The Hermiston wrestling team performed in front a packed grandstand Wednesday night — which isn’t too bad since it was technically a practice.

Fans filled one side of the bleachers in The Dawg House to get a glimpse of Bulldog wrestlers at the intrasquad dual, before they hit the tournament circuit this weekend in Spokane.

Fans were treated to a fine display in the Dawgs’ home gym, something most fans won’t get to see very often, as  the team is always on the road. Hermiston head coach Curt Berger realizes that, which is one of the reason the team competes in the intrasquad meet.

“I had people come up to me and say they would rather watch this than watch us go beat somebody up,” he said. “We’ve had some pretty lopsided scores in duals in the past. We tried to give the crowd the matchups we thought they would like.”

Berger and his staff paired up some hotly-contested matches, and some that were over in a matter of seconds, but still achieved what they intended on several fronts.

“This is what we need since we don’t have the first tournament we’ve gone to in the past,” he said. Most teams started tournament competition last weekend. “It was a little intimidating for some of our younger guys. There was a pretty good crowd and people were yelling.”

The team has over 60 athletes, which meant enough matches that were done two at a time. There were 26 matches in all, and two were decided by a single point. At 145 pounds, seniors Fabian Scotto and Dalton Massey wrestled to a stalemate for the two-and-a-half rounds. A restart put Scotto in the down position and he escaped the grasp of Massey, earning the bout’s only point for the victory.

At 160 pounds, 2009 Class 5A state runner-up senior Matt Kilsdonk faced off against Sam Johnson, who earned a spot at state but didn’t place last season. The two state tournament qualifiers electrified the crowd with the night’s only overtime bout, going to Johnson after an escape in the second 30-second period, 3-2.

“I wish they would score more points,” Berger said. “Johnson really stepped up and showed us something, because Kilsdonk is the real deal.”

Berger also thought the Sid Britt-Costa Rodriguez matchup was a good one, which ended up going to Britt by decision, 5-1.

The big question mark Hermiston has had in its lineup the past few years has been at heavyweight. While they have qualified the big fellas for the state tournament, with Tyler Andreason last year, they haven’t placed any. That could change this year with the combination of Kevin Dopps and newcomer Matt Epperson. Epperson won two bouts, both by fall, and Dopps recorded one of the fastest pins of the night, dispatching Kyle Hodges a minute into the first round.

“I wish he would have wrestled for a couple years,” Berger said of Epperson. “He moves really well, though.”

Berger has a problem that most coaches would be ecstatic to have, and that’s the amount of competition in the wrestling room every day.

“We have the guys in the room that are pushing each other,” Berger said. “When your position is in doubt, it makes you fight a little harder. But at the same time, we don’t want to get anyone hurt.”

While the scrimmage isn’t going to factor in a ton to the making of the varsity lineup, and who goes with the junior varsity to the Muilenburg Invitational in La Grande, Berger said that he was impressed with some of the younger kids’ intensity and drive that didn’t necessarily win.

“That’s what we want,” Berger said. “We’re watching for tendencies. We want to see kids that are angry enough or mad enough to go out and do something about it on a daily basis.”

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