The Oakley High School wrestling team was set up to have one of the most impressive Friday performances of area teams with four wrestlers reaching the semifinals of the Bob Kuhn Prairie Classic Friday at the Hays High School.

Unfortunately for the Plainsmen, Chris Cox, at 220 pounds, was the only one to advance to Saturday’s championship round.

Junior Estin Slack was the first Oakley wrestler with an opportunity to secure a spot in the finals. After a first-round pin, Slack topped Goodland’s Kasey Stramel in a 6-2 decision to advance to the semifinals where he met Haysville-Campus’ Boo Dryden. Slack hung with Dryden, who entered Friday with a 24-2 record, but couldn’t score late in a 4-2 loss.

“I think Slack had a chance to win against Dryden,” Oakley coach Dylan Campbell said. “We just didn’t shoot any shots until 20 seconds left in the third period. (We) can’t do that.”

Wyatt Murphy, the second Plainsmen in a semifinal, picked up three pins en route to his match with Dalton Hensley, an Ellis junior who entered with a 19-2 record. Hensley moved to 22-2 and advanced to a meet with Hoisington’s Christophe Ball in the finals with a technical fall victory over Murphy.

Oakley’s two final chances to reach the finals, Cox and Macoy Rains, wrestled at the same time at opposite ends of the gym. Campbell was watching Cox’s match at first but headed to the opposite end of the gym when controversy surrounded the end of Rains’ 182-pound match against Kyle True, an undefeated senior from Salina Central.

Rains controlled most of the match until the final moments when True countered and picked up a 9-8 win as the third period ended. There was an immediate dispute over whether it was an escape or a reversal, but all parties agreed the correct call was made after a second look.

“I didn’t think that he was within four inches of near fall,” Campbell said of his initial response. “I re-watched the video as soon as it got done, and the refs made the right call.

“It’s tough, but it’s how it goes. You can’t blow leads.”

It was Rains’ first loss in five matches this season. He missed the first part of the season recovering from injuries sustained in football.

Moments after Rains’ loss, Cox ensured Oakley would have at least one representative in the finals. He led Hoisington junior Justin Bradley 3-1 in the final seconds and scored late for a 5-1 victory. He won his first two matches by fall and major decision, respectively. Cox will wrestle Salina Central senior Michael McMullen for the championship today. McMullen started Friday with a 26-1 record and pinned his way to Saturday's final.

The Oakley sophomore hears from family, friends and coaches that he needs to be a little more aggressive on the mat, and he said that will be a key factor in Saturday's match.

“I think I did a pretty good job,” Cox said. “There’s a lot to improve on. I wasn’t taking too many shots and I need to do that a little bit more. I can’t always be an upper-body type wrestler. Overall, I think I did pretty well, and the team did pretty well today.”

Cox’s review matched that of his coach.

“He wrestled alright,” Campbell said. “We’ve got some work to do on our feet. I’d like to see a little more aggression, but he won. We’ll see in the finals how he wrestles.

“He’s strong as an ox. He’s got good natural awareness.”

As a team, the Plainsmen sit in eighth place with 57 points after Friday. Campus leads the 24-team field with 109.5 points, while Salina Central is second with 104.

TMP's Rhoades advances to finals

Thomas More Prep-Marian junior Tucker Rhoades entered the Bob Kuhn Prairie Classic Friday with a 15-1 record and added three wins to advance to Saturday's 132-pound championship.

Friday's performance was the latest of an impressive start for Rhoades, who didn't wrestle until after the holiday break while he recovered from a broken tibia suffered during the TMP football season. After qualifying for the Class 4A state meet a year ago, the junior feels like he's just starting to hit his stride.

"I'm starting to catch up on conditioning and get into the groove of things again," he said.

Rhoades wasted little time in the first round, pinning Salina Central's Chance Sorell in under a minute.

In his second match, against Pratt's Roman Ibarra, the junior earned a second-period fall. 

He clinched a spot in the first-place match with his third pin of the day. Campus freshman Brycen Schroeder brought a 25-9 record into the semifinal and fought for 5:27 before the referee slapped the mat.

Saturday afternoon's opponent, Buhler junior Justin Hershberger, will bring a 24-7 record into the championship. Rhoades said that entering the match with the proper mental state and sustaining throughout the match will be of the utmost importance.

"I'm going to have to be focused, warmed up and ready to go," Rhoades said. "I gotta give it everything."