PRESCOTT VALLEY - Safford is searching for its seventh straight Division III wrestling state championship, but the Bulldogs faced a big deficit before they took the mats Friday at Tim's Toyota Center.
The Bulldogs qualified seven wrestlers for the state event, compared to 13 for Phoenix Thunderbird and 11 for Cottonwood Mingus.
"We were already at a disadvantage, man-wise, when we came in," Safford coach Herman Andrews said. "We've just got to keep fighting and scratching to get back into it."
Thunderbird took the lead Friday after the first day with 80.5 points. Mingus (52.5) was second, followed by Rio Rico (41). Safford was in fourth place with 37.
Four of Safford's seven wrestlers remain in the championship semifinals, which will be held today. They are No. 1 seed Trey Andrews (112 pounds), No. 1 Greg Ornelas (119), No. 1 Sage Ornelas (125) and No. 4 Ricardo Sierra (135).
Andrews, a junior, is seeking his third straight individual state title.
Rio Rico also has four wrestlers remaining in the championship bracket. They are No. 1 Dakota Beach (35-1), who won twice at 130 pounds, No. 2 Mark Lopez (135), who improved to 30-1, No. 4 Eric Jeong (140) and No. 1 Felipe Mabante (171).
Beach will face Sahuarita's Marcus Stitts, a No. 13 seed, but Beach said the rankings will not matter at this juncture.
Empire started with seven wrestlers and has No. 1 Mito Mendivil (160) and No. 2 Robert Nelson (heavyweight) returning to the semifinals. Mendivil was third last year; Nelson finished second.
No. 2 Dirk McOmber (196) also advanced for Empire, beating Catalina's Ian MacOmber (no relation) in the quarterfinals.
No. 3 Justin Campos (125) and No. 1 Floyd Jones (189) were the only wrestlers from Amphitheater to earn spots in the semifinals.
The Panthers entered the tournament with nine wrestlers.
Sabino also had a pair of wrestlers continue in the championship bracket - No. 3 Dallas Brown (152) and No. 5 Andrew Frisby (160). Both will be in action today in the semifinals.