The best wrestlers in the Sac-Joaquin Section have been systematically whittled down to the top 32 in each weight like hand-carved furniture.
Action at six divisional tournaments on Feb. 15 and 16 started the process and now there are seven seats up for grabs at each weight from the SJS to the California Interscholastic Federation State Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield.
The competition for state advancement begins at 9 a.m. on Friday during the first day of the SJS Masters at the Stockton Arena. All 14 of the wrestlers in Oakdale High’s lineup have qualified to this event, thanks to top-four placements at the D-IV championships in Los Banos.
Oakdale handily won the D-IV team title and SJS banner with 290 points (second place Central Catholic had only 158) and landed half of the tournament champions during an exciting finale under the spotlight on Saturday. The action had transferred to an adjacent gymnasium for a dual-meet-like face-off and methodically displayed the two remaining wrestlers in each weight class, but the change in venue did little to alter the outcome.
Oakdale seniors won each of the last three weights against Valley Oak League foes, and capped the tournament with an upset-victory by heavyweight Eric Barragan. He wisely avoided the dangerous reversals of Kimball’s Nathan Pearlman by letting the Jaguar senior escape to his feet after his every takedown. The plan gave Barragan a 6-3 win over a wrestler ranked No. 17 in the state by the California Wrestling Newsletter (Barragan is not ranked in the top 40).
“I prepared for this all week,” Barragan said afterwards. “I knew what he liked to do and I knew how to defend it. When I am on top he likes to get an arm and roll through.
“I knew it wasn’t going to happen if I just let him up.”
Zach Fallentine nabbed D-IV gold in the previous weight by ousting Weston Ranch junior Cody Simerly 4-0 at 222 pounds. Fallentine controlled the entire match and was busy wrenching Simerly’s arm behind his back in attempts to turn him over.
“I wanted it real bad,” Fallentine said. “I have put a lot of work into wrestling this year.”
The last run of Oakdale wins was started at 197 pounds by Hondo Arpoika, who appeared in jeopardy of losing his finale when Kimball’s Matt Cooper snapped a hard cradle and ripped Arpoika to his back in the final minute. Arpoika used the momentum to roll through and end up on top, ultimately pinning Cooper with 30 seconds remaining in the match. The chain of events awarded Arpoika his third D-IV title since missing the Masters tourney as a freshman.
“I didn’t purposely go to roll through, but when I felt that he might have had more momentum than he expected, I went for it,” Arpoika said.
Tyler Noon scored often to best Joey Howard of Patterson 12-5 at 147 and improve his tourney points advantage to 25-8. He watched sophomore teammate Max Stevens nab a 128-pound title via a 4-1 victory over East Union senior Peter Barrington.
Max’s senior brother, Ronnie Stevens, proved tenacious in the prior title match at 122. Ronnie recovered from an early takedown by senior Riko Quintana of host Los Banos, and mounted a 17-3 lead before pinning Quintana 39 seconds into the third round.
The finals matches started with a dominant performance by Mustang sophomore Nico Colunga, who controlled Lathrop’s Alex Garcia immediately and landed a first-round pin at 108.
Oakdale’s only other finalist was freshman Trevor Williams, who shined in decision victories in the quarterfinals and semifinals, and was ultimately bested 5-2 by a Ceres wrestler (Gabe Balderas) ranked eighth in the state at 115.
Jake Jacobson (140) lost a one-sided semifinal to a Central Catholic wrestler (Joey Abbate) ranked 12th in the state, but came back to finish third. At 154, Tyler Malone was upset 5-3 in the semis by the same wrestler he edged in the SJS team dual finals (Marcus Carrillo of Los Banos), but returned to take bronze. Frankie Trent was also third at 172 while Bailey Dryden did the same at 184. Tanner Reeves (162) and Justin Jacobson (134) were fourth to steal the final advancement to Masters.
Freshman Justin Jacobson was considered a surprise Masters qualifier, and had to wrestle at his best in the consolation bracket to make it happen. He pinned Christian Beck of Union Mine to make the second day, then outworked Manteca senior Jacob Burttram 7-5 to avoid elimination. Burttram had bested Jacobson in the VOL semifinals the week prior, but couldn’t stop the Mustang underclassman on a roll that also ended the prep career of senior Ryan Nantuna of Consumnes Oaks.
“I started showing some heart later in the year and I really wanted to wrestle varsity,” Jacobson said. “I really wanted to make it to Masters as a freshman.”
For a complete preview of the upcoming SJS Masters, catch a special online exclusive scheduled to appear on Oakdaleleader.com on Thursday, Feb. 21.