But the freshman only got the opportunity for one NOL title because of the pending merger with the Sandusky Bay Conference — and he made the most of it Saturday afternoon at Sandusky High School.
Hernandez (36-5) won an 8-1 decision over Shelby's Brahm Ginter (34-5) in the title match at 160 pounds. Leading 2-1 after one period, he used a flurry of offense in the second period to pull away from Ginter — projected as a state placer by some rankings.
“I was looking forward as a middle schooler to be a four-time NOL champ for Norwalk,” Hernandez said. “So it kind of bums me out a little in that regard, but the SBC will be even harder. So if I can win that next year it's an even bigger accomplishment is how I will look at it.”
While Hernandez was one of three champions on Saturday for the Truckers, first-year coach Jim Linder was left to wonder 'what if' after the final round concluded.
Tiffin Columbian dominated the field at Saturday's tournament, finishing with 176 points. But the Tornadoes lost three NOL dual meets — which count toward the overall standings at the end of the season.
With Sandusky edging Norwalk by three points (39-36) earlier in the season, the Truckers just had to finish ahead of the Blue Streaks to win the final NOL title. Instead, it was Sandusky scoring 136.5 points to Norwalk's 135.
“Just 1.5 points away from being league champs,” Linder said. “We had some high spots and low spots. I can look up and down the lineup and find those two points we needed in a lot of places.
“So, back to the practice room and the next goal is to see how many kids we can get out of the sectional back here next weekend,” he added. “Missed opportunities have been our theme all year. We lost to Sandusky by three points in a dual and we had to make those points up today — and we lost another close one.”
Freshman D.J. Smith (13-13) used a big takedown in overtime to top Columbian's Tyler Eisenhower at 152. Smith and Hernandez flipped weight classes just for Saturday.
Also for the Truckers, Abdulla Silmi (12-1) pinned Columbian's Austin Bell (25-12) in just 2:26 to claim the title at 220. Finishing second for Norwalk included Caleb Edney (113), Deyer Graffice (132), Alec Maloney (182) and Raymore (195).
Gabe Phillips (30-10) was third at 170 and Drew Yourkvich was fourth at 126.
“We switched weight classes for our freshmen at 52 and 60 and both still won titles in good performances,” Linder said. “Hernandez has been our star all year, and DJ winning at 152 was certainly a bright spot.”
Hernandez talked about the significance of his win Saturday.
“Not bad of a performance for him being No. 6 in the state rankings right now,” Hernandez said of beating Ginter. “I came in blind. When we faced Shelby he bumped up a weight and faced (teammate) Gabe (Phillips). I did my best and got the win. It gives me a lot of confidence in myself and my shots and defense.”
As NOL members from the league's beginning in the 1944-45 school year, coming so close was tough for Linder and the Truckers.
“It's a little disappointing to be this close and not get a part of it, you know?” Linder said. “That was our goal, to just beat Sandusky and we'd be co-champs. That's all we had to do, but give credit for Tiffin and what they did … they were definitely the best team in the league today, specifically, by far.”
Willard places five
The Crimson Flashes scored 37 points with two wrestlers finishing in third place and three placing fourth.
Josh Medina scored a fall in just 23 seconds to earn third at 126, while DJ Slone won a 9-7 decision for third at 145. Devin Brant lost in OT (9-7) at 182 for fourth place, and Kaden Compton was fourth at 195.