessell (H) pinned Ben Atchison (MV), 1:06; 215: Garrett Later (H) pinned Howie Mole (CC), 3:01; 285: Tyrell Albert (CC) dec. Demetri Enesi (TDW), 7-0
103: Ben Jorgenson, 3-0, 1st; 103: Jaylee Britt, 3-2, 5th; 112: Chase Winters, 3-0, 1st; 112: Dylan Studer, 0-2, DNP; 119: Dylan Olsen, 3-2, 4th; 119: Brad Thomas, 0-2, DNP; 125: Brandon Adolf, 3-0, 1st; 125: Brody Bowman, 1-2, DNP; 130: A.J. Almaguer, 3-0, 1st; 130: Ben Millard, 2-2, 5th; 135: Cody Britt, 2-2, 4th; 135: Frankie Perez, 3-2, 5th; 140: Brent Parks, 4-0, 1st; 140: Ethan Parks, 2-1, 2nd; 145: Dillan Massey, 3-2, 4th; 145: Marty Britt, 2-3, 6th; 152: Ryan Barton, 4-0, 1st; 152: Cody Spradlin, 1-2, DNP; 160: Randy Larson, 3-1, 2nd; 160: Roberto Madera, 1-2, DNP; 171: Kevin Verwey, 4-0, 1st; 171: Derek Harmon, 5-1, 3rd; 189: Troy Kessell, 3-0, 1st; 189: Kenny Dopps, 2-3, 6th; 215: Garrett Later, 4-0, 1st; 215: Keith Jemmett, 3-2, 5th; 285: Josh Barraza, 4-1, 3rd; 285: Paco Arenas, 3-2, 5th