Four McDonald County boys wrestlers won individual conference championships, and three more competed for conference titles as the Mustangs finished second overall at the Big 8 Conference Meet on Friday, Jan. 20, at Cassville.
Seneca had five conference champions and several third-place finishers to take the team conference championship for the fifth straight season.
"We knew it was going to be a tough challenge for our team to go in there and beat those guys," said McDonald County coach Josh Factor. "They've won that tournament the last five years in a row. They're a solid program. They had a great tournament. Nothing to take away from Coach (Jeff) Sill and his team. There is a reason he's Big 8 Coach of the Year."
Seneca finished with 402.5 points, while McDonald County had 368, followed by Marshfield 258, Logan-Rogersville 235, Cassville 231, Nevada 214, Reeds Spring 163, Monett 93.5, Hollister 83 and Aurora 54.
"We're knocking on the door and letting them know we're going to be a solid team," Factor said. "It was a good experience for our guys. We were competitive, and we just struggled in the final round to keep up with them."
Seniors Blaine Ortiz (138 pounds) and Colter Vick (175) and juniors Samuel Murphy (215) and Jayce Hitt (285) took home individual conference championships. All four earned first-team All-Conference honors.
Freshmen Eberson Perez (106) and Robinson Yoshino (113) and sophomore Malosi Sosef (190) also competed for titles.
Ortiz (28-4) became the school's first three-time conference champion with his major decision 11-2 win against Logan-Rogersville's Jackson Snider in the first-place match. He won his previous three matches by fall.
"I think anytime you get somebody to walk away and win a tournament for the third year in a row, that says a lot about Blaine as a wrestler," Factor said. "He plans on wrestling beyond the high school level. That kind of determination and commitment is going to have a big payoff for him and his future."
Vick (24-7) continued his strong senior season after missing all of his junior year with an injury.
Vick won all four of his matches by fall, including a semifinal win over Seneca's Lincoln Renfro (2:44), who he had a strong rivalry with as a sophomore. He pinned Nevada's Tyler Longobardi in 1:20 in the first-place match.
"It was a great moment winning the conference championship," Factor said of Vick. "It gives him a little momentum heading into the postseason."
Murphy (29-1) won his first two and fourth matches by fall and his third by forfeit.
That led him to the first-place match against Marshfield's Erik Tomanek, a familiar opponent.
The match was tied 1-1 late, going into the last 30 seconds. Tomanek had Murphy in a bearhug-like position, but Murphy was able to get out of it, scramble around and score a takedown in the final five seconds and won by a 3-1 decision.
"It was definitely a close match," Factor said. "It's one of those things we never want a match to come down to one takedown. Samuel learned the hard way and has been on the other side."
Hitt (10-0) was wrestling in his first action since the second week of December after sustaining a foot injury.
He pinned all three of his opponents, including Reeds Spring's Eben Crain in 53 seconds.
"I couldn't have been more impressed," Factor said. "He went out there and pinned his way through the tournament."
At 106, Perez (12-9) lost to Seneca's Paxton Bruegal by fall in 5:26 in the championship match. He received three byes before defeating Garon Whitlock of Marshfield by a major decision, 15-2, in the semifinals.
Yoshino (12-16) won two matches before losing to Shane Pearson of Reeds Spring by fall (1:03) in the finals.
Sosef (21-8) had a win by fall and major decision to reach the first-place match, where he lost to Seneca's Jace Renfro by a 3-2 decision.
Perez, Yoshino and Sosef earned second-team All-Conference honors.
"All those guys had solid matches," Factor said. "All three of those guys are underclassmen, and they definitely have some time in the future to get back there and win a conference championship."
Dominic Cervantes took third place at 126, going 2-1, including a victory over RJ Hill of Marshfield by fall in the third-place match. He earned All-Conference honorable mention honors.
Also competing for McDonald County were Paden Vance (120), Michael Owens (132), Matthew Muehlebach (144), Cross Spencer (150), Brady Bogart (157) and Huxley Wardlaw (165).
Vance (7-21) went 0-3 in his first three matches before receiving two straight byes.
Owens (4-3) went 3-2 on the day, including a win over Cody Parnell of Aurora in the fifth-place match.
Muehlebach (9-6) went 1-2, with his lone win coming in the fifth-place match against Aidrik White of Logan-Rogersville.
Spencer (10-17) also won his fifth-place match, defeating Luke Miller of Aurora.
Bogart (7-17) won his seventh-place match, defeating Matthew Brooks of Marshfield.
Wardlaw (8-18) placed fifth, going 3-2 on the day, including a win in the fifth-place match against Michael Delk of Nevada.
The Mustangs are scheduled to compete Thursday, Jan. 26, at Marshfield.
McDonald County's boys will participate in the Thrasher Tournament at Francis Howell in O'Fallon on Friday and Saturday before returning home for a three-team home match on Tuesday, Jan. 31, against Glendale and Parkview at Mustang Arena. The home dual was originally scheduled for Jan. 24 but was pushed back a week because of winter weather.