Pitman High entered the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships in Stockton on Friday with the aim to match or best its performance from a season ago in which four of its wrestlers qualified for the State Championships. While the Pride fielded the exact same number of qualifiers as last season, Angel Velasquez's (132 pound) championship effort on the mat solidified the 2014-15 season as Pitman's most successful ever. The Pride also put in its best team performance to date with an 8th place finish.
“It's bittersweet. Obviously, every team has injuries and every team has their different issues or whatever, but I really feel that if we could have got our team healthy at the end of the year, we could have made a run for the top three,” Pitman head coach Adam Vasconcellos said.
Now, Velasquez will join his brother Adam Velasquez (120) as well as Isiah Perez (113) and Gilbert Valadez (145) in Bakersfield on Friday for the California Interscholastic Federation State Wrestling Championships.
“He's worked his entire life to be a high school state champion. There are very good kids in his bracket, tough kids, but I think he's ready. He's mentally ready, he's physically ready and he's got his mind set on it,” Vasconcellos said. “It's exciting to have our seniors achieve their goals and make it to State, especially a guy like Gilbert who has put more hours in that wrestling room than I can count.”
Velasquez (132), who placed fourth in last year's State Tournament, became only the second Section champion in Pitman's history with his 5-0 tear of his bracket. After pinning his first three opponents, Velasquez wrestled his toughest match of the tournament in a 3-0 win over Oakdale High's Max Stevens before winning a convincing finals match, 6-1, over Zach Ruybal of Del Oro High.
“A returning State placer, he's wrestled his entire life, he's on a mission for one thing. He wants to be a State champion, so this is one of those things you check off the list on the way to achieving your goals,” Vasconcellos said. “He rode everybody, he got away from everybody and he took everybody down. Pretty dominant when you can win in all three positions.”
Perez and Velasquez — who qualified for the State Tournament as a freshman last year but didn't compete due to a broken wrist — enter Friday as Pitman's lone underclassmen representatives with Perez becoming only the second Pride freshman to qualify for the tournament. Perez finished with a 5-2 record, Velasquez (120) finished with a 4-3 record and Valadez finished with a 4-2 record to place fifth, sixth and fourth, respectively.
Pitman's other Masters competitors experienced high and lows as Julien Barrera (220) went 0-2, Colby Lankford (160) and Quentin Hernandez (152) went 1-2, Lorenzo Lewis (138) went 3-2 and Cristian Clementi (170) went 5-2. Hernandez placed top 12 while Clementi placed 7th, just one spot away from a State qualification.
Pitman wasn't alone at the Masters, however. Turlock, Delhi, Denair and Hilmar High were also in Stockton with four Bulldogs, one Hawk, one Coyote and one Yellowjacket competing for State bids.
Dustin Lema (106) was Turlock's top performer with a 2-2 record. After being pinned by Anthony Velasquez of Ponderosa High in the first round, Lema battled back with two decision wins against Tim Nishimura of Bella Vista High and Jonathan DeBortoli of Central Catholic High before losing his fourth match via pin to Willy Gadow of El Dorado High.
Rafael Magana (HVY) and Isaac Perez (195) both finished with a 1-2 record while Julien Arteaga (220) went 0-2.
Jesse Flores (HVY) of Delhi and Cody Rentfro (170) of Hilmar both finished top 12 with 2-2 records in their respective brackets, with Flores barely missing the top 8 with a ninth place finish.
Flores, who qualified for Masters as a freshman last year, started the tournament with back-to-back pins over Sal Ordonez of Jesuit High and Zach Brazell of El Dorado. Flores lost 5-7 in the quarterfinals to Mike McCauley of Vacaville High, however, and was finally eliminated by Clint Schallberger of Tokay High, 4-2.
“Jesse was tired from the night before and the kids basically rode the second and third period,” Delhi head coach Ray Cedres said. “His goal is state next year. We've already been two Masters twice.”
Rentfro, like Flores, also entered the tournament as one of the few sophomore from the area, but unlike Flores Friday marked his first Masters experience. Rentfro won round one via pin against Nick Diaz of Oak Ridge and won round two via major decision against Zach Krock of Elk Grove High.
“I thought he did a real good job. His first two matches he wrestled outstanding and I felt like at that point in time we had a legitimate shot at placing,” Hilmar head coach Bruce Scott said.
But Rentfro ran into Ben Johnson of Vista Del Lago High in his next match and lost a 3-9 decision. The loss set up a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V Championships finals match with Ayden Garcia of Calaveras High. Despite beating Garcia 11-3 for the SJS DV title, Rentfro lost the rematch via a 2-4 decision.
“The sophomore didn't feel the finality of it all and the senior did, and because of that he (Garcia) wrestled a much better match than the last time when we beat him,” Scott said.
The final local representative at Masters, Denair's Luiz Mendoza (195), finished with a 1-2 record with losses via pin to Jay Johnson of Buhach Colony High — the eventual section champion — and Daniel Fernandez of Los Banos High and a win via pin against Eloa Chadwick of Modesto High.