David Ferry mournfully sauntered toward the exit.
Tanner Feuerstein stalked off the mat in obvious dismay and shock.
Garrett Fortado slumped against the arena wall, his face buried in his Mustang sweatshirt.
A.C. Brown laid back and covered his mouth in disbelief.
They all handled it their own way, but one by one, Oakdale High wrestlers saw their brilliant seasons fall short of their respective goals at the California Interscholastic Federation Championships at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield over the weekend.
An Oakdale squad that could have easily come away with five state medals and a top-five team finish saw untimely injuries, unfortunate draws, unexpected pins and repeated heartbreak match after match in their final tournament of the season.
Big losses seemed contagious and increasingly devastating as the rounds played out, leaving Oakdale with just two pieces of hardware and a 13th place team finish when the dust finally settled.
Trent Noon wrestled a great tournament to finish fifth and Shane Tate injury defaulted to eighth, but it was hardly the finale anyone expected after Oakdale had delivered spectacular performances week after week during the season.
“Our kids pretty much stepped up all season long, and we kind of thought they would do it again, but it just wasn’t happening,” Oakdale coach Brian Stevens said. “For some reason we could just not catch a break.
“This team was the best I have ever coached, and unfortunately the state tournament made the season end on a sour note after a great year where we did so well.”
Though Noon was Oakdale’s highlight of the tournament and outdistanced his state rank (No. 6) at 171 pounds, even he fell short of his potential in one of the toughest brackets in the tournament.
Noon blasted through the opening rounds to reach the semi-finals after throttling fourth-ranked Robert Marchese of Oak Hills in the quarters. There, a two-point loss to Selma phenom Justin Lozano dropped him to the consolation semi-finals for a shot at the third place match he was eyeballing.
He led returning state runner-up Zach Nevills of Clovis in the third round, but allowed a tying takedown and overtime score to drop him to the fifth/sixth medal match. He punished Reid Pelfrey of Live Oak for a second round pin to finish fifth.
“My goal was to at least make that third place match, and I was almost there,” Noon said. “I’m still proud of the good year we had, but it definitely didn’t end the way we thought it would.”
Tate suffered a painful knee injury in a quarterfinal loss to eventual state champion Chris Mecate of Redlands. It could have easily ended his tournament, but Tate gutted out a clutch 6-3 win over Peter Santos of Woodcreek to lock a medal. A round later he could barely hobble through a loss to Adam Hendrickson of Healdsburg, and he defaulted from his final match to settle for eighth at 135 pounds.
“As long as I have been coaching, Shane has been one of my most durable wrestlers,” Stevens said. “I almost stopped the last match he wrestled in several times because I knew he was hurt pretty bad, but he wouldn’t let me stop it. He wanted to finish.”
Tate’s woes were certainly a blow to the Mustangs, but were just another footnote in Oakdale’s long list of heartbreaks. The biggest came in back-to-back matches for 215-pound Brown, who seemed primed for a shot at returning state champ Tank Knowles in the gold medal match.
Brown had clinched top-12 status by upending Jeff Vargas of South Hills in a 3-2 second round decision, but couldn’t snare a late takedown in a 3-2 loss to eventual state runner-up Austin Lobsinger in his following match (quarterfinals).
And it only got worse.
Brown exploded for a big first round takedown to lead Scott Brazil of Mt. Pleasant in his following match, but a chaotic scramble ended with Brown on his back. He fought desperately to get out of the position, but a hulking Brazil squeezed for the second round pin that ended Brown’s senior year short of his expected first medal.
It was easily the single most devastating moment for Oakdale all tournament. Brazil would go on to place fourth, surrendering the bronze to McNair’s Malique Micenheimer, who Brown throttled in a 12-2 major decision just a week ago. Lobsinger would push Knowles to a one-point match in the tourney finals.
“I was disappointed big time, my goal was the state finals,” Brown said. “The season was good, but not this tournament.”
Fortado rode out eventual seventh place state finisher Ian Nickell of Bakersfield to reach his 112-pound quarterfinals, but had little to offer Eddie Estevez of Otay Ranch in a dominant technical fall. The loss dropped him to see Central Coast champ Paul Fox of Gilroy, who nabbed a takedown in the final seconds to reach the medal matches.
Feuerstein was having one of his best tournaments of the season after a tremendous effort led him to a 6-1 topping of Southern Section champ Andrew Shulte of Centennial. He lost a 9-4 match to a tough Willie Fox of Gilroy in his next match and ousted Jeremy Newman of Woodland in his next bout. An early takedown gave him an edge on Rodriguez’ Adam Pain a round later, but Feuerstein’s tourney ended when he was caught and pinned in the second round. Pain, who Feuerstein outplaced a week ago at the SJS Masters, finished sixth in the state at 130.
“I took him down easy, but I underestimated him I guess,” Feuerstein said. “It was a really good experience to wrestle with this team this year, but it didn’t end the way I wanted it to.”
Returning state champ David Ferry (145) went 1-2 in the tourney after a one-point to loss to start his tourney and an unfortunate pin two rounds later. Juan Garza (103) had a bad draw in Gilroy’s Leif Dominguez in the consolation bracket and finished 1-2. Dustin Harris won a match at 152, but fell to eventual sixth place finisher, Bret Schumann of Orland, to see elimination. Ronnie Stevens went 0-2 in tourney action as well at 119.
Oakdale’s season ends short of its potential, but the team won’t forget some incredible runs over big competition all year. The Masters title they landed a week ago and the incredible nine state qualifications will leave the team with something to relish in the off-season.
Coach Stevens said most of his 2011-12 team will be back this week to take on the junior, sophomore and freshman state tournaments at Lemoore High on Friday and Saturday.