After erroneously reported results gave Ceres High wrestler Gabe Balderas a fictional triumph over Oakdale’s Juan Garza in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV finals and a subsequent higher state and section ranking, Balderas had the opportunity to deliver a genuine victory when the two met in the finals of the SJS Masters Championships on Friday at the Stockton Arena.
Instead, Garza captured his fourth straight win over Balderas by edging his D-IV rival in 3-1 fashion for a 113-pound Masters title.
“He knows my moves and I know his,” Garza said afterwards. “It feels great to be a section champ.”
Garza was one of 14 Oakdale wrestlers to qualify for Masters and one of five to nab top-7 medals and qualify for Friday and Saturday’s California Interscholastic Federation Wrestling Championships at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield. Oakdale was fourth in team scoring and finished better than any team not from Division I North.
Tyler Noon was second at 138 pounds while Nico Colunga (fourth at 106), Kyle Cupit (sixth at 195) and Dustin Harris (seventh at 160) also advanced to state.
“It was difficult … but some kids stepped up particularly in our upper weights,” Oakdale coach Brian Stevens said. “Everybody here is so good that you can’t overlook anybody.”
Harris, who returned to Masters for his fourth straight season, was Oakdale’s top returning wrestler after a third place medal at the same tourney in 2011. His expected trip to the 160-pound semifinals was cut short when Grace Davis senior Markus Davis landed an overtime takedown to steal a shot at the finals. Harris won his next match in the consolation bracket, but was suddenly dropped to the 7th place match when a late surge from Folsom’s Devin Nooner forced a 4-3 defeat. Harris kept his season alive with a pin over Ripon’s Trevor Daniel a match later, but his low seed lands him in a tough spot for the state bracket.
But while Harris was unable to repeat last year’s Masters performance, Oakdale’s other placers created new highs for their respective careers.
Garza handled his opponents with quarterfinal and semifinal pins, securing a total point advantage of 14-1 during his 5-0 run to a state title.
Noon, who was just 2-2 at Masters his sophomore season, won four straight matches to see a bracket finale with the state’s top ranked wrestler, Shayne Tucker of Belle Vista. Tucker scored at will during a 14-0 major decision, but Noon escaped with a thrilling 1-0 win over Granite Bay’s Ian Mook to secure the finals berth and eventual section silver.
“(Tucker) just outwrestled me,” Noon said. “He was better and I understood that, but I gave it my all.
“I want to keep winning and place at state.”
Noon attributed his late season success to motivation from former sparring partner, Ronnie Stevens, who broke his wrist and was eliminated from the active roster.
Ronnie’s younger brother, Max Stevens, suffered heartbreaking losses to fifth place medalist Gary Thao of McNair and seventh place winner Josh Vilafor of Franklin.
Cupit nailed down his own state qualification with a terrific run through Thursday’s first day of tourney action. The No. 3 seed from D-IV pinned his first opponent in just 42 seconds, and outlasted Preston Dean of Oak Ridge in a 5-3 bout a round later. In the quarterfinals, Cupit edged Turlock’s Ernesto Guiang 5-4 to secure a semifinal visit and top-six finish. Consecutive losses on Friday sealed Cupit’s fate at sixth, but couldn’t eliminate his big start to the bracket.
“You expect your guys to do good, but for Kyle to make it to state is a big deal for him,” Stevens said. “He had a really good day on Thursday.”
Oakdale freshman, Colunga, appeared primed for a trip to the semifinals until a last second reversal from Elk Grove’s Jacob Lopez forced a 3-2 defeat. Colunga won his next three matches to see a third place showdown with Woodcreek’s James Gomez, who won 7-5 in the bronze medal match.
Miko Arpoika (170) went 3-2 and ended one win short of a top-eight medal. Jake Jacobson was one win away from reaching the semifinals and ended 2-2 in a tough 126-pound bracket. Tyler Malone (145), Hondo Arpoika (182), Zack Fallentine (220) and Eric Barragan (285) all went 2-2 for Oakdale as well.
“Our guys did a good job to take fourth here,” coach Stevens said of the team. “I think we did well across the board and that’s what it takes.”