Shorthanded Bulldogs still get third


by: BILLY GATES/THE PIONEER - Culver's Seth Abbas (top) tries to turn Pendleton's Morgan Holcomb in a 120-pound match during the Free-Berry Classic on Saturday at Pendleton High School. Missing top wrestlers, Culver shows well at Free-Berry Classic

The Culver High School wrestling team didn’t have its full complement of wrestlers at the Free-Berry Classic in Pendleton on Saturday, but despite that, finished in third place.

The Bulldogs notched 195 points, four better than Weiser (Idaho), which won the Class 3A Idaho state championship last season. Class 6A McMinnville finished as runner-up with 238 points, and the host Pendleton Bucks won in commanding fashion, tallying 297 points.

“For the guys that made the trip, it was a pretty good day,” Culver coach J.D. Alley said. “There was an opportunity for some of the guys that don’t normally get top billing to shine, and we had some of that happen.”

Reigning state champs Bolt Anglen and Tucker Davis did not wrestle in the meet, and heavyweight Josh Hendrix also didn’t make the trip to Warberg Court to compete. Kyle Bender was also out of the action for the Bulldogs, who are the No. 1 team in Class 2A in the Oregon Wrestling Forum’s Rockwell Rankings.

Perhaps the wrestler that did the best at seizing the moment was 160-pounder Kyle Easterly. He took the gold with a 3-1 decision against Weiser’s Dustin Kistenmacher, and the win gave Easterly his 12th on the season.

“Kyle got himself in a pretty good weight class,” Alley said. “On paper, he was around the fifth seed going into the tournament, but he picked up some crucial points late in the third round of a couple matches. He just had a real solid tournament.”

Easterly beat McMinnville’s Josh Blanchard in the semifinals 8-1, and pinned Baker’s Thomas Larsen during the second round in the quarterfinals.

“I don’t think Kyle’s ever won a major tournament like this,” Alley said, “so this was a great weekend for him.”

Junior Clay McClure finished second at 152 pounds, falling to undefeated J.T. Barnes on McMinnville in the finals 4-1. In his three matches prior to the finals, though, he pinned all of his adversaries. McClure pinned Pendleton’s Alex Ferder during the third round in the semifinals, and made a little quicker work of Walla Walla’s Ammon Juhasz in the quarterfinals with a first-round pin. McClure also pinned Pendleton’s Gabe Goad during the first round of his first match.

A pair of freshmen, Marco Retano and Saxton Schaffner, continued their stellar rookie high school seasons with third-place finishes. Retano finished the 113-pound class with an 11-4 win against McMinnville’s Alvaro Flores, and Schaffner beat up Weiser’s Raymond Huston in a 14-3 major decision in the 126-pound class.

“We’re starting to count on those two (Retano and Schaffner) for points consistently now,” Alley said. “You can’t do that with a lot of freshmen.”

Brandon Hawes placed third at 138 pounds, the class Anglen and Davis have been at early in the season, and Alley said Hawes was one of those guys that really stepped up.

“We were short some bullets in the chamber at that class, and Brandon had a real nice weekend for us,” Alley said.

Johnny Espeland, who is in his first year wrestling, finished fourth at 145 pounds. He picked up wins in his first two matches — a first-round pin of Mac-Hi’s Gabe McAlester and a 12-4 major decision over Weiser’s Hilario Mandujuano.

“One of the joys of coaching is you get the chance to see people improve and get better right in front of you,” Alley said. “Johnny is one of those guys that is doing that. He has a ton of heart and works hard to overcome everything since he’s new to wrestling.”

Mitch Adams finished fourth at 195 pounds, Levi Vincent finished fifth at 152 pounds and Jaiden Jones placed for the first time in his short high school career with a sixth-place spot at 171 pounds.

Jones, a freshman, pinned Heppner’s Cord Flynn in the second round to earn a spot in a placing bout.

Originally, Culver wasn’t supposed to be in the Free-Berry Classic. They were slated to travel with Roseburg up to Orting (Wash.) for a doubleheader dual with the Cardinals, but a scheduling conflict scrapped the plan.

Culver will travel to Northeast Oregon for the Jo-Hi Invitational, which begins Friday, at Joseph High School.