By Brett Marshall
Day 1 of the 61st Rocky Welton Wrestling Invitational is in the books, and while there were a few surprises, many of the expected favorites moved on to Saturday’s championship matches being contested at The Garden.
For host Garden City, the ultimate goal of making a finals match saw four of the Buffs reach semifinals and three of those punched their tickets into Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. scheduled championship bouts.
In the team chase, defending champion Goddard, the state’s No. 1-ranked 5A and overall team, leads with 156 points with Pueblo East in second with 144. Kearney, Neb., is third with 117.5 points while the host Buffs are fourth with 108.5 points. Canyon Randall, Texas, rounds out the top five scores with 87.5 points. Scott City is 11th with 64 points.
In perhaps one of the most drama-filled matches, the Buffs’ Silas Pineda captured a 4-3 ultimate tiebreaker victory over Paul Garcia of Scottsbluff, Neb., sending the junior into Saturday’s title match at 113-pounds against Jacob Gonzales of Pueblo, Colo. Centennial. Pineda carries a 31-7 record into the bout.
Pineda won the bout in the seventh period while being in the top position and was able to keep Garcia from a one-point escape that would have provided a different outcome.
If Pineda’s triumph wasn’t enough, then Jacob Holt at 132 pounds provided another main course of excitement as he made a last-second reversal of Zeke Marquez of Silver, N.M., a three-time state champion, to snare a 6-5 decision to reach his final. He will go up against No. 10-nationally ranked Phillip Moomey of Kearney, Neb., who is unbeaten in 29 matches. Mooney has pinned all of his opponents Friday and won the 126-pound division at the 2018 Welton.
Another GCHS junior, Alex Rodriguez, also came up with an impressive semifinal victory without the last-second drama as he earned an 11-2 major decision over Hagen Booi of Colby. Rodriguez improved his season record to 31-5. He will be matched with unbeaten Zion Freeman of Pueblo East, who pinned Emporia’s Drew Baker.
At 120 pounds, the Buff’ Diego Hernandez ran into a buzz saw in unbeaten Isaiah Gamez of LaJunta, Colo., last year’s 113-pound Welton champ. After trailing 9-0, Hernandez was pinned by Gamez at the 4:15 mark of the third period.
Then, there were the few southwest Kansas area wrestlers who were battling for a spot in their respective championship matches.
Scott City’s Wyatt Hayes at 170, Holcomb’s Tanner Johnson at 180 and Lakin heavyweight Hadley Panzer at 285 all had reached Friday’s semis with impressive wins earlier in the day.
Hayes, a senior for the Beavers, registered a 3-1 decision over Wyatt Pfau of Brush, Colo., as he will take a 21-1 record into the title match. He placed fifth a year ago. He will meet up with Trey Fisher (15-3) of Goddard.
Johnson, who wrestled in the finals a year ago against Scott City’s Jarret Jurgens, wasn’t as fortunate this time around, when he was pinned by Goddard’s Cayden Atkins at 2:58 of the second period.
Lakin 285-pounder Hadley Panzer continued his torrid season by advancing to the finals with a pin of Tony Caldwell of Valley Center at 5:05 of the third period. Panzer, who is unbeaten at 25-0, will now take on the No. 1-ranked 6A wrestler in Dodge City’s Evan Darville, who advanced with a 5-2 decision over Ethan Shackleford of Andale.
Saturday’s final day matches will begin at 8:30 a.m. with the consolation round.