By BRETT MARSHALL
WICHITA — If the Garden City Buffaloes wrestling team is to repeat its Class 6A state championship today, it may very well be because of the late heroic efforts of two of its seniors — Sammy Reyes at 195 pounds and Montana Fuller at 285 pounds.
It was those two who came up huge, bigger than big, with pins of their opponents in Friday's semifinals.
That helped lift the Buffs into a seven-point lead over the Derby Panthers (118.5 to 111.5) as the Buffs seek to win their ninth team championship in program history.
In addition to the two upperclassmen, the Buffs will also have sophomore Michael Prieto (113 pounds) and Tevin Briscoe (138) back to defend titles they won at lower weights in 2013.
But at the end of a long and arduous day, which saw the Buffs also lose a pair of heartbreaking matches in the final second, the Buffs got the biggest performances from their biggest performers.
Reyes pinned Rasheed Brady (33-3) at the 1:01 mark of the first period, while Fuller duplicated the feat with pin of Caleb Franklin of Wichita North at 3:30 of the second period.
"It feels great to see all the hard work pay off," said Reyes, who finished third a year ago, and in a twist of irony, will face Seth Pesek of Gardner Edgerton, the same wrestler who toppled him in the 2013 semifinals. "I believe in my technique and the aggression I've used has paid off. Once I get the guy where I want him, I won't stop until I put him away."
Reyes will take a 39-6 record into his championship match.
For Fuller, this has been a late season of redemption. He was the lone non-qualifier for the state team a year ago, and sat out more than half of this season recovering from a football injury. While he has worked himself back into tournament condition, many have doubted he would make it this far.
"This is just crazy," an elated Fuller said afterward. "He's (Franklin) fast and strong, but I knew if I got my hands on him, I might just be able to get him turned. And that's what I did. He made a mistake, and I took advantage of it."
Fuller had lost a 1-0 match to Franklin in the 6A regional a week earlier, so his gameplan was to be more aggressive, and it paid off. After a scoreless first period, Fuller took the initiative.
"Everybody was saying that I'd lose, so it feels good to prove them wrong," said Fuller, who transferred to Garden City from Lakin two seasons ago just to wrestle at a power program. "I had a good first day at the Welton (Rocky Invitational in Garden City), but today was even better. I just tried to get the bonus points and help the team."
For Prieto and Briscoe, being in the limelight is nothing new. They both swept through to today's championship matches with impressive semifinal victories. Prieto, the coach's son, won a 13-2 major decision from Braden Dipman of Derby in a match that helped the team point standings.
He will now battle Jacob Bonham of Gardner-Edgerton (29-5) in the finals.
"Now that I'm back to the finals, I'm calm and ready to go," said Prieto, whose day started off on a strange note when Junction City's Lake Deam forfeited at the start of the match. "Not getting that first match, I had to go and do some extra conditioning to get ready. The semis were a tough match. He (Dipman) is a tough kid. I've wrestled him before, and he's a little funky and does some strange things. You just can't relax against him at any point."
Briscoe was equally impressive, sweeping through his three opponents by a technical fall, a 7-4 decision in the quarters and his 8-0 major decision over Stuart Schafer of Olathe North in the semis.
"It's a big relief to get back there (to finals)," Briscoe said. "My goal has been to repeat. I had success with a lot of my tilts and I've been working on my feet better, and that showed today. No one held me down, so everything the coaches have worked with me on was working today."
Next up for Briscoe (32-3) will be an important one as he faces Derby's Garrett Xanders (30-5) for the title.
"Anytime you wrestle Derby, you know you're getting a good opponent," Briscoe said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Both Alec Castillo (132) and Zac Finch (160) lost their semifinal bouts in the final second, yes, the final second. And Castillo's was perhaps disputable, but nonetheless it was a pin at the hands of Shane Brock of Wichita Northwest that sent Castillo to the consolation bracket. That was a mirror-image for Finch, who was pinned with one second left in the second period by Manhattan's Austin Chauncey.
"Things weren't looking so good then," coach Prieto said. "Felt like we were in a free fall. But our two seniors (Reyes and Fuller) came up huge for us. That's what leadership is all about. Doing something people don't expect, doing something that is above and beyond the norm. That's what champions do. I couldn't be more proud of those two and for the way the kids wrestled today and the way they handled some tough things."
Earlier in the day, the Buffs had pushed through nine of their 12 grapplers out of the first round, then advanced seven of those into Friday evening's semifinals. While the average of advancement went down, it was still enough to lift the Buffs into the lead over Derby.
The only two quarterfinalists who failed to advance to the semis were Chris Adler at 145 pounds and Jesse Nunez at 152 pounds.¬ Adler lost a tough 5-3 decision to Tanner Madl of Blue Valley. Nunez took on one of the other top-ranked wrestlers in Zach Jaso of Olathe North, coming up on the short end of a 5-2 decision.
Three wrestlers lost in the opening round, including Thomas Marquez at 126 pounds; Zeke Herrera at 182 pounds and Benny Hernandez at 220 pounds.
Sanchez earned a hard-fought 8-6 decision over Jay Maxville of Topeka-Washburn Rural when he scored a 2-point takedown with five seconds remaining in the match. Prieto pinned Benjamin Deaton of Olathe South at 2:12 of the second period. Castillo won a 7-3 decision over Garrett Girard of Lawrence High. Finch was a 9-5 decision winner over Foster Hartman of Blue Valley.¬ Reyes pinned Jadon McGaha of Olathe North at 1:43 of the first, and Fuller was a 4-0 decision victor over Dametrius Berry of Shawnee Mission South.
Adler was dropped into the consolation bracket when he came up short in a 5-3 decision to Tanner Madl of Blue Valley. Nunez was on the short end of a 5-2 decision against Zach Jaso of Olathe North.
Marquez, Herrera and Hernandez dropped into the consolation bracket and had those first-round matches late Friday afternoon.
Herrera and Hernandez both won important bouts, gaining all-important points for the Buffs on the back side of the bracket. Herrera scored in the final seconds to win a 7-6 decision over Jose Montoya of Shawnee Mission West while Hernandez also scored the winning points in the waning seconds to earn a 3-2 decision over Mason Fuller of Blue Valley. Those two will continue this morning in the cross-bracketing component of the tournament. Marquez had a tough time in dropping a 7-1 decision to Devan Norris of Manhattan in his consolation round one match.
Saturday's schedule will begin at 9 a.m. with consolation cross-bracketing. Consolation quarterfinals will follow at 10:45 a.m. and consolation semifinals at 12:15 p.m. In a schedule change made because of impending inclement bad weather, all medal matches will be wrestled simultaneously starting at 2 p.m.¬
Results in Scoreboard, Page D2.