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Section won't 'Mickey Mouse' Masters

It appears that two Sac-Joaquin section championships are on the move.

Section commissioner Pete Saco said it's "just about a done deal" that the Masters wrestling tournament will move to the University of the Pacific's Spanos Center and he said that they are "in talks" with UOP to move the Division I South baseball tournament to Klein Family Field.

The wrestling shift comes as a bit of a surprise, considering that the section recently signed a five-year contract to hold its wrestling championships at the much larger Stockton Arena.

Last year's tournament, the first at Stockton Arena, was considered a huge success. But six months later, the wrestling tournament was dumped because of a scheduling conflict: Disney on Ice would be coming to the arena that weekend. The section moved Masters to UOP for what was originally thought to be a one-year deal.

"That was the beginning," Saco said. "Mainly, I'm just catching a sense that Stockton Arena is more looking for the 'big-ticket' item, and that's something we aren't."

The Masters Tournament has become too large to be hosted within a high school gymnasium, forcing Saco to find alternate locations. A partnership between the section, Stockton Arena and the Stockton Sports Commission was announced to much fanfare last year.

The first Masters Tournament at Stockton Arena had fans, wrestlers and coaches all singing the spacious location's praises. It's a facility capable of hosting the CIF State Championships.

Spanos Center has played a major role in California's high school wrestling history. It hosted the CIF State Championships from 1988-2003.

But, like this year, it won't always be available on Saturdays in February. Pacific is playing in an ESPN "Bracket Buster" game Feb. 23 and could have the option to host another game in two years. This year's Masters Tournament begins Feb. 21 and ends the next day.

"We feel a venue like this will still prepare our wrestlers for the state championships, and it's obviously hosted other big tournaments in the past," Saco said. "Plus we've always had a great relationship with UOP."

The Stockton campus hosts several section football championship games, as well as some playoff basketball games. And for the near future, it appears, wrestling as well.

WRESTLING may not be the only new section championship coming to UOP.

Saco said the section is in talks with the college to bring the Division I South baseball tournament to UOP's Klein Family Field. Should they hammer out an agreement soon, the Division I South tournament, which includes the top two teams in the Modesto Metro and Central California conferences, could be contested at UOP as early as this year.

The Division I South tournament has been contested at Billy Hebert Field, the former home of the California League's Stockton Ports. But since the Ports moved to Stockton Ballpark, Billy Hebert has become a seldom-used facility.

"They want us there, and we want to go there," Saco said of UOP.

THE Central Catholic wrestling team's performance at the prestigious Five Counties Invitational has vaulted the Raiders into the upper echelon of the state's teams.

Central Catholic coach Steve Strange saw three of his wrestlers -- Steve Vasquez (160 pounds), Louis Bland (189) and Dominic Galas (285) -- win titles. T.J. Belton and Andrew Perez also placed as the team took second place to national powerhouse Poway of the San Diego Section.

"We had a great tournament," Strange said. "All three of our champs were very impressive."

Vasquez was sporting a shiner under his right eye at Central Catholic's dual-meet victory over Downey on Tuesday night.

"I must have caught an elbow during the semifinals or something," Vasquez said.

He took a 7-6 victory over state No. 3 Stephen West of Buchanan in the semis, then beat Calvary Chapel's Morgan McIntosh 4-2 for the title.

Nearly every one of the state's top-ranked 160-pounders were there, except for state -- and national -- No. 1 Jason Welch of Las Lomas. Welch, whose last loss to a Californian was to Turlock's Lewis Gonzalez in the state finals three years ago -- is heavily favored to win at state.

"We all looked at this as our big chance to win a big tournament," Vasquez said.

In the 189-pound final, Bland beat Gilroy's Hunter Collins 10-8. It was the fourth time Bland has defeated Collins in their careers. Collins is ranked No. 1 in the nation by WIN magazine.

"I thought this could have been Hunter's big chance," Strange said. "Louis has only been wrestling for about a month (because of football). But Louis looked as good against Hunter as he ever has."

Closing it out, as he has for the entire season, was Galas, the heavyweight.

Galas was seeded fourth in the tournament, but he pinned top-seed Kasey Cowan of Visalia in 50 seconds in their semifinal, then took 53 seconds to pin Temecula Valley's Eduardo Marquez for the title and outstanding heavyweight honors.

Will DeBoard's high schools column appears

Thursdays. E-mail him at wdeboard@modbee.com, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300, or fax 238-4551.

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