PHS senior Caleb Blackburn had a dominating performance at 126 pounds at the King of the Hill wrestling tournament. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High School’s wrestling team continues to compete on the mat without a full lineup because of illness or injury. One might think the Warriors would struggle a bit with varsity-level point-scoring wrestlers sidelined.

Not a chance — Philomath actually dominated.

Four PHS wrestlers won their weight divisions and the Warriors took first place at Saturday’s King of the Hill tournament at Pleasant Hill. Seniors Caleb Blackburn and Ben Hernandez, sophomore River Sandstrom and freshman Riley Barrett all put in exceptional first-place performances at the 19-school tournament and several others contributed to the team cause to outdistance the rest of the field.

Sandstrom had three pins and a major decision at 106 pounds.

“River Sandstrom just wrestled with his hair on fire — just a lot of confidence, a lot of offense,” Woosley said. “He just kept the pedal on the gas. He had a great tournament.”

Sandstrom (8-2 record) had a significant victory in the championship bout with an 11-0 major decision over Oakridge sophomore Adam Palanuk, a state qualifier from last season.

Hernandez continued his stellar season with his first-place showing at 120 pounds, a performance that earned him the Outstanding Wrestler” award.

“He was on fire as well and just very confident,” Woosley said. “He did what he was supposed to do and so that was awesome.”

Hernandez (16-2) won all four of his matches on pins, including over sophomore Harley Hardison of Lowell, who was last season’s state runner-up in 2A-1A.

“He’s really trying to step up, getting better on his feet and it’s showing because once he’s on top, you’re not getting away,” Woosley said.

Blackburn was in command at 126 with four victories on pins.

“He absolutely dominated everyone,” Woosley said. “His mental game is on point this year and he’s really tough on his feet. When you take someone down at will, you’re going to win a lot of matches.”

Blackburn (15-1) pinned Pleasant Hill’s Boone Marquess in the finale to hand that wrestler just his second loss this season.

Barrett came out of a loaded bracket at 132 with the title by defeating his first four opponents on pins and winning the championship match on a technical fall. Barrett had not been scored upon this season heading into the tournament — the only point scored against him had been surrendered on a penalty.

“He was running a cradle and he got too high and too fast and the kid rolled through it for a reversal,” Woosley said. “In a matter of 5, 10 seconds later, Riley was on top and just scored and scored and scored and tech falled the kid.”

Barrett’s tech fall win of 17-2 in the third period came over Jefferson sophomore Gryffen Hamar, a state qualifier from a year ago. Barrett remains unbeaten this season at 15-0.

Other placewinners for Philomath’s boys included freshman Porter Compton (third, 138), freshman Ben McGovern (third, 195), freshman Lake Mulberry (fourth, 220), junior Gradin Fairbanks (fifth, 152), freshman Derick Kohn (sixth, 182) and freshman Liam Bennett (eighth, 145).

Compton lost a tough match in the semifinals on a 6-4 decision. Creswell’s Kaleb Sanders scored two points in the final 5 seconds to get the win. All four of Compton’s matches went the distance for decisions. Fairbanks lost in the second round before reeling off four straight wins. He was not allowed to wrestle in the medal round because he hit the maximum limit for matches in a day, so he went down as a tie for fifth.

Mulberry wrestled for the first time since Dec. 9 and nearly made the finals at 220, getting rolled and pinned while leading on points in the final seconds of his semifinal match. He had a similar outcome in the third-place match against Churchill’s Ashton Daily to end up fourth. Woosley said his performances were good for conditioning and that the ankle that he had injured held up well.

Kohn filled in at 170 and scored 10 points for the team with two wins by pin.

The tournament requires coaches to choose which wrestlers will be competing for points if there is more than one athlete at any particular weight division. Philomath had two wrestlers that were not designated as such and would’ve scored points with their performances — third-place McGovern and eighth-place Bennett.

McGovern pinned his opponent from Gold Beach in the third-place match. Bennett won two of his matches on pins.

Other PHS wrestlers with wins in the boys tournament included freshman Lukas Hernandez (126), freshman Mathew Ropp (132), sophomore Ryder Zitlau (145) and junior Jared Gerding (170). 

Philomath finished with 186.5 points in the team standings with Siuslaw second at 142 and Oakridge third at 129.

“The best thing about the tournament is their brackets were huge,” Woosley said. “Like Riley Barrett had 32 kids in his bracket, so our kids got a lot of matches.”

Among the regular varsity starters missing the tournament were seniors David Griffith and Chase Ringwald and junior Jacob Hamlet. Griffith, who had suffered an injury early this season, was held out one more meet in preparation for the team’s appearance this coming week in the Oregon Classic.

Morton places 3rd in girls tourney

All four of Philomath High’s female wrestlers placed and scored points in the team’s fourth-place showing at the tournament, including junior Emmalyne Robinson in second and junior Ellie Morton in third. 

Robinson lost in the first round before coming back to defeat a Junction City opponent on a pin. In the third-place match, Robinson won by medical forfeit.

“Emma went 2-1 and one was a medical forfeit but she dropped down to another weight, which is good for her,” Woosley said. “She cut good this week and she got rewarded by winning two matches.”

Morton lost in the semifinals before coming back to win on pins in the consolation semis and in the third-place match over an opponent from Willamette. Freshman Brielle Hagen and sophomore Sadie Francis both wrestled at 120 and placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

In the team standings, Philomath scored 43 points and tied for fourth with Junction City in the 12-school field. The top three teams were Siuslaw (116), Creswell (52) and North Bend (44).

Philomath’s varsity boys will compete Friday and Saturday at the Oregon Classic — a duals tournament in Redmond. The girls and the junior varsity boys will head to the Nick Lutz Invitational in Florence.

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.

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