STOCKTON Gabe Gonzalez of Grace Davis proved that momentum can carry a wrestler a long way even to the State Championships.
Gonzalez, a senior who's finishing his career with a major rush, punched his ticket to Bakersfield Friday night with an 8-5 win over Waterford's lanky Erick Gomez. That put Gonzalez into today's semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Wrestling Championships, which means he's already assured of a top-seven finish in the 160-pound class.
And every wrestler understands the bottom line if you finish in the top seven, you've extended your season.
"I knew I could do it, but could I perform here?" Gonzalez said moments after his third win of the long day. "It's never easy here. I kind of surprised myself."
Gonzalez didn't need to be told this was his last shot. Three times he's reached the Masters. Twice he's gone home. But he rolled into this day. Gonzalez dominated both the Modesto Metro Conference Championships and the Section Division 1 South at Lincoln, winning every match at both events via pin.
Still, nothing would be handed to Gonzalez. Gomez, waving the banner for the small schools, advanced to state in 2009. He jumped to a 2-0 lead before Gonzalez took control.
"There is not a single wimp left in this tournament," Davis coach Mike Cantwell assessed as the final bouts ended. "Every kid still alive here is legit."
The quarterfinals of the Masters amounts to a crossroads. The winners advance to state, regardless of what happens today. The losers, however, must win twice in the consolation bracket.
"You can wrestle bad in other tournaments and win 5-1," Escalon coach Derek Scott mused. "But if you wrestle bad here, you lose. The margin for error is very small."
Almost on cue, Escalon freshman Johnathon Costa trailed 5-0 after 20 seconds against Connor Pollock of Folsom in the 103-pound quarterfinals. Was the freshman in over his head? Hardly. Costa won 6-5 and brought the Escalon contingent to its feet.
Nineteen wrestlers from the Stanislaus District, featuring four apiece from Oakdale and Central Catholic, have advanced to the semifinals. Not surprisingly, the Mustangs sit in third place and the Raiders in fifth on the team list.
That David Ferry of Central Catholic marched to the semis didn't raise any eyebrows, since he's ranked No. 1 in the section at 135. But older brother Cameron Ferry showed some fortitude against Ceres' Tony Spinella. Ferry scored a takedown with 2.1 seconds left to tie the match 5-5, then he won it overtime.
Teammate and fellow senior Steven Widmer illustrated some moxie of his own. He shook off an early 2-0 deficit in the 125-pound quarters and pinned Eric Meredith of Sheldon in the second round. Widmer, a four-time Masters qualifier, goes to state for the first time.
"A good day for some, not for others." Central Catholic coach Steve Strange concluded. "The boys who got to the semis were focused."
Indeed, Ceres senior Curtis Hulstine screamed and raised his fists toward the rafters after he worked Brenden Sullivan of Calaveras 8-0 in another 125-pound quarterfinal. Hulstine, unsuccessful in two previous Masters appearances, becomes the first Ceres wrestler in nearly a decade to reach state.
Sullivan's loss only slightly tarnished a big day by Calaveras, which vaulted three into the semis. Conversely, Turlock felt a mixed bag of emotion. Garrett Fortado is state-bound at 103 and so is the favored Fabian Garcia at 119. But junior Brandon Egleston a former section champion at 103 lost in the second round and later was eliminated in the consolation bracket.
Egleston, forced to jump two weight classes to 125 late in the season, was doomed by a growth spurt.
"It was just too much weight to give up," Turlock coach Mike Contreras said. "I do know he'll come back and have a great senior year."
As for the immediate future, it's today at 10:15 a.m. for the semifinals, 3:30 p.m. for the finals, and an entire wrestling season at stake for everyone left.