Israel Saavedra returned to the Modesto High campus this week as a California state wrestling champion.
The list of Panther state wrestling champs is short. It starts and ends with him.
Saavedra made some serious mat history with his thrilling 5-3 overtime win over Lemoore's Sean Williams during Saturday night's 113-pound final at the CIF State Championship.
He was one of 14 to take home weight-class championships, and he was saluted by about 7,000 at Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena.
Saavedra's spoils of victory:
He and St. John Bosco's Aaron Pico (132 pounds) became only the 10th and 11th freshmen to ever win state titles
He is the first Modesto City Schools state champion since Mike Hurst (189 pounds) of Davis High in 2004
He is the first city schools star not from Davis to bring home the top honor.
Saavedra's pulsating and somewhat controversial victory over Williams still was a subject of conversation for wrestling fans this week. The Modesto High freshman was awarded a point with 3 seconds left in regulation after Williams was called for stalling. That tied the match 3-3 and forced the overtime.
Williams, who stunned the crowd during Saturday morning's semifinal victory over Zahid Valencia of Bosco ranked first nationally at 113 pounds was warned for stalling early in the match against Saavedra.
Saavedra (48-1), pushing and stalking his opponent from start to finish, no doubt helped his cause by being the aggressor. After Williams took a 3-1 lead with 40 seconds left (followed by Saavedra's escape), Saavedra continued forward.
When Saavedra took his final shot while Williams retreated off the mat, the referee made his call.
Not all referees would be willing to make such a call so late in a title match, several observers conceded. It was telling, however, that there was little if any argument from the Lemoore coaches or any stoppage in action.
"If he (Williams) wasn't backing up so much, he might have won," Modesto coach Jose Costello said. "He (the ref) called it because the kid kept backing up. At that high level of competition, you have to stay on the mat. You have to be there for a reason. Israel controlled the tempo. That's why he was awarded that point."
Saavedra then won the match 31 seconds into the overtime on a splendid countering move. Williams shot but the Modestan responded by spinning from behind and wrapping up his opponent for the title.
"You just stuff the head and spin behind," Costello said. "Angel (Angel Saavedra, Modesto assistant coach and Israel's father) has been drilling that move since Israel was a baby."
NOTES It's not uncommon for Stanislaus District wrestlers to receive the Sportsmanship Award at the State Meet. But three were honored in their respective weight classes this year: Three-time state qualifier Gabe Balderas of Ceres (113), Joey Abbate of Central Catholic (138) and Latrell Benjamin of Gregori (152). All are seniors.
Trevor Smith's third-place medal at 195 made him the highest-finishing state wrestler in Ripon High history. He topped his sixth in 2012.
Public address announcer Sandy Stevens, the "Voice of Wrestling," led the crowd Saturday night with a chant of "Let's Keep Wrestling!," a response to the Olympics' recent banning of the sport. The crowd over the two days was announced at 19,519, 1,300 over last year. Twenty wrestlers from the Sac-Joaquin Section earned medals (top eight), the section's best count in three years. Since officials re-allocate state-meet berths every other year, the section should keep its seven spots per weight class next year. It probably will need another 20-plus medals in 2014, however, to keep that number. ...The section vaulted seven into the finals, including champions Saavedra, Peter Santos of Oakmont (170) and Jeramy Sweany of Vacaville (195). Sweany defeated Elk Grove's Scott Votino 6-1 in an all-section final.
John Azevedo, the two-time state champion from Davis (1974 and '75) and a four-time NCAA champion at Cal State Bakersfield, led the 138-pound medalists onto the arena floor before the finals. Later, he remembered the late Dan Gonsalves his coach at Davis whose funeral was held Monday. "A solid coach. He gave me a great foundation," said Azevedo, who became a coach at Bakersfield. "He was a serious man who expected you to do the right thing."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter on modbeesports.com.
Israel Saavedra, Fr., Modesto, 113, champion
Ray Lomas, Sr., Central Catholic 160, 3rd
Trevor Smith, Sr., Ripon, 195, 3rd
Justin Brown, Sr., Calaveras, 160, 7th
Nico Colunga, Soph., Oakdale, 106, 8th
Isaac Bertalotto, Soph., Turlock, 132, 8th