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Turlock wrestling clinches second-straight CCAL title in thrilling dual over Pitman
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Turlock High freshman Uriah Castillo celebrates after channeled his clutch gene to pin Siar Faqiri and secure the Bulldogs their second straight CCAL title on Wednesday night over rival Pitman High (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

It’s always exciting when Turlock’s two high schools meet in an athletic contest. But Wednesday’s dual wrestling meet was more than just a crosstown rivalry matchup, it was the league title clincher.

Prior to the dual, both head coaches, Pitman’s Adam Vasconcellos and Turlock’s Mike Contreras, expressed the utmost confidence in their teams. Nearly three hours later at approximately 9:30 p.m., uncertain, nervous and stressed looks were seen on the faces of both men.

At that time, the scoreboard inside the Louise Marchant Gymnasium at Turlock High School read 28-21 in favor of the defending-champion Bulldogs. The Bulldogs had just lost five of their last six matches to the Pride with just three matches left. On the far end of the gym, Contreras paced back and forth, repeating the same 11 words to his assistants: “One of these little guys is gonna have to step up.”

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After the Pride faced an early 21-0 deficit to the Bulldogs, momentum swung in their favor when Carter Vannest clinched a 12-11 win over Turlock’s Dominick Luna in the final seconds of their match. At one point in the match, Vannest was losing 10-2 (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

The next man up for Turlock was Uriah Castillo, a freshman competing in the 106-pound weight class – the lightest division of the night. Anything but a win by pin would keep the Pride mathematically alive with some of their best wrestlers waiting in the wings for the final two matches. Before stepping onto the mat, Contreras pulled him aside for a pep talk. With the gameplan from his head coach fresh in his mind, Castillo put his head down and went right to work, pinning his opponent, Siar Faqiri, 39 seconds into the very first period, earning six points for the team and clinching the CCAL title for the second year in a row.

After the dual, Castillo shared what his coach told him right before his match and spoke about his mindset during the first faceoff.

“My coach just told me to keep good positioning and to stay smart,” Castillo said. “I was definitely really nervous because I didn’t really know what to expect from this kid, but I just pushed through, got the win and secured us the W. It just feels really good to now be back-to-back CCAL champions.”

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Turlock High’s Jeremiah Bertalotto capped off a streak of three straight pins to open Wednesday night’s dual against Pitman High, helping the Bulldogs jump out to an early 21-0 lead (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Coming up clutch is something that Castillo is becoming accustomed to. Earlier this season against Golden Valley, the dual actually came down to the final match, where Castillo also secured a pin to give his team the ultimate victory.

“This isn’t the first time he’s been in this situation,” Contreras said. “I have the utmost confidence in him, and he went out and won it for us and that was awesome. It almost always comes down to Turlock and Pitman, and it feels great. It feels really good especially against them.”

Like all coaches and athletes in any sport (and cardiologists), a stressful back-and-forth affair coming down to the wire is something they want to avoid. In fact, a comfortable blowout victory almost seemed likely in the early moments of Wednesday’s dual, as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 21-0 lead after the first four matches. The early advantage was thanks to pins from Ethan Ward (126), Bradlee Green (132) and Jeremiah Bertalotto (138). Isaiah Bertalotto (145) rounded out the first four with a 7-5 win.

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Though the dual was already clinched two matches earlier, Pitman High’s Lillian Avalos did not let the loss (or the fact that she was competing against a boy) deter her from pinning Jack Locke in the first period of the final match of the night. Avalos is ranked the the No.1 female wrestler at 121 lbs. in the state of California, according to (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Momentum quickly shifted to the Pride during the 152 lbs. and 160 lbs. matches., though, as they got on the board by way of a 6-0 win from Elyjah Austin and a thrilling 12-11 win from Carter Vannest. In Vannest’s win against Dominick Luna, he faced an early 10-2 deficit, but fast-forward to the final seconds of the match, he wound up securing a near fall with two seconds left to jump ahead to complete the comeback.

The Pride saw other match wins from Lilliana Avalos (122), R.J. Wilharm (115), Mason Ontiveros (182), Achilles Clarke (220) and Troy Ceja (287, HW). Avalos, Clarke and Ontiveros won via pins.

Meanwhile for the Bulldogs, other key match wins came from Curby Dimond (170) and Elijah Watson (195).

“We command a lot from our boys and our girls, so it’s awesome to see them celebrate this right now, but this is just step one,” Contreras said. “Now we start the playoffs so we’re super excited for that too… The kids know what to do. I have a good feeling about our squad, man.”

As Contreras referred to, both the Bulldogs and the Pride will now turn their attention to the postseason. First up on the schedule of playoff tournaments is the Sac-Joaquin Section Team Duals at Lincoln High School in Stockton today. Next Saturday will bring the CCAL Individual Championships.