As Park Hill sophomore wrestler Ke-Shawn Hayes walked onto the Mizzou Arena floor Thursday, a vivid memory came rushing back to him.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
It was a year ago on this very floor that Hayes felt nerves got the best of him, and he was upset in the semifinal round of the Class 4 state tournament.
“I get nervous before all my matches, but it’s a little different for the state tournament,” Hayes admitted.
He handled the butterflies a little better this time. Hayes pinned his first-round opponent in the 113-pound bracket, Lafayette’s Jason Carson, as part of an impressive opening day from the Park Hill Trojans, who lead Class 4 at the Missouri Wrestling Championships.
Oak Grove holds an advantage in Class 2.
Neither lead comes as a surprise, but neither is safe after only one night of the three-day tournament.
Still, Park Hill backed up its No. 1 ranking in Class 4, winning eight of its 11 first-round matches en route to 30 team points, one better than second-place Timberland.
Blue Springs sits in third place with 24 points after winning six first-round bouts. The defending-champion Wildcats earned expected bonus-point victories from Daniel Lewis (138 pounds), Darick Lapaglia (145), Cain Salas (152) and Michael Pixley (182). But they also got impressive wins from Jamie Foutz (195) and Austin Reyes (220), who recorded a technical fall in the final seconds of his match.
“I think me and Jamie are the final pieces of the puzzle,” Reyes said. “You got Darick, Daniel, Pixley and Cain, and you expect them to win. But I think for us to stay in this thing, it’s going to come down to me and Jamie.”
The perfectionist in Oak Grove coach Bobby Lowe wanted one more victory Thursday. The realist in him, however, knows the opening morning of the state tournament couldn’t have gone much better.
The Panthers won nine of their 10 first-round matches and they lead district rival Smithville by 2.5 points in Class 2.
“We went out and wrestled the entire time and pushed the pace, always looking to score,” Lowe said. “The guys aren’t worrying about making mistakes. They’re just wrestling and doing the things they’re good at (doing).”
Oak Grove scored bonus points in seven of the nine wins. Drake Hoffman (113), Tyler Brown (126) and Preston Airington (195) won by pin; Logan Cairer (145), Anthony Barker (138) and Bryce Mercer (132) and won by technical fall; and Jacob Best (120) won by major decision.
Smithville, seeking the first wrestling title in school history, won seven first-round matches and have nine wrestlers still alive in the tournament, only one fewer than Oak Grove.
It would be easy to overlook Kearney junior Blake Clevenger — mostly because he’s a teammate of three reigning state champions who steal a lot of his attention.
He’s hoping you will do just that.
A top seed in the 132-pound bracket, Clevenger is a two-time state place winner seeking his first state title. He opened the quest with a hard-fought 10-2 win against Washington’s Cody Summers.
“I know we have our studs, but everybody needs to do their job if we’re going to win this thing,” Clevenger said.
A productive day from Kearney, the defending state champion in Class 3, wasn’t enough to put a dent into a quickly widening advantage from Neosho, which leads the Class 3 team standings with 45 points. Platte County is in second with 30 points, while Kearney has 24.
Neosho has an advantage with 13 wrestlers still alive heading into today’s action, compared with Platte County’s 10 and Kearney’s seven.
To reach Sam McDowell, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/SamMcDowell11.