High School Sports

March 8, 2014

Modesto’s Saavedra brothers claim state titles 30 minutes apart

Modesto High’s Saavedra brothers, Emilio and Israel, claimed dramatic state wrestling titles barely 30 minutes apart in Bakersfield.

Israel Saavedra squatted on the mat, fists clenched and looking down in quiet triumph.

His brother Emilio Saavedra jumped off the raised stage into the arms of their father and coach, his joy easy to see.

They took different paths to the same status.

State wrestling champions. Annexed barely 30 minutes apart.

Modesto High’s most hallowed siblings reached to the sky and pulled down glory at the CIF State Championships. Nearly 6,100 at Rabobank Arena let out a deep roar Saturday night when Israel scored a takedown with 5 seconds left for a dramatic 5-4 win in the 120-pound final over rival Gionn Peralta of Vacaville.

It was Israel’s second consecutive title and he’s on schedule to match Bakersfield’s Darrell Vasquez, the only athlete to win four (1999-2002). Emilio, a senior, can’t match that feat – he placed third and fourth as an underclassman – but he did the next best thing.

He followed his kid brother’s lead and got his own 5-4 gold medal, this one at 138 over Mike Longo of Santiago/Corona. Unlike Israel, Emilio built a third-round lead and held on.

“Best feeling on the planet,” Emilio said. “So far in my life, there is nothing better than this.”

There was Twilight Zone symmetry here: Both finished the season 45-2, both lost in the finals in this season’s prestigious Doc B tournament in Clovis, and they both arrived at the same destination: Posing on the highest perch of the awards podium atop the raised stage at Rabobank.

“Crazy,” Emilio concluded.

Israel, who advanced by pinning Yoshito Funakoshi of West Torrance before noon in the semifinals, trailed Peralta 4-1 with a minute left. But for the second consecutive state final, a stalling point changed the momentum.

Peralta was penalized and the point, followed by escape point, put the younger Saavedra in striking range.

Israel stalked Peralta, who shot low. Israel reacted by grabbing Peralta’s ankle while wrapping his right arm around Peralta’s waist as the two spun.

“I was kind of scared. I knew I had to do something,” Israel said. “Fortunately, he shot and I spun him around for a single.”

The message again was sent – never sit on a lead against Saavedra. Last year, Sean Williams of Lemoore was charged for stalling in the final seconds for a tie that eventually became a win for the Modestan in overtime.

“I knew I had to escape and take him down,” he said. “Luckily, it happened.”

Angel Saavedra, the father and Modesto coach, has encouraged and pushed the boys along since they could barely walk.

“He makes me want to be a better individual,” Emilio said. “He’s always looking for more.”

Emilio, always the No. 2 while the younger earned the higher level wrestling awards, carved his own niche this night. Earlier, he marched into the final with a hard-earned 5-3 decision over Uzo Owuama of Bloomington.

Against Longo – another experienced senior seeking his first state title – Emilio parlayed two ankle-pick takedowns into control. He circled away from his opponent in the final seconds and he didn’t mind the referee hitting him for a meaningless stalling point.

“I’m really proud of him (Emilio),” Israel said. “All his hard work paid off.”

It will change for the boys now as Emilio prepares for a collegiate career at Old Dominion while Israel chases more wrestling fame.

But they won’t soon forget 2014.

The drama didn’t start at night.

The morning consolation session spawned stunning runs to medals by four district products. None was better than Enochs junior McCoy Kent.

He returned to the venue where he went two-and-out last year and, stronger and more confident, campaigned to an impressive third-place medal. Kent put aside his painful 7-6 loss to Longo in the quarterfinals and knocked down Central Section champion Chris Lane of Clovis West 7-0 and, for third place, San Diego Section winner Sergio Enloe of Poway 3-1.

Kent sustained his late momentum through two Enloe blood stoppages and gained all his points in the final minute. He secured the tying escape and then grabbed Enloe’s left leg for the decisive takedown with 30 seconds left.

“After I kept up with Longo, I knew I could compete with anyone in the bracket,” said Kent, who added that he will play football next fall.”

“And hopefully I’ll come back here to win State,” he said.

The same idea no doubt crossed the brain of Modesto junior Angel Velasquez. He followed a similar script as Kent – a nasty third-round loss more than offset by Saturday success and an eventual fourth-place finish at 126. He did not wrestle at the high school level last year.

To get to the third-place bout, Velasquez outlasted former state champion Jonny Parada of San Fernando 3-2 in triple overtime. From the down position, Velasquez spun free from Parada’s grasp as time expired and tossed his headgear in joy. The Modestan will sleep well – he went 6-2 over the two days.

Oakdale junior Nico Colunga secured his second consecutive state medal by working to five consecutive wins in consolation en route to sixth. He, too, looks forward to his senior year. He owns wins over both finalists Matt Gamble of Monache and Robert Garcia of Selma.

Another story of personal progress was submitted by Turlock senior Albino Orozco. Not unlike Kent, he suppressed the bad memories from last year’s 0-2 here and earned a seventh-place medal.

All told, four of the seven district wrestlers in consolation survived the thankless “blood round” – win or be eliminated – for medals.

It got even better for the local contingent, thanks to the Saavedra’s, that night.

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