CERES — The Central Catholic High wrestlers needed to win the Western Athletic Conference Meet on Saturday to at least share the overall season title with Central Valley.
The Raiders did just that, and got a little more.
The Raiders’ first-place finish, coupled with Central Valley’s surprising third-place finish behind Los Banos, gave them the overall crown.
Central finished with 220 points, ahead of Los Banos (214.5), Central Valley (207), Patterson (203) and Ceres (132).
“They all knew (the situation), they all felt it,” Central Catholic coach Anthony Gonzalez said. “But at the same time, if we would have taken second and they took third, we’d still be co-champs.
“So we saw Los Banos doing really good, they had guys coming back and taking third and fourth, and they had five in the finals. I thought we’d have a few more champions to give us a little more break, but you never know how it’s going to go.”
The Raiders placed seven wrestlers in championship matches, but only three of them walked off the mat as WAC champs – Christian Dominguez with a 7-2 decision over Central Valley’s Christian Garcia at 147 pounds, Ga-lhiel Dillard with a 5-1 decision over Pacheco’s Ruben Rocha at 154 and Miguel Hernandez with a second-period pin of Patterson’s Michael Boschi at 162.
Others came just a point or two away. Steven Abbate gave up a takedown to Los Banos’ Tyler Felix with just 25 seconds remaining in the 115-pound title match, and 184-pounder Reggie Bland gave up a takedown to Central Valley’s Adrian Vizcaino in overtime.
Bland took the loss well, though. He’s been there before.
“That happened to me last year, too,” the senior said. “I got third, then I went to Divisionals and won it, and made my journey to state.”
It’s been a big turnaround for the Raiders since Gonzalez took over the program four years ago.
“We started basically with nine kids our first year. Only four of them had any wrestling experience,” Gonzalez said. “To turn around and have 13 kids, seven of them in the finals, in four years, it’s a big difference. With Reggie and (senior) Timmy (Guttierrez), who were there when we first started, to now, being on top.”
For Central Valley, going from an undefeated dual record one day to a second-place finish in the final season standings was a tough pill to swallow. But the Hawks have had a renaissance of their own under coach Rob Beckhart.
“There’s a lot of parity in the WAC right now,” Beckhart said. “We all talked about it as coaches, and it’s exciting. You never really know who’s going to come out on top. I’m happy for the kids and the program – we qualified 12 guys for next week, and that’s the most we’ve ever done.”
The top four placers in each weight moved on to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 championships next weekend, with fifth place going as an alternate.
Beckhart said this tournament was different because he lacked the flexibility to move wrestlers up the way he could during duals. Saturday’s weight is where wrestlers will remain for the upcoming postseason tournaments.
“I knew we were going to fight an uphill battle,” he said, “and Los Banos came up with some big wins against us that helped propel them to taking that second place away from us.”
The final two matches of the night featured a cross-town rivalry in Los Banos and Pacheco, with each coming away with one win – Pacheco’s Nick Vermillion pinned LB’s Bailey Rodriguez at 222, and Evan Duran pinned Pacheco’s Joseph Coronado at heavyweight.