A wrestling official raises Philomath senior Ben Hernandez's arm in victory following the finale at 120 pounds. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Following a state title during the pandemic season and third place at last year’s 4A championships, senior Ben Hernandez has high goals for his final run on a wrestling mat.

So far this season as a competitor at 120 pounds, Hernandez has won five of six matches with the lone loss coming last week at the Perry Burlison Invitational on an 8-7 decision against Crook County’s Alberto Flores, who placed third at state last season at 106.

One of five champions in Friday’s Warrior Classic, Hernandez is beginning to get into a wrestling state of mind after an accomplished cross-country season over the fall months.

“You know, wrestling’s starting to click back in from last week’s Perry Burlison,” Hernandez said after pinning Taft’s Emiliano Sanchez in 1:51 in the championship bout. “I definitely think wrestling season’s started, we’re going.”

Seniors Caleb Blackburn and Chase Ringwald, and freshmen Riley Barrett and Lake Mulberry, were Philomath’s other Warrior Classic champions.

 “We had a lot of young kids win a lot of matches today, which is really cool,” PHS coach Troy Woosley said. “It was really good to have some good matches before Saturday, because usually on Saturdays, we’re wrestling tournaments but (this week) it’s our fundraiser.”

Philomath’s Chase Ringwald beats North Eugene’s Walker Black in the finals at 138. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Woosley was referring to the annual youth tournament that PHS wrestling hosts each season as a fundraising opportunity. Since the basketball teams were playing out of town, the opportunity to stage a home wrestling tournament materialized.

“We’re going to try to make this an annual thing,” Woosley said. “We let all of the JVs be in the varsity brackets so everybody’s together.”

Philomath competed in the tournament with several wrestlers out with illness or injuries. Senior David Griffith, for example, is working through a shoulder injury that he suffered in the Cascade tournament. Woosley anticipated that Griffith, who wrestles at 182, will be out for a couple of more weeks. Sophomore River Sandstrom was another varsity wrestler who missed Friday’s action.

After receiving a bye into the semifinals, Hernandez took care of another opponent from Taft on a pin — that one in only 13 seconds.

PHS senior Ben Hernandez controls Taft’s Emiliano Sanchez in the championship bout at 120. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Hernandez will likely wrestle at 120 pounds the rest of this month and into next month. Eventually, he appears to be intent on going down to 113, which in mid-January will have a weight allowance to 115. Hernandez sees the move as possibly a benefit not only for himself, but for the team.

“It’s still early in the season, so we’re still scoping out but as a team, if I do go to 115, that’ll help with team points,” Hernandez said. “I definitely do think we have an opportunity to get fourth or third at state as a team and that would be amazing.”

Woosley is keeping all options open but if Hernandez does go down, it’ll impact the rest of the lineup.

“It just depends on where a couple of other guys go as to where we put him at the end but he has the option to go to 113, which would be 115 then, and if he does that, then all of our guys are going down in weight, too,” Woosley said.

In other words, a domino effect could occur with Blackburn going to 120, Barrett to 126 and others down the line.

Freshman Lake Mulberry took first at 220 with a win over Springfield’s Gavin Luehring. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Mulberry was one of the more interesting stories at Friday’s tournament with his first place showing at 220 pounds. Mulberry pinned three straight opponents, including Springfield’s Gavin Lehring in the finals in 3:41.

Mulberry said he felt good about having an opportunity to just get in some work. He missed the Cascade meet, so the Warrior Invite was the first of not only his season, but his high school career.

In fact, Mulberry’s wrestling for the first time since the first grade.

“I just decided to try something new and Riley Barrett tried to get me out there, so I decided to come out,” Mulberry said. “It’s just kinda week by week … I’m hoping I can just get better and improve.”

Blackburn defeated all three of his opponents at 126 pounds in less than a minute — the longest going 55 seconds in the championship bout against freshman teammate Lukas Hernandez.

Barrett missed the season opener with illness so the Warrior Classic represented his high school debut and he also crushed three opponents with first-period pins. In the 132-pound finale, he also defeated a teammate with a pin in 1:15 over another freshman, Porter Compton.

Ringwald had nothing but pins as well in his matches at 138. After taking down his first two opponents in first-period wins, he defeated North Eugene’s Walker Black in the championship match in 4:42.

Philomath scored 212 points to easily win the tournament over runner-up North Eugene’s 148. Taft was third (107) followed by Molalla (90), Junction City (89), Springfield (64.5) and a contingent from Crescent Valley (23).

PHS teammates Porter Compton and Riley Barrett battle in the 132-pound finale. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Five other PHS wrestlers reached the finals and had runner-up finishes. As mentioned, Lukas Hernandez at 126 and Compton at 132 both lost to teammates in their championship matches. Hernandez beat his first two opponents on first-period pins. Compton had earlier-round wins with a second-period pin and a major decision. 

Sophomore Lucas Bourguois won his first two on pins before dropping the finale at 145 to a Molalla opponent. At 195, sophomore Brady Russell settled for second after a loss to a Junction City opponent. He advanced after winning earlier on a second-period pin and a 7-3 decision.

At 285, junior Jacob Hamlet came up short against a Springfield opponent — that after winning his first two matches on pins in 17 and 7 seconds, respectively.

Winning third-place matches for the Warriors were junior Gradin Fairbanks (160), sophomore JJ Lewis (170), junior Jared Gerding (182) and freshman Ben McGovern (195). Another Warrior who won at least one match was sophomore Ryder Zitlau (145).

Overall, Philomath wrestlers went 35-13 on the mat.

The Warriors will compete next on Dec. 16-17 at the Grants Pass Winter Kickoff. Then it’s back home for the Benton County Championships on Dec. 21 for heading into a holiday break.

Morton takes 1st place for the girls

Junior Ellie Morton took first place at 105 pounds in the girls portion of the tournament. There were only two wrestlers at that weight with Morton twice defeating Taft’s Ashley Reyes-Estrad — first on a pin in 1:17 and then with a 15-0 technical fall in 5:56.

Sophomore Sadie Francis ended up third at 130 with a win in her final match over Taft’s Yoselinne Lopez.

Only two wrestlers competed at 155 pounds with North Eugene’s Olivia Froehlich twice defeating Philomath junior Emmalyne Robinson, who was credited with second to add to the team’s point total.

Freshman Brielle Hagen competed at 120 pounds and lost her first two matches and then had losses by medical forfeit on her next two.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.