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Mooseheart's Joe Feemorlu tries to more free from Mercer County's Jon Ricke in their 170-pound quarterfinal at the IHSA Class 1A Oregon Sectional. Ricke pinned Feemorlu in the second period.
Mooseheart's Junior Smith (left) tries to break free from Morrison's Austin Shoup in their 182-pound quarterfinal. Smith won and advanced to the IHSA Class 1A Oregon Sectional semifinals.
Mooseheart 120-pound wrestler makes a move in his opening round match with Rock Falls' Konner Smith. Smith defeated Strickland 19-14.
Mooseheart 220-pounder U-Jay Smith tries to find an opening in his quarterfinal match with Mercer County's Bobby Lincoln. Smith suffered a pin defeat in the second round of the match.
OREGON, IL, Feb. 8 – Junior Smith stands on the brink of accomplishing something never achieved in all the years Mooseheart has had a wrestling team: qualify for the IHSA State Meet.
But standing in Smith's path in the 182-pound semifinals at the Class 1A Oregon Sectional is the top-ranked wrestler in the state – Lena-Winslow's Logan Staver.
On a day when all qualification spots will be decided in Oregon, the Smith-Staver semifinal is just one of a number of intriguing matchups in what is always the toughest small-school sectional in Illinois. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to next week's state meet, so a semifinal victory ensures representation at the University of Illinois' Assembly Hall in Thursday's opening round.
"We've been here before and there's always good wrestling and we expected that," Mooseheart wrestling coach Mark Johnson said. "We've got some guys who have already gone farther than I thought they would, and we'll see what happens (Saturday.)"
The two-day format is set so none of the sectional qualifiers is eliminated in the first day of competition. So all four Mooseheart wrestlers – Junior Smith, Sammy Strickland, Joe Feemorlu and U-Jay Smith – still have a mathematical chance of state qualification. But Junior Smith was the only winner of the Ramblers' quartet on Friday – and the path through Saturday wrestlebacks just to reach the consolation match is always difficult.
Smith took his record to 24-0 with Friday night's 11-4 victory over Morrison's Austin Shoup.
"We knew this match was really important," Smith said. "It would allow me to keep the momentum into (Saturday.)"
Smith used a takedown-near fall combination to work to a 6-1 lead after the first period. Shoup (27-14) rallied at the start of the second period, but Smith avoided making outrageous moves or mistakes that could have cost him the match.
"We've been emphasizing all year to stick to things that I know I can execute over and over again." Smith said. "There have been a couple of matches where I have gotten too worked up and tried to do too much. We knew the competition was going to be stiff, so we wanted to stick to what I knew and what I'm good at."
Smith continued to wrestle solidly through the third period to earn his chance to wrestle Staver, who is 28-0 this season.
"Anything can happen," Smith said. "It's about who really wants it. For a lot of people, this match would be mind-blowing. For me, I'm excited about it. These are the matches, in the offseason when you're training, you're thinking 'I want to get into that match and prove to everybody how good I am."
Early in his 120-pound opening-round match with Rock Falls' Konner Smith, Strickland seemed in good shape. He led 9-5 after the first round and was tied 14-14 after two rounds. Smith earned a takedown in the final minute and added a near-fall to claim a 19-15 victory.
Strickland meets Mendota's Jaron Robinson in the opening-round of wrestlebacks.
In the 170-pound quarterfinals, Feemorlu was pinned with 1:06 left in the second period and was trailing Mercer County's Jon Ricke at that point in the match. Feemorlu faces Wheaton Academy's John Gemmel in the first round of wrestlebacks.
U-Jay Smith was trailing after the first period of his 220-pound quarterfinal match with Mercer County's Bobby Lincoln, who made a swift move to earn a pin 22 seconds into the second period.
"We'll see happens with those guys," Johnson said.