ELK GROVE — Rafael Herrera was ready for a long, hard battle.
The Turlock High senior had been prepping for a potential matchup with Franklin High’s Josh Villaflor all week.
So Herrera was surprised when he won with a first-round pin in their 126-pound final at Saturday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 A championships at Franklin High.
“I’m actually shocked,” Herrera said. “I didn’t think it would be like that. I thought it would be a close match.”
Herrera scored an early takedown and had a 2-1 lead midway through the first round. Herrera was able to toss Villaflor, who came in ranked 12th in the state by California Wrestler, on his back and work quickly for the pin with 32 seconds left in the first round.
“Our coach Lewis (Gonzalez) is always teaching us Greco throws,” said Herrera, who lost two previous two matches against Villaflor. “I was able to get him up top and throw him. It just came natural. I got him down and then looked for a pin.”
Herrera was one of five Central California Conference wrestlers to reach the finals with four of them coming home with titles.
Joining Herrera as divisional champions was Turlock teammate Albino Orozco (170 pounds), Pitman’s Nick Roditis (220) and Merced’s Tony Lopez (285).
Golden Valley’s Tanner Browning lost his 113-pound final to Lincoln’s Alex Olivera 9-7.
Browning had a 5-4 lead after an early escape in the third round, but found himself trailing 8-5 after surrendering a takedown and two nearfall points.
“I knew I was up one and he would be coming after me all out,” Browning said. “We got into a scramble. I wasn’t smart and stayed underneath and gave up the takedown and nearfall points.”
Roditis went into his third round against Elk Grove’s Sai Ta’amu in the finals trailing 1-0 after giving up an escape point in the second round.
Roditis started the final round from the down position and was awarded with a point when Ta’amu was called for locking hands. Ta’amu was again called for locked hands and Roditis scored an escape to take a 3-1 lead.
“The locked hands made things easier for me,” Roditis said. “In my head I’m just thinking get points.”
The Pitman senior often finds himself in close, low-scoring matches.
“I like my matches close,” Roditis said. “I like to wear down my opponents. I listen to every word my coach says. He’s the controller and I’m the game. That’s the way I like to think of it.”
Orozco struck early for a takedown in his championship match against Oak Ridge’s James Portilla. He then outscored Portilla 3-0 in the second round with an escape and takedown to open up a 5-1 lead and held on for a 5-4 win.
“Getting that lead helped me out a lot,” Orozco said. “When you wrestle cautious, you don’t really take chances. It helped me get that second takedown.”
After a fifth-place finish at Masters last year and an 0-2 performance at state, Orozco is hoping for more this year.
“I want to win a master championship,” said Orozco, who is ranked seventh in the state. “I need to start running a lot and build my stamina. I want to come out more aggressive in the third round like I do in the first.”
Lopez won all four of his matches by pin in the tournament. In fact, only one of his 28 wins this season have come by points.
The Merced senior needed just 1:45 to pin Tracy’s Alex Warner on Saturday.
“I was able to get my hand behind his head and I went for his knee with my other hand,” Lopez said. “I put pressure on it and he just folded up.”
After fracturing an ankle his sophomore year and suffering a knee injury last year, Lopez is finally healthy and making his first trip to Masters.
“It feels awesome,” Lopez said. “To go from a second alternate last year to a divisional champion this year feels great.”
In all, 31 Stanislaus District wrestlers earned a top-eight finish to qualify for next week’s Masters Tournament in Stockton.
Merced Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.