By BRETT MARSHALL
It had been more than two decades since the host Garden City Buffaloes had hoisted the championship trophy of what is now the Rocky Welton Invitational, and then was called the Garden City Invitational.
It also had been more than a decade since the Buffs had an individual win a weight division title, dating back to 2003.
The first drought was soundly erased here Saturday night at The Garden as the Buffs wrestling team swept to the team title with a resounding performance throughout the day, finishing with 231 points to overtake first-day leader St. James Academy, which finished with 200 points. The last time the Buffs were on top was 1993, a year they went on to win the 6A state team title.
The second drought came to an end when first Michael Prieto at 113 pounds captured gold with an impressive 6-3 decision over Arkansas City’s Logan Terrill in the title match, and then watched as teammate Tevin Briscoe garnered his own first-place finish with a solid 6-2 decision over Tyler Mies of Andale at 138 pounds. It had been 2003 when Dusty Briggs won the 112-pound weight class that an individual Buffs’ wrestler had won on the mat. Colt McElroy had won by injury default in 2010.
It seemed as though destiny was in the hands of the Buffs, as both Prieto and Briscoe gained measures of redemption after they both lost in the championship matches of the 2013 Welton, including Prieto losing to his rival Terrill by the identical score. The two won respective state titles in 2013 in Class 6A and 5A, and have now met seven times in two seasons, with Prieto ahead 5-2.
Senior heavyweight Montana Fuller was the only other Buffs’ wrestler to reach the finals, but he came up short in his match against unbeaten Raymond Gallegos of Newton, getting pinned at 4:28 of the third period. He, too, is just rounding into condition after missing the first month and a half of the season recovering from a football injury.
“We’ve been waiting a long time and I think we were able to make a statement,” said GCHS head coach Carlos Prieto. “The kids wrestled their tails off and I’m proud of what the kids did and proud of what they are doing in the program.”
Prieto said the Buffs’ win solidifies their current hold on the No. 1 ranking in Class 6A, but more importantly, provides the team with added confidence heading into the final three weeks of the regular season. They will get a chance to defend their Class 6A team title on Feb. 28 and March 1 at Hartman Arena in Wichita.
“I think the quality of the field, with teams and wrestlers from different states, makes this tournament very competitive and very tough,” coach Prieto said. “It’s nice to get this one, but the one we really want is at the end of the month. That’s our primary goal all along. This is just icing on the cake. It’s good for the school, good for the team, and good for the community and our supporters.”
The team victory for the Buffs was more than the performance of their three finalists. The Buffs trailed St. James Academy, the state’s No. 1-ranked Class 5A team, by 10.5 points after Friday’s semifinal round (177-166.5). But in Saturday’s consolation bracket, the Buffs battled their way through the back side, scoring points in multiple weight classes, allowing them to overtake the Thunder and build a big enough lead heading into the championship matches, that the Buffs had enough points to claim the title. It was eerily similar to what they had done in last year’s state tournament.
Efrain Sanchez garnered a fourth at 106 pounds; Alec Castillo, coming off an injury as well, took fourth at 132 pounds; Chris Adler was third at 145 pounds; Jesse Nunez placed fifth at 152 pounds and Zac Finch, another returner from injury, took sixth at 160 pounds. Sammy Reyes was third at 195 pounds, his only loss to champion Preston Weigel of Hays, who was voted the Ed Cramer Outstanding Wrestler Award. Benny Hernandez beat teammate Luis Castaneda for fifth place at 220 pounds.
“All along, we knew the back- side bracket would be where we would have to perform well, and the kids were super,” coach Prieto said.
For the younger Prieto, the coach’s son, winning against Terrill was just a bonus.
“It was important for me to get the lead, and I was fortunate to get a chance and then I hit it (a duck under move),” the younger Prieto said. “It was there and I couldn’t have hit it any better. I’m really speechless, honestly, to win this, win the team. I couldn’t ask for anything better. The home crowd was great.”
Prieto had gone ahead 2-0 with that early move. Terrill got an escape, making it 2-1 after the first period. Prieto got a 2-point reversal at 3:15 of the second period and Terrill got an escape, leaving the score at 4-2 after two periods. In the deciding third, Prieto secured a 2-point near-fall at 4:18 and then Terrill got the final point on an escape at 4:46. Terrill was unable to mount any major threat to Prieto in the closing minute.
