When Emilio Saavedra attacked, McCoy Kent countered. When Kent thrust, Saavedra parried. When Saavedra launched, Kent defended.
Two of Northern California’s elite wrestlers – Saavedra, the established star from Modesto High School, and McCoy, the rising star from Enochs – engaged in the 140-pound Modesto Metro Conference final Thursday at Grace Davis. But if you closed your eyes and let your imagination wander, you could have relocated that match to Bakersfield, the site of the CIF State Championships.
It was low-scoring, strategic and waged at a high level – much like the tense encounters seen each year at Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena. When it ended, neither young man scored a takedown in a dual that wasn’t settled until a pressurized third overtime.
Kent emerged the victor 3-2 with a clutch escape point as he kicked his left leg free of Saavedra’s grasp. The win avenged a 6-5 loss to Saavedra, also decided by an escape point, two weeks ago in dual-meet action.
“He (Saavedra) had more to lose. He was ranked higher and known more,” Kent said. “We know each other’s techniques. It was basically decided by the first guy who put the points on the scoreboard.”
Not much separated Kent (38-4), a junior who’s ranked fourth in the Sac-Joaquin Section at 147 (he’s dropped to 140 for the postseason), and Saavedra, the proud senior and two-time state medalist who’s ranked first at 140.
They’ve been friends since their days together at the Central Catholic youth camp, and their familiarity showed throughout their latest match. Eventually, a seemingly small thing separated them.
By scoring first in the match, Kent was given the option to be in the up or down position to start the third OT. He chose “bottom” in wrestling’s version of penalty kicks in soccer. If Saavedra held his advantage on top, he would have been declared the winner. Instead, Kent bounced free, not unlike last fall as a running back for the Enochs football team.
“I’m very good at bottom. I can get out,” Kent said. “Now I can relax for a couple of days.”
Kent no doubt improved his seeding for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I-AA tournament Feb. 21-22 at Enochs. The MMC will send its four top finishers in each bracket.
Saavedra’s loss aside, Modesto demonstrated the power that brought the Panthers their first league dual-meet title since 1979. Five Mo-Hi wrestlers took home titles: Adam Velasquez (108), reigning state champion Israel Saavedra (122), Angel Velasquez (128), Adam Darwish (192) and Cesar Arreola (287). Israel Saavedra, Darwish and Adam Velasquez all won by first-round fall, and Angel Velasquez held on to beat Devon Sookoo of Enochs 4-3.
Meanwhile, Beyer responded with its own five titles: Paul Fagbamila (134), Josh Peterson (147), Martin Sandoval (154), Diego Sandoval (162) and Kenny Severe (222). Fagbamila survived a tough 9-7 decision over Gregori’s Cadence Mitchell.
Gregori crowned two champions, both via pin – Nick Kerr (115) and Nathan Ah-You. (172). Ah-You avenged two losses last season to Downey’s Joe Camp, one of them in the MMC final. Also winning was Chase Larson of Enochs (184).
The meet’s final match, however, was worth the wait. The win by Kent suggested further heroics from both combatants in the very near future.
“He (Saavedra) probably will medal (at state) again, but I’m looking forward to a medal, too,” Kent said. “I’ll probably see him again.”
Prep wrestler of the week – Grace Davis senior Natalie Brown cried happy tears last weekend after she swept four matches for the 106-pound title of the Section Girls Invitational at McNair High. Brown, who defeated Brittney Morgan of Monterey Trail 6-3 in the final, will advance to the CIF Girls Championships for the second straight year. She placed sixth in 2013 and hopes to improve on that from Feb. 28-March 1 at the Visalia Convention Center.
Brown, who didn’t break into the sport until she was a freshman, has wrestled against boys for most of her career.
“I like beating the boys. It makes me tougher, and it makes you work out and train harder,” she said.
Notes – The MMC meet kicked off wrestling’s four-week postseason campaign. The league meets continue with the Central California Conference today at Golden Valley, followed by a busy Saturday: the Western Athletic Conference at Ceres, the Valley Oak League at Sonora, the Trans-Valley League at Hughson, the Southern League at Big Valley Christian and the Mother Lode League at Bret Harte. From there, the qualifiers advance to the Section Divisionals next Friday and Saturday, the Masters in Stockton on Feb. 28-March 1 and the State Meet in Bakersfield on March 7-8. ... Escalon senior Frankie Bavaro suffered a season-ending dislocated elbow during last Saturday’s Section Team Duals in Stockton. Bavaro, the Cougars’ 160-pounder, took on Calaveras’ Austin Garant in the match that decided the Division V title. Garant attempted a head throw and Bavaro tried to brace his fall, resulting in the injury. Bavaro screamed in pain on the mat. Garant was declared the winner by injury-default to give Calaveras a 37-28 win and the title. “I’ve lost and won in a lot of different ways, but I’ve never seen one like that,” Escalon coach Derek Scott said. “We’ll know more about his condition in about a week or so.” In last year’s Escalon-Calaveras team dual final, the Redskins won it with a reversal in the final 10 seconds of the pivotal match. ... Though it had just won a section title, Calaveras did not overly celebrate and showed admirable restraint out of respect for Bavaro. The Redskins’ win was noteworthy, however, since they lost nine starters from last year’s team.