Modesto High’s Saavedra brothers celebrated wrestling titles with barbecue under stars

ragostini@modbee.comMarch 13, 2014 

The family and friends of Modesto High brothers Emilio and Israel Saavedra adjourned to the Bakersfield night life to celebrate their epic state wrestling titles.

But where did they go? Merle Haggard’s appearance that night? The Bakersfield arch? The Buck Owens Crystal Palace?

No, the Saavedras returned to their RV, the family headquarters outside Rabobank Arena at the 42nd CIF State Wrestling Championships, for what must have been a sweet-tasting under-the-stars barbecue.

“I was literally in shock,” said Angel Saavedra, the Modesto High first-year coach and the father of the champions. “It didn’t hit me until I showed up for work on Monday.”

Imagine his joy Saturday night. He raised the boys to wrestle almost since they could walk, and they soon collected basketfuls of medals and trophies. As youth wrestlers, Emilio and Israel annexed regional and even national awards as their talent grew.

That said, they’ll never again repeat that night in Bakersfield when both won state titles barely 30 minutes apart on the same raised stage beneath the same floodlights – Israel, the sophomore, defeating Vacaville’s Gionn Peralta 5-4 via a takedown with 5 seconds left for the 120-pound title; and Emilio, the senior, defeating Mike Longo of Santiago/Corona 5-4 for the 138 crown.

Indeed, it was a night for brotherly love. Zahid and Anthony Valencia of St. John Bosco joined the Saavedras at the top of the podium. But closer to home, the Stanislaus District had not seen brothers rise to the top on the same night since Merced’s Adam and Dan Cuestas in 1977.

Thrilling finish aside, Angel Saavedra believed Israel would claim his second straight state title. He dominated the 120s all season and was pushed only by Peralta. Also helping were the switching of 126 champion Michael Knoblauch of Clovis West and fifth-place finisher Durbin Lloren of Buchanan to other divisions. Both were responsible for Israel’s only losses (both brothers went 45-2).

Israel now takes dead aim on four straight state titles, a feat done only once by Darrell Vasquez of Bakersfield (1999-2002). Selma’s Alex Cisneros came within a few seconds of equaling that feat in 2012.

“That’s the goal,” Israel said.

Emilio Saavedra’s 6-0 run surprised most observers. In the third round, he worked for a 3-1 win over promising freshman Luke Troy of Calvary Chapel, who beat him twice in club matches last summer. Then, in the semifinals, Emilio edged Uzo Owuama of Bloomington 5-3. Owuama beat Emilio at the Doc Buchanan in Clovis.

Angel Saavedra also wondered if his older son, a three-time state medalist who’s already planning for his collegiate years at Old Dominion, was mentally ready for one more pressure-cooker in Bakersfield.

“I was worried about Emilio. I knew his competition would be tough, but I’m so proud of him. I would have been proud of him anyway,” Angel said. “Israel has a gift and I know he’s focused on two more. He’s the type of kid that if he sees me freaking out, he’ll hold his composure.”

The twin wins, along with the fourth by Modesto’s 126-pound junior Angel Velasquez, lifted the Panthers to an eighth-place finish in the team standings. It capped a special season for the Panthers, the Modesto Metro Conference champions who claimed a league title for the first time since 1979.

“It’s been a dream. With all the agony that goes with it over the years, it all paid off,” Angel Saavedra said. “I wouldn’t take that moment back for a $1 million lottery ticket.”

NOTES – Enochs junior McCoy Kent, who placed third at State last weekend at 138 and capped an impressive 50-5 season, joins Israel Saavedra, Angel Velasquez and other local wrestlers this weekend at the the SCWAY Grade State Championships in Lemoore. Kent won his weight class at Lemoore last year. ... Also at Lemoore is freshman Cristian Dominguez, who will compete unattached. Dominguez, who was shot in the right arm during a home invasion 36 hours before the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters, won his first-round match at Masters before he was declared ineligible for not producing a school-mandated doctor’s release. His father David said via email that Cristian no longer represents Central Catholic. ...

Turlock senior Albino Orozco (47-8) fueled his gutsy seventh-place performance at State with a clutch 2-0 overtime win over Nevada Union’s Will Sumner in Saturday morning’s win-it-to-stay-in-it round. Sumner beat Orozco 10-3 in the 170 Masters final. ... The section won’t know until next month whether it loses one of its seven qualifing berths to State. It earned 18 medals (top 8), the same as last year, but the consensus was that it needed to raise that number into the low 20’s. The section responded in a big way, however, with four state champions and eight finalists. The four winners were the most since the section’s seven champions in 2005. ... Seniors Logan Wolfley of Pitman (3-2 at State at 160) and JoJo Ochoa of Atwater (4-2 at 170) received sportsmanship awards before the title matches in Bakersfield.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at or (209) 578-2302. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeSports.

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