“I knew he’d take a shot in that last 20 seconds, but he didn’t finish it, and he was just kind of scrambling,” Prieto said of Terrill. “I think wrestling Logan was a big motivator. He’s such a good wrestler. I feel relieved and I thought I was just more aggressive than I’ve been before.”
For Briscoe, the gold medal was also another step forward in his bouncing back from injury. In Mies, the top-ranked Class 4A wrestler, he found a superb opponent who tested him to the limit.
“He’s a tough kid and a multiple time state placer,” Briscoe said of Mies. “I tried to wrestle my match. I wanted to make sure to get the first takedown and I was able to do that. That was big for me. He chose bottom in the second and the Garden City program has been noted for being good on top and it paid off.”
That near-fall of two points broke a scoreless deadlock and then Briscoe went up 3-0 early in the third period before Mies got a takedown. An escape and a takedown in the final few seconds provided Briscoe with his four-point margin.
“I was well-prepared thanks to the work of my coaches,” Briscoe said. “This feels amazing to redeem myself and the team winning is just icing on the cake for us.”
Area team notes: Southwest Kansas schools didn’t fare as well as they have in recent years.
Ulysses was the top team, placing 19th in the 30-team field with 64 points. Scott City was 27th with 38 points, Hugoton 28th with 37 points and Holcomb failed to score. Western Athletic Conference teams had Dodge City in 10th with 100 points, Great Bend 11th with 94 points and Hays in 14th with 86 points.
Individually, Scott City’s Warren Kropp was the highest finisher, taking third at 170 pounds. Teammate James Jurgens was fifth at 126 pounds. Ulysses’ Diego Maravilla took fifth at 195 pounds. Garden City’s Aaron Lozano, wrestling unattached, placed sixth at 285 pounds. He had filled in for Fuller during the senior’s absence.
Kropp’s victory over Isaac Ortiz of Pine Creek, Colo. by a 4-1 decision was particularly impressive, considering he had lost on Friday to the same wrestler in a sudden victory overtime match.
“I had to wrestle a different game plan,” Kropp said. “I fixed a couple of little things.”
Kropp also had missed the early part of the season rehabbing from a football injury, but has come back and is now 15-2 for the season.
“Just taking things step by step for the rest of the season,” Kropp said, keeping an eye on the upcoming Great West Activities Conference meet on Saturday. “There’s a good kid from Goodland, but the Welton is one of the toughest meets we run into so that helps me get prepared.”
Next up for the Buffaloes will be a key WAC triangular on Thursday. Great Bend and Hays come to town for a 4 p.m. multiple-team dual meet. Garden will face those two teams while Liberal will also meet the Indians and Panthers in WAC dual competition. The Buffs are currently 1-1 in the league duals and are the defending league champs.
Welton notes: Former Garden City High School wrestling coach Monte Moser was recognized Saturday night just prior to the start of the championship round matches.
The Welton organizing committee dedicated the 2014 tournament to Moser, who served six years as the Buffs’ head coach before turning over the reins to current coach Carlos Prieto for the 2012-13 season. Moser, who spent 33 years as either an assistant or head coach for the Buffs, was an assistant coach to both legendary Rocky Welton, for whom the tournament is named, and to Martin Segovia, currently the GCHS athletic director.
On hand to celebrate the recognition was Moser’s family — wife Beth, daughters Megan of Manhattan, Carrie and Caitlyn of Garden City, and grandson Liam.
“It’s pretty special to have all my family here,” Moser said of the honor. “I feel humbled to part of the group that has made the Welton such a big event in the community.”
Moser said he could remember when he first came to Garden City, when the event was still called the Garden City Invitational, there were about eight teams participating. Now the tournament attracts 30 teams from three states, with many top-ranked wrestlers and state champions from those locations.
“The tournament itself has been a huge part of my life,” Moser said. “I wasn’t even working in the district when I first moved to Garden City.”
Moser said he was happy to see that every member of the GCHS wrestling team scored points as the Buffs won the team title for the first time in 21 years, when Moser was an assistant to Welton in 1993.
Numerous members of the GCHS wrestling coaching staff also wrestled for Moser, including Paul Lappin, Jacob -----, Kevin Perez and John Baker.
“The thing I’ll remember most about Rocky is there was a certain way you did everything,” Moser said of his former mentor who now resides in Abilene. “He expected the kids to act a certain way and I just hope that I was able to maintain that. It’s nice to be able to set in the stands and watch, and enjoy what’s happening on the mats.”
Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.