TURLOCK -- The referee's hand slapped the mat just before the clock struck midnight Saturday night, signaling Oliver Congleton's victory by pin in the 130-pound championship of the Rumble in the Jungle wrestling tournament at Pitman High School.
Congleton, a Beyer High senior, was all smiles after the match, up until he was asked what's on the horizon. Then the smile faded and he got serious.
"This was the last 'fun' tournament," Congleton said. "The postseason is coming up (the Modesto Metro Conference tournament is Saturday, Feb. 9). It's time to buckle down from here on out."
Saturday's tournament packed nearly 800 wrestlers into Pitman's gym. Because of a particularly crowded junior varsity field, the varsity semifinals didn't end until just after 11 p.m. Tournament directors chose to complete the finals after that, because CIF rules state no high school sports can be contested on Sundays.
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"It was a little strange wrestling so late," said Central Catholic senior Dominic Galas, who won the heavyweight division. "You're battling fatigue as much as the guy across from you. You've got to be mentally tough, too."
Central Catholic rolled to the team title with four wrestlers taking home individual titles. Among the local wrestlers to win titles:
As expected, Central Catholic's state-ranked wrestlers -- Steven Vasquez (160) and Galas (285) -- rolled to titles. But the Raiders also got victories from David Ferry (112) and Steven Widmer (125).
Beyer had two individual champs in Congleton and Michael Ford (140).
Pitman also had two individual champs in Vincent Perez (103) and Cesar Padilla (152).
Other locals winning titles were Escalon's Anthony Rodriquez (119), Sonora's Curtis Duncan (135) and Davis' Bobby Perez (145).
Congleton looked like he was in top shape as he put Hughson's Frankie Bettencourt in a half nelson and rolled him to his back for the pin. But he said staying mentally ready to go was a challenge.
"You completely lose track of time in the gymnasium," he said. "I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to get here, and we're all still here at (midnight). It was weird wrestling in that final. So late, but it's just something you have to push through."
One of the crazier finishes in the finals came at 171 pounds, where Orestimba's Vince Mattos led Tracy's Blair Bergmann until the final moments of the match. With about 10 seconds left and trailing 5-4, Bergmann took Mattos down and held a shoulder to the mat long enough for two extra near-fall points. Mattos escaped and, now trailing 7-5, rushed after Bergmann as the clock ticked away. He wasn't able to catch Bergmann.
In the heavyweight final, Galas pinned Granite Bay's Sherwin Aramesh to remain undefeated.
"It's nice after the meet, but I don't really think about being undefeated," Galas said. "Once the league tournament starts, everybody starts over, anyway.
"This was the last hurrah before the league tournament. Now, it gets serious."