High-class wrestlers are often separated by the slimmest of margins — a point, a move, a mistake. This is especially true at the CIF State Wrestling Championships where the best wrestlers California has to offer come together to decide who's number one.
Angel Velasquez knows this all too well. After placing 4th in last year's State Tournament with Modesto High, Velasquez hit the mats at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield this past weekend with the goal of becoming a champion under the Pitman High banner. Velasquez was perfect in the first day of competition as he went 4-0 and advanced to the semifinals. Day two of the State Tournament followed a different course for Velasquez, however, as he finished 1-2 to duplicate last year's performance with another 4th place finish.
“I’m dissatisfied. I don’t know, I have had time to think about it and I think I could have wrestled better matches,” Velasquez said. “You don’t get more tries at it, you only get one shot at it.”
“He did everything he possibly could. Sometimes it just comes down to who is better that day. I think on a different day Angel might be the best guy in the bracket, it just didn’t fall his way today,” Pitman head coach Adam Vasconcellos said.
Saturday began with a semifinal match against Julian Flores of San Marino High, the eventual 132-pound champion. After a 0-0 first round that saw Flores maneuver his way out of a single leg attempt, the San Marino wrestler earned an second-period escape against Velasquez which was followed by a takedown. Velasquez was unable to earn an escape of his own and entered the third period down 0-3.
“We wrestled a little tight,” Vasconcellos said of the semifinal match. “We didn’t move forward as much as we wanted to and we kind of got off our game plan a little bit.”
Velasquez got on the scoreboard with an escape in the beginning of the third period but was unable to do much more afterward. The Pride wrestler caught a break when he was awarded a stall point to put the win in reach, but Flores was able to use the wrestling ring to his advantage with a quick, duck under take down in the closing moments of the match to earn the 5-2 win.
“He got a stalling call so I just kept pushing forward, pushing forward. I tried pushing him out of bound and I got ducked. That was just a careless mistake...I could have just retreated back and lost by one or I could go out there and try to win the match,” Velasquez said. “He was faster than I expected. I hadn’t wrestled anyone that fast in a while. I’ve wrestled guys better than Flores and I’ve beaten guys better than Flores.”
“I just hadn’t wrestled any high quality wrestlers like that all season,” he added.
Velasquez bounced back with a 3-2 win over Manny Lair of Poway High in the consolation bracket to set up a third-place match with Alexander Felix of Gilroy High.
Velasquez's match with Felix wound up being his closest of the tournament. After a scoreless first period, Felix earned one point via escape in the second and Velasquez earned one point via escape in the third, taking the match into overtime. Velasquez very nearly earned several take downs to take the win but Felix was able to effectively use the wrestling ring to stop double leg and single leg attempts and move out of bounds to negate potential points for Velasquez.
After again splitting the first two overtime periods with escapes, Velasquez and Felix found themselves in triple overtime. With time winding down and a potential tie-breaker on the horizon that would see Felix in the bottom position, Velasquez pressed the issue for a takedown. In his sense of urgency he found himself out of position and was tossed to the mat. The take down sealed his 4th place finish.
“He had to force something a little bit there because he knew that in the final overtime the Gilroy guy was going to get choice because he scored the first point,” Vasconcellos said.
“I figured I might as well go get a take down here and try to end it here, so I kind of just went after it and made a dumb mistake and I got caught in some under hooks,” Velasquez said.
With his 4th place finish Velasquez becomes the fifth State medalist for Pitman as well as its second-best State performer. While the high school season is over for the Pitman senior, Velasquez is not finished rolling on the mat as he will compete in this weekend's ORCA (Oregon vs. California vs. Washington) Senior All-Star Dual at Shasta College. Velasquez is also receiving multiple offers from college programs and is expected to make a decision on a school in the next couple of weeks.