By the Hermiston Herald
HOOD RIVER Keith Saucillo and Brent Parks know the terrain, and the pressure that comes with fighting through the bracket at district tournament.
But for the rest of the Hermiston High School wrestling team, the Intermountain Conference district tournament will serve as a proving ground for the young Bulldogs.
Saucillo and Parks are the two returners for the Bulldogs that qualified for the state tournament last season, and are surrounded by a plethora of talented teammates that hope to breakthrough to state this weekend at the district meet that starts today at Hood River Valley High School.
And Hermiston coach Curt Berger said his team's success will be determined by its ability to perform on the big stage.
"We have to come out and wrestle," Berger said. "We have a young team and we'll see how well they handle the pressure of a district tournament."
Hermiston has been somewhat of a surprise this season, taking second in the IMC dual meet season with a 7-1 mark, second only to second-ranked Pendleton (8-0).
Hermiston posted wins over highly-ranked Redmond and Crook County to get there.
But in the individual format of the district tournament Pendleton and Crook County are the favorites due in large part to their depth.
"We don't quite have the numbers that it takes to get in that type of situation," said Berger about entering 23 of a possible 28 wrestlers.
Hermiston last won the district title in 2002, the only time in the past 10 years when Crook County has not taken home the district trophy.
Berger expects his team to slide in the fourth spot, but in doing so thinks he can match last year's total (7) of state qualifiers, and possibly more.
Hermiston returns seven place winners from last year's tournament highlighted by Saucillo and Parks.
Saucillo finished second last year to Crook County's Ryan Smith, losing 5-3 in the championship of the 112-pound division. Smith has moved up to 125 pounds and Saucillo is expected to make a return trip to the final at 112.
The senior is 8-0 in league and will enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed. His toughest test is expected to be Tanner Robertson of Redmond, who sat out the Hermiston dual due to disciplinary reasons.
Parks falls into the same category, eying a spot in the finals. As a freshman, Parks responded after a semifinal loss to take third with an 8-3 win over Tyler Fetters of Mountain View in the third-place match.
Parks' (135) has had a standout regular season with his lone conference loss is to Redmond's Austin Enoch, who is ranked No. 2 in the state at 135 pounds after taking second at state as a freshman.
Parks will also have to deal with Pendleton senior Seth Cox, who is ranked fourth in the state at 135 pounds. Parks is ranked fifth with his 34-5 record.
Tye Schaffeld (160), who placed fifth last year, will look to crack the top-3 in his final season.
Danny Hall, who has wrestled primarily on the junior varsity this season, comes into the tournament after placing seventh last season. Nick Keely is in the same situation, spending a lot of time on the JV roster, but placed seventh at district a year ago.
Sophomore Troy Kessell (189) was fifth as a freshman and has posted some impressive wins throughout the season and will likely earn the No. 2 or three seed with his 7-1 league mark.
Freshman Randy Larson, at 152 pounds, is in line for the No. 1 seed after going undefeated (8-0) in league dual meets.
Garrett Later (215) is also in line for one of the top seeds after and he was sixth last year.
Also earning seeds will be, Ryan Barton (140, 6-2), Darrin White (171, 5-2) and Josh Barraza (275, 7-1).
Berger says seven to state, and in a conference that is deemed one of the toughest in the state, that would be a feat for his team that features just two seniors.
"If we could do that, that would be pretty impressive," he said.