The St. James wrestling team traveled to St. Genevieve on Friday, Feb. 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11 for the Class 2 District 1 Tournament. The Tigers had a phenomenal weekend, finishing in third place as a team and sending seven wrestlers to State, including two District Champions.
Logan Saxbury (25-14) was the first Tiger to punch his ticket for the State Tournament at 113. After a first round bye, Saxbury won his first match of the weekend with a 10-4 decision over Owensville's Austin Angell. He was pinned in his semi-final match, but still had a chance to earn a trip to State in the consolation bracket. Saxbury was able to pin Sullivan's Luke Dixon in the second period in the consolation semi-final to secure his spot in the top four and head to State. Saxbury was pinned by Dexter's Seth Harris in the third place match, but he still qualified for State with a fourth place finish.
"He's a freshman with an unbelievable amount of talent," said head coach Beau Moreland. "That's the only struggle with him, getting him to believe with him being as young as he is. He doesn't believe how good he is and how capable he is."
The next St. James qualifier came in the next weight class with Ty Lewis (19-10) at 120. Lewis took a similar route to Saxbury, starting with a first round bye before beating St. Clair's Brandon Lackey-McDowell on a tech fall 16-0. Lewis had a tough match in the semi-final against Noah Juliette from Potosi. He lasted into the third period, was pinned with 27 seconds remaining in the match. Juliette went on to win the District Championship at 120. The loss sent Lewis into the consolation bracket, where he was able to earn back-to-back pins to finish in third place and qualify for State.
"If I had a team of Ty Lewises, we'd already have multiple Stat Champs," said Moreland. "He's one of the grittiest, hardest fighting kids that I've met. For only being 120 he fights like a heavy-weight. He doesn't back down from anything."
The remainder of the St. James State Qualifiers were wrestling for District Championships and that started with Mikey Crocker (39-3) at 132. The junior dominated the entire weekend and didn't allow a single match to get out of the first period. He started by pinning Dexter's Trevor McDonald in just 24 seconds. Crocker needed even less time in his second match, pinning Potosi's Preston Dickerson in 19 seconds. That pin sent Crocker to the semi-final, where he pinned Kennett's Darrell Malone in 1:11. The dominant run was capped off by his fourth straight first period pin in the District Championship, where he pinned Grant Staffen from St. Genevieve in 1:06.
"Mikey is a different kid," said coach Moreland. "Mikey was a great wrestler last year that lacked confidence at high level competition. He didn't lack all confidence, he lacked a little bit of confidence in his abilities at high level competition. It's different this year...going out in Districts he was on a mission. There wasn't anybody who was going to step out on that mat and take his championship away. He made that a fact and kinda imprinted it in stone that there was nobody that was on his level there those two days. He was dominant. He finished everyone in the first period and he did it with some fashion too."
Thomas Henderson (29-9) followed Crocker at 138 with a great run of his own. Henderson started the weekend by pinning Potosi's Brett Lynch in the first period. He followed that up by pinning St. Genevieve's Noah Ogden at the beginning of the second period to advance to the semi-final. Henderson needed every minute of the match to pull out a phenomenal 2-0 win over Noah Turner-House from Park Hills Central to advance to the championship. Henderson had his hands full in the District Championship against St. Francis Borgia's Dylan Hellebusch, where he lost by major decision 10-2 to finish in second place.
"If he could've wrestled that kid for 10 periods, Thomas would've eventually figured it out. Hellebusch is really strong, really quick and deliberate and Thomas just couldn't get to his game fast enough," said Moreland. "That's what I think we'd like to see come out of him. He needs to get to his offense first. He needs to get in on the takedowns and start setting it up the way he wants to wrestle the match and not let them get in on their's."
The next State Qualifier for St. James was Nick Wilson (30-10) at 170. Wilson had a bye in the first round, so his first match of the weekend came against Dexter's Jakob Sauvage in the District Quarterfinal. Sauvage put up a fight, but Wilson was able to finish off the match with a pin early in the third period. He followed the pin with a 7-3 win over Sullivan's Dalton Ward to clinch a trip to State and a spot in the District Championship. Wilson had a tough time in the championship, where he was pinned by St. Clair's Aaron Herman with six seconds left in the second period to finish in second place.
"It was close, it was a good match, I know he was disappointed in himself," said coach Moreland. "But I know he can get it done at State, so I think that's what we're going to focus on going forward."
Cole Petty (27-13) kept the ball rolling for St. James at 182. After a first round bye, Petty shut out Park Hills Central's Aaron Dooley with a 7-0 win to advance to the semi-final. He then grinded out a tough match against Dexter's Jett Featherston for a 3-1 win to punch his own ticket to State. Petty had the most difficult matchup in his District Championship, facing off against Ben Turnbough, the undefeated junior from Potosi. Turnbough was able to keep his undefeated record by pinning Petty in the second period.
"Cole Petty probably had the biggest obstacle to overcome with Ben Turnbough," said coach Moreland. "He's a stinkin' grown man in a high school boy's body...Cole went out there and I think he knew what he needed to do to get it done, but I don't think he expected it to be quite as aggressive as Ben was. He was just a half step behind."
The final State Qualifier was another District Champion in Drake Ortiz (39-4) at 220. Ortiz had byes in the first two rounds, meaning he needed just one more win to qualify for State. He faced off against St. Genevieve's Isaac Boyd in the semi-final and pulled out an 8-3 win. He then had a rematch against St. Clair's Josh Richards for the District Championship. Richards beat Ortiz at the Kinloch Classic earlier this season, but Ortiz was able to get his revenge in the District Championship. The match was tied at one at the end of the third period, forcing overtime. Ortiz made some adjustments in the overtime period and was able to get the takedown for the District Championship with a 3-1 win.
"Drake wrestled Richards at the Kinloch Tournament just when we were into our phase (of our conditioning program) where the grind really starts hitting you and you could see it, the frustration was there. He wanted to be able to move faster, but his body just wasn't doing it," said Moreland. "Going into this one, Drake definitely knew that he could beat him after going up to Francis Howell and beating the number two ranked kid in Class 4 from Lindbergh and he went out there, he was confident. We had already gotten through that peak phase of our conditioning and he looked great. He was quick, he was strong, everything he was trying to get, he was getting. He pretty much led that entire match and controlled where it went and how it went."
The Tigers were almost able to make it nine State qualifiers, but Cort Petty and Garrick Lonning fell just a bit short in the consolation semis. As a team, St. James did extremely well, finishing in third place with 142.5 team points. They fell just short of St. Genevieve (170.5) and St. Clair (174).
"We saw the things we needed to work on in this short period we have before going to State and hopefully we can adjust that, but all in all, seven guys advancing and qualifying for State, two guys winning it is a great feeling," said coach Moreland. "We enjoyed it. It was nice to finally get that accomplished. We've been waiting for it all season."
The Tigers will kick off the State Tournament on Thursday, Feb. 16.