Three weeks after reaching the OHSAA Division II state championship match at 160 pounds in Columbus, Hernandez won six consecutive matches to reach the title match at the 30th annual NHSCA High School Nationals on Sunday at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
In the finals, Hernandez was unable to score a takedown — falling 3-2 against Arizona’s Tanner Mendoza in the 170-pound finals of the junior grade division.
Considered the crown jewel of high school wrestling, Hernandez’s weight bracket alone featured 54 state placers and 16 state champions among the 103-person field.
In Sunday’s title match, Hernandez took a shot with 1:22 left in the first period, but Mendoza was able to counter it and turn it into two points at the 1:01 mark — which proved to be the only offensive points in the match.
An escape by Hernandez with 54 seconds left made it a 2-1 deficit. Mendoza got out in six seconds to start the second to put Hernandez down 3-1, and the rest of the period consisted of hand fighting and defense by both grapplers.
From the down position to start the third, Hernandez was able to his out for his second escape point in 10 seconds, making it a 3-2 deficit. However, Mendoza, a state champion from Arizona, was able to block four different attempts by Hernandez down the stretch to hold on for the win.
Hernandez, who was seeded fourth in the weight, opened his tournament with a 6-1 decision over Rowdy Pfeil (Wyoming). Pfeil won a state title in February at 160.
Hernandez then handled Florida’s Matthew Vann by pin at the 5:29 mark after leading 17-4. He dominated Broddey Cunningham (Idaho) with a pin at the 4:34 mark in the Round of 32 after he had built a 14-2 advantage. Cunningham also won a state title at 170 in February.
In the Round of 16, Hernandez won by pin at the 2:46 mark over Kaul Runfola, who placed fourth at state in New York, to assure All-American status.
Things got much tougher with a spot in semifinals on the line. Hernandez scored a 3-2 decision over Jakeem Littles (Georgia).Littles was another state champion Hernandez beat, as he won state at 182 in February.
Hernandez then beat Kentucky’s Micah Ervin, a state finalist in February, with a 6-5 decision to reach the championship match.
The junior class set a new record with 1,309 wrestlers from 47 states and Italy. There were 351 state champions total in the 14 weight classes, including 24 three-time state champs and 72 two-time state champs.
There were six divisions of competition on 48 mats under one roof. There were 4,763 wrestlers from 49 states, Canada, Italy and Germany competing. More than 1,300 high school and college coaches as well as over 5,000 spectators attended the event.
Past champions at the Nationals include Olympic gold medalists Cael Sanderson, Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner.
At the state championships at Ohio State’s Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus from March 7-9, Hernandez went 3-1 in the 160-pound bracket in Div. II.
He opened with a pin in three minutes, then won 6-5 in the quarterfinals and 10-3 in the semifinals to become Norwalk’s first state semifinalist since Walt Robertson in 1992.
In the state title match, Hernandez fell to four-time state finalist Ben Pasiuk, 6-2, to finish second. Pasiuk also won the 160-pound title on Sunday in the senior grade division. Hernandez ended the season with a 53-4 record. He will enter his senior season as a three-time state qualifier and a two-time state placer, as he also placed third in 2018.