MONETT, Mo. -- As soon as the final match of the Big 8 Conference wrestling tournament ended, Seneca coach Jeff Sill checked the team standings one last time.
At first, he almost didn’t believe what he saw.
Despite facing a six-point deficit heading into the round of finals matches at Monett High School on Friday night, Seneca rallied to claim the conference title with a one-point advantage over Monett -- the team that defeated the Indians just a night earlier in a dual at Seneca.
“Six points is a pretty steep hill to climb when you have five finalists and the winning team has eight,” Seneca coach Jeff Sill said. “We just had to go out there and perform, and control what we could control.”
Four of Seneca’s five finalists were ultimately crowned champions to bring the team up to 344 points for the tourney.
“It took a team effort to get it done,” Sill said. “We not only had to win matches, but we also needed bonus points to make up some ground. Fortunately, we did just that.”
Monett finished with 343 points and was followed by Marshfield (286.5), Rogersville (278.5), McDonald County (196.5), Reeds Spring (196), Nevada (165), Cassville (112), Hollister (43) and Springfield Catholic (28).
Three-time state placer Dayton Fields moved Seneca ahead of Monett in the team standings with a second-period fall over Marshfield’s Jordon Irwin in the 160-pound championship match.
Seneca started the finals round with back-to-back wins by Levi Connelly (106) and Kendon Pollard (113). Connelly earned an 8-1 decision over Rogersville’s Preston Sleeth, and Pollard pinned McDonald County’s Eh Doh Say in the second period.
Two-time state champion Dalton Hembree claimed a 7-3 finals win over Marshfield’s Will Snider at the 145-pound weight class.
“We had a dual with Monett (on Thursday) and they beat us pretty bad, so we were wanting to out-do them tonight,” Hembree said. “We pulled it off, and I think that just shows that this team is always going to keep fighting no matter what. It doesn’t matter what the result is. We just want to compete to the best of our ability.”
Of the eight Monett finalists, four came away with titles. But just two managed to earn bonus points.
“It was close, but (Seneca) just had more bonus points and we lost a couple of close matches,” Monett coach Daryl Bradley said. “You have to win bonus points if you expect to win conference championships.”
Winning individual titles for Monett were defending state champions Karter Brink (120) and Joseph Semerad (132), Gunnar Bradley (152) and Wesley Merriman (195).
“We had 10 guys in the top three, so it’s good to say that,” Bradley said. “But still, I’m kind of scratching my head and saying to myself, ‘How did they beat us?’ I thought we did everything we needed to do, but they just had more than us tonight.”
At the end of the tournament, Bradley was named the Big 8 Conference Coach of the Year.
The tournament’s Most Valuable Wrestler award was given to McDonald County’s Oscar Ortiz (126), a defending state champion who went 3-0 with a pair of falls. He earned a 9-7 overtime victory over returning state runner-up Matthew Bahl of Monett in the finals.
“I knew it’d be a close match (in the finals),” Ortiz said. “I wrestled him in the Branson finals last week and won 3-1. I was wrestling a little sick today, but I needed to be a little more aggressive and take more shots. So there’s still room for improvement.”
Marshfield was led by one conference champion in Clay Wilson (182), who pinned Rogersville’s Jake Carrow in his championship match.
Caleb Longobardi (285) was the solo champion for Nevada and earned a 6-2 decision over Monett’s Raymond Villalta in the finals.
Friday marked the first Big 8 Conference tournament in more than 20 years thanks to a recent wave of conference realignment that went into effect this school year. The number of wrestling program the Big 8 comprises is now up from four to 10.