La Grande not only dominated the Greater Oregon League district wrestling tournament Saturday, the Tigers also put themselves in position to potentially place well at next week’s state tournament in Portland.
Boosted by five district champions and 13 state placers, the Tigers scored 331 points to roll to the district title Saturday at La Grande High School.
“I felt like they really wrestled really well, especially in the semifinal round,” LHS head coach Klel Carson said. “I thought we broke through with a lot of big wins, kind of unexpected wins where we beat guys that had previously beat us throughout the year or guys that are higher ranked and we were able to knock those guys off. That was a big round for us.”
Second-place Baker scored 281 points. McLoughlin was third with 175 points, and Ontario scored 151.
The strong semifinal effort resulted in 10 Tigers reaching the finals. Five of the champion bouts, in fact, pitted La Grande the rival Bulldogs.
La Grande went 3-2 in the title matchups against Baker, opening with Alex Kehr’s dominant 12-1 major decision over Johnny Niehaus at 113 pounds.
LHS’s second title also came against Baker, with Blaine Shaw needing just 1:40 to pin Alejandro Davila at 145.
“He’s had some adversity to come through,” Carson said of Shaw. “He had a surgery early in the year, he came back, then got injured and came back (again). He’s battled through some things to end up being a district champion. It’s pretty cool (for him) to finish strong here.”
Shaw’s victory kicked off a run of four titles in five championship matches for La Grande. Parker Robinson followed Shaw’s win by topping teammate Grayson Livingston in the finals by a 4-1 decision at 152. Chris Woodworth later earned a hard-fought 6-5 decision over Baker’s Hon Rushton at 170 that saw Woodworth narrowly escape a near-fall in the late stages of the third round.
“I wrestled as hard as I could and I felt like I wasn’t going to lose to him again,” Woodworth said.
Carson called the victory big for Woodworth.
“I felt like that match right there was a big deal for Chris,” he said. “He’s been working hard and really coming on at the end of the season. I think that’s three tournaments in a row where he’s won and he’s beat tough kids in every tournament.”
Elijah Livingston rounded out the flurry of wins by earning a third-round pin over Mac-Hi’s Brandyn Chaney at 182.
The only match during that stretch that didn’t see La Grande come away with a title was at 160, where Baker’s Clay Keller, the defending state champion, picked up a 6-3 decision over Nathan Reed.
Three other Tigers came away in second place. Ezra McIntosh dropped the final at 120 to Alex Duran by an 11-1 major decision. Spencer Gerst (220) lost a 5-2 decision to Mac-Hi’s Spencer Wells. And Colton Chase lost by fall to Ontario’s Antonio Sanders at 285.
The 10 to reach the finals, along with three third-place finishers — Keith Oswald (138), Hayden Shafer (160) and Gabe Shukle (195) make up the state qualifiers for La Grande.
Robinson said winning the district title was evidence of the team’s work during the season paying off, noting it took not only those who qualified for state, but those who just missed out — eight LHS wrestlers finished one spot out in fourth place — to get the Tigers to the top of the GOL.
“It did take the 13 kids (going) to state, but it also took the kids who aren’t going to state to win this. It took a great team effort to win it all today,” he said.
Baker will actually take the most state qualifiers with 14. Both Baker and Mac-Hi also had four district champions, which Carson said is evidence of the strength of the GOL.
“For having such a small league with only four teams we have very tough wrestling programs. All the programs have tough guys,” he said. “Everyone had a district champion, and I feel like all of us are going to have state placers next week at the state tournament. I think we’ll represent the GOL pretty well (at state).”
The state tournament, which is held at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum, takes place Friday and Saturday, and hopes going in are high for La Grande.
“As a team I think we can win it. I think we’ll do really well,” Robinson said.