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Vikings end season in consolation action

Matthew Johnson leads Forest Grove with a fifth-place finish at 126 pounds

PORTLAND — Three participants, two medals, one busy weekend.

That was life for the Forest Grove wrestling team at last weekend’s Class 6A state tournament. The Vikings brought three solid wrestlers to this year’s state tilt at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and two of them — Matthew Johnson and Lucas Higginbotham — walked away with medals, which are awarded to the top six finishers in each weight class.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES
 - Forest Grove senior Matthew Johnson wrestles against Alek Purtzer of Canby in the Class 6A 126-pound fifth-place match on Saturday.

Johnson capped his high school career with a fifth-place result at 126 pounds, and Higginbotham picked up his second medal in as many seasons with a sixth-place effort at 120.

After receiving his medal, Johnson was reflective about the final tournament of his outstanding career.

“I feel like I, for the most part I wrestled hard,” he said. “I could have wrestled better, smarter, tougher, I think, but it is what it is and there’s nothing I can change.”

Though Johnson did finish fifth, he came extremely close to making his second consecutive state final. Competing as the No. 2 seed, he found himself in a seesaw battle with third-seeded Bennett Mesa of Roseburg in Saturday’s semifinals.

Thanks to an escape and a takedown in the second round of the match, Johnson built a 4-2 lead, but Mesa scored seven points in the final round, including a takedown late in the match, to exit as the 9-8 winner.

“I think it’s as simple as Mesa pushed the pace and I kind of let him,” Johnson assessed. “I let him dictate the match. I wrestled more defensively and wasn’t as aggressive.”

Mesa went on to win the final, 2-1, against North Salem freshman Ian Carlos, whom Johnson beat to win the Greater Valley Conference title last month.

The semifinal loss forced Johnson into consolation action, where he was saddled with another tough draw in top-seeded Kyle Beal of David Douglas, whom Carlos had upset in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Beal proved too tough in that one and won 13-2, but Johnson rebounded to close out his career with a win in the fifth/sixth match with an 8-0 major decision over Canby’s Alek Purtzer.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES
 - Forest Grove junior Lucas Higginbotham wrestles against Quinn Brink of Lakeridge in the 120-pound fifth-place match on Saturday afternoon.

“That match felt more like the majority of (the) matches that I wrestled throughout the season,” Johnson said of the last one. “I felt good. I was still a little off, I guess, but I felt like I was mentally in a good place for where I was physically, if that makes sense.”

On Friday, Johnson pinned Roosevelt’s Victor Govea in the round of 16 and won his quarterfinal by a 6-3 decision over West Linn’s Ian Snapp.

He finished the season with an outstanding 35-5 record.

“I’m happy with it. It wasn’t the ideal way to end, but honestly, this season probably couldn’t have gone any better,” Johnson said. “It’s the toughest team I’ve been on. We had districts at home — so many things just lined up that people would dream about their senior year to be. I’m pretty fortunate for that.”

Higginbotham entered the consolation bracket earlier than Johnson but managed to work his way through the knockout rounds. As the eighth seed, he dispatched Islam Usmanov of David Douglas by an 11-3 major decision in the round of 16 before losing by technical fall to No. 1 seed Halen Jolley of Sherwood in the quarterfinals. He bounced back in consolation action, though, with a 6-3 win against No. 5 Tyler Bellon of Grants Pass.

That landed him in a loser-out match early Saturday morning — and it didn’t look good when Higginbotham trailed Gresham’s Yecithy Restrepo, the sixth seed, 4-1 early on.

Earlier on in the match, Higginbotham (27-12) got slammed down on his shoulder, which knocked the wind out of him, he said. But he felt the momentum shift in the third round after he got Restrepo in a body lock and then onto his back. The Viking junior’s comeback propelled him to a 10-4 decision, which ensured that he would medal.

After that, Higginbotham lost 9-3 to Aerie Baxter of Newberg and then dropped an 11-5 decision to Quinn Brink of Lakeridge in the fifth/sixth match.

“It’s really exciting,” Higginbotham said of medaling again. “I’m proud of myself for what I’ve done. I just gotta keep moving forward.”

Forest Grove’s other participant was Alex Vanderkin, a senior making his first state tourney appearance.

Competing at 195 pounds, he lost by fall to six-seed Ethan Holt of Oregon City in his first-round match. But he made sure that he didn’t leave the Coliseum without a win, as he knocked off Lincoln’s Harrison Keefer 5-0 in his first consolation match.

Vanderkin almost kept his run going, but his tournament ended with a loss to Tanner Davis of Century, 3-2 on the tiebreak. He finished the season at 30-10.

Forest Grove finished in a tie for 24th place with 26 points.