By BRETT MARSHALL
With his No. 1-ranked Garden City High School wrestling team at near full-strength for the first time since December, Buffaloes' head coach Carlos Prieto liked, for the most part, what he saw in his team's 53-12 victory on Tuesday night over the Dodge City Red Demons at the New Garden.
In the team's final tune-up before Friday's opening day of the Rocky Welton Invitational, the Buffs captured wins in 10 of the 14 weight classes.
It was Senior Night, and two of the Buffs' upper clansmen celebrated it with impressive victories while one had a heartbreaking loss.
Trevor Kennedy earned a major decision with a 12-0 win over Jhett Ostrom, while Anthony Gardner, moving up one weight class, dominated at 182-pounds with a pin of David Mendez with 32 seconds left in the second period.
AJ Hurtado, the defending state champion, lost a 3-1 decision to Dodge's Dane Edwards in a battle of the No. 1 and 2-ranked wrestlers in Class 6A. Hurtado's loss drops him to 22-6 for the season, while Edwards improved his season slate to 16-2.
For Kennedy and Gardner, though, it was a good night and a great prep for the prestigious Welton tournament.
"That felt good," Kennedy said. "They were being a little cocky and I just really want to win this one. I'm staying in better position now and trying to be more aggressive. It feels good to get the win."
Kennedy (20-9) said he is working toward the state tournament with the goal of bringing a championship back to Garden City for the first time since 1999.
"We want that ring and that's the goal we've all got," Kennedy said. "I'm getting better on my feet since the start of the season, but just working hard every day to improve."
For Gardner (16-6), the win continues to rebuild his confidence after struggling some earlier in the season. He had finished fifth last year at the state tourney, and looks to be rounding into form as the season heads into its final month.
"It's a little bittersweet knowing that my final year is coming to a close," Gardner said. "I'm trying to make the most of it. It's fun to see how we've all progressed since we started wrestling together when we were young."
Gardner dispatched Mendez after dominating the first period with a 10-0 lead.
"I like to make it quick when I can," Gardner said. "Coach said there's a time to be selfish and don't waste time if you don't need to. The team aspect will come with that. I think I've found my animal like I had at the end of last season and I've regained that aggression."
For Prieto, it was a night to appreciate, and then start to look ahead to the weekend.
"It was good to get everybody, for the most part, back out on the mat," coach Prieto said. "I thought Matt (Urrutia) wrestled well coming off his injury and being a little out of shape. This was good for him even though he lost."
Prieto said even though Hurtado lost to Edwards, he felt Hurtado had gotten a couple of takedowns that weren't awarded points, but still looks ahead to future matches between the two top wrestlers.
"They could wrestle 10 times and it might be 5-5," Prieto said. "We'll learn from this. I thought AJ showed a lot of class afterwards. That's the type of young man he is."
Prieto's son, freshman Michael, continued his strong season by pinning Howard Johnson at the 1:08 mark of the first period. He will take a 29-1 record into the Welton.
The Buffs finished off the Demons with three more wins at the upper weights — Sam Reyes with an 8-4 decision over Connor Kinkelaar at 195 pounds; Samson Aldaco with a pin of Cristian Torres at 220 pounds and Montana Fuller at 285 pounds getting a pin just 11 seconds into his bout with Max Trent.
"It was great to see Montana finish it off with a bang," coach Prieto said. "It's a great confidence builder."
The Welton will begin at noon Friday at the New Garden. Quarterfinals and semifinals are slated for late afternoon and early evening that day. Championship matches will be at approximately 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.