STOCKTON — David Ferry of Central Catholic walked onto the mat for the wrestling match of his life, and there to meet him was, of all people, a former teammate.
File under, "You must be kidding."
Shaken but not stirred, Ferry carefully managed a 4-2 victory over Pitman's Andrew Perez in the 135-pound finale of the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships. Both juniors wore CC blue until this year, and both sought the same medal Saturday night at Stockton Arena.
"When you get down to the section final, I don't care if it's my grandmother," Ferry said. "You go out there to win."
For the record, the two former training partners shook hands, but nothing more. It was all business at the section's premier night of the wrestling season.
The long two days were capped by 14 weight-class finals, and the top seven in each bracket advanced to the State Championships next week in Bakersfield. Thirty-five from the Stanislaus District will take the trip down the valley.
To get there, some needed to win a pressurized seventh-place match. Others needed to hike their confidence after a painful loss. Turlock's Fabian Garcia (42-3) needed to exceed his own through-the-roof expectations. Which he did, taking home his second straight 119-pound title with a taut 10-6 verdict over Isaiah Hurtado of Sheldon. For Garcia — like Ferry, the section's top-ranked wrestler in his class — nothing short of a title would have worked.
Then again, Garcia struggled against Hurtado.
"He (Hurtado) is a funky wrestler," Garcia said. "It was a lot of scrambles, a bunch of back-and-forths. I got lucky it went my way."
Garcia's teammate, Garrett Fortado (35-4) — one of only two sophomore champions — parlayed a first-round takedown into a 2-0 win over sophomore Connor Pollock of Folsom at 103 pounds. That's not too bad for a former 92-pounder who wrestled only part-time on the varsity as a freshman.
"I like to keep it slow-paced," Fortado said. "I like things more in control."
About 800 watched a methodical finals program that didn't gather steam until the heavier classes. Oakdale, the third-place team finisher, vaulted three into the finals, but only junior Shane Tate emerged victorious.
Tate (41-4) started slowly but eventually built a lead against Aaron Ceballos of McNair. Though taken down with 15 seconds left, Tate held on to win 7-6.
The Mustangs anguished, however, elsewhere. A.C. Brown quickly fell behind 5-0 and lost 6-2 to Hudson Buck of Vacaville at 171. But it was worse for 215-pounder Charlie Gilstrap, the defending champion who lost in triple overtime 3-2 to Paul Buchanan of Ponderosa.
How close was it, you ask? Buchanan, starting in the down position to begin the 30-second third overtime, righted himself with Gilstrap desperately holding onto his opponent's waist, and seconds later, his right leg. If Buchanan escapes, he wins. If Gilstrap holds on, he wins. Buchanan, hopping, broke free.
Oakdale's consolation prize was sending six — more than any other district school — to state. The Mustangs' Wyatt Casey (112) and Trent Noon (152) annexed thirds.
Central Catholic, which placed sixth, sends four to state. Steven Widmer, a senior, was overwhelmed in the 125-pound final 8-0 by two-time section champion Cody Tow of Union Mine. Still, Widmer smiled as he walked off the arena floor with his medal. After four Masters appearances, he goes to the Big One for the first time.
The Modesto Metro Conference will be represented by only one — Davis senior Gabe Gonzalez. He earned a fourth at 160, though he was pinned in the final seconds of his third-place match by Waterford senior Erick Gomez. That was their rubber match. Gomez won at the Modesto Junior College semifinals, but Gonzalez answered with an 8-5 win in Friday's quarterfinals. Nevertheless, Gomez makes a second straight trip to state.
For the talented and fortunate few, their season continues. David Ferry even will come with senior brother Cameron Ferry (fifth at 145) in tow.
"I kind of underachieved my first two years," David Ferry said. "But now I can say I did it. In my head, I'm the one to beat."