In front of 12,195 fans inside the Jerome Schottenstein Center at Ohio State University in Columbus, Hernandez was introduced on the raised center mat as Norwalk’s first state finalist in 27 years.
““That was the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Hernandez said. “I wanted to smile, but knew I had to have my game face on. But to see my parents and my coaches, and seeing all the people out there … it was the greatest experience.
“I wish a lot of people could experience that, but it’s only limited to the best, so I guess that’s something I can be happy about,” he added.
Facing the season-long favorite to win the state championship at 160 pounds in Division II, Carrollton’s Ben Pasiuk, Hernandez was unable to amount enough offense in the 6-2 loss by decision.
It was scoreless after one period, but Pasiuk (44-1) got stellar defense and turned it into offense in the second.
He scored two escapes for a 2-0 lead 29 seconds into the period, then got his first takedown by countering a Hernandez shot for a 4-0 lead. It was 4-1 in favor of Pasiuk in the final 15 seconds of the second, but he again was able to get under and take Herndanez down for a 6-1 lead.
After three heartbreaking losses in the championship match in each of the previous three seasons, Pasiuk then kept his guard up on defense through the third.
Herndanez got an escape with 1:21 left, but every shot he took was easily turned away by Pasiuk in the defeat.
“He’s got a very strong neutral defense and offense, very well-rounded,” Hernandez said of Pasiuk. “I couldn’t get anything going. If I can’t shoot, I can’t score. He really limited me on shooting so I couldn’t score any points, and that’s what ultimately what won him the match.”
Hernandez opened with a pin in three minutes, then won by 6-5 and 7-3 decisions to reach the title match. He finished his junior season with a 53-4 mark, and has now placed third and second at state, respectively, with one year left.
“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had, and just being able to make it here is a huge accomplishment,” he said. “It’s what I’ve been dreaming of since I was five. I didn’t get the outcome I wanted, but I got one more year to work for that.
“I have to work harder, figure out what I’m doing wrong or go back to the drawing board and try to get it for next year,” he added.
Going into the championships as the No. 2-ranked wrestler in the weight class, Hernandez never believed there was pressure on him to win. He did admit, however, it didn’t hit him initially the significance of reaching the championship match.
He is the fifth Norwalk wrestler to reach the state title match, and the first since Walt Robertson in 1992. Other Norwalk finalists include the program’s only state champion, Dan Pugh (1972), along with Daryl Smith (1974) and Tim Corrigan (1982).
“I realized how big of a deal it really is,” Hernandez said. “Obviously I wanted more, but I couldn’t get it. I got next year and need to work harder. I have to change some things and hope for the best.”
Putting a cap on the weekend, Norwalk’s Alec Maloney placed third (220), Gabe Phillips was fifth at 182, and Tche Leroux was sixth at heavyweight. With the points from Hernandez added in, the Truckers finished sixth overall with 60 points in the Div. II team standings.
The four state placers is the most in a single-season for the program, resulting in the highest finish at state as a team.
“Us placing is awesome, but seeing us on that top 10 leaderboard the whole weekend is even better — that is the cherry on top,” Hernandez said. “Next year, hopefully we can get more kids down here and get even higher on that leaderboard — and hopefully we can get a few state champions on our team.
“This weekend has been incredible with my teammates,” he added. “An unbelievable feeling. I never thought we’d be here, but here we are. Just awesome.”