Wrestling: Camacho, Puga are MBL champions

Miguel Puga, left, and Michael Camacho celebrate their respective victories at the MBL Wrestling Championships.

A year ago, the San Benito High wrestling team didn’t have an individual winner in the Monterey Bay League Championships. On Saturday at Watsonville High, the Haybalers had two in Michael Camacho and Miguel Puga. Just as important, the Haybalers (171 points) finished in second place in the team standings, behind state power Gilroy (267.5).
“Overall, I’m proud of the way the team competed,” Balers coach Steven Salcedo said. “We got the fighting spirit back that the old Hollister wrestling teams had back in the day.”
Indeed, no one showed that resiliency more than Camacho, who was involved in one of the best matches of the day in the 182-pound title contest. The junior was facing a familiar foe in Alvarez’s Kevin Ruiz, as the two had split their previous two meetings this season.
Camacho edged Ruiz 5-4 at the prestigious Mid-Cals Tournament, while Ruiz won a 10-2 decision in a league dual on Feb. 3. The third meeting between the two grapplers was the best yet, a tense and suspenseful thriller that went down to the wire.
A battle of attrition from the start, Camacho and Ruiz had a hard time scoring on the other, as both displayed patience and good takedown defense. Camacho led 1-0 late in the third period when the referee awarded a point to Ruiz after Camacho was penalized for stalling.
Neither wrestler scored a point in the first one-minute, sudden-death period. In the first of two 30-second tiebreaker periods, Ruiz scored on an escape to take a 2-1 lead. But Camacho leveled things at 2-2 in the second tiebreaker period, scoring on an escape as time expired, the wrestling equivalent of a buzzer-beater.
In the 30-second ultimate tiebreaker period, Camacho scored on another escape with 20 seconds left to secure the victory. It was an emotional win for Camacho, who was visibly gassed going into the tiebreaker periods.
“It was just pure happiness,” said Camacho, who improved to 27-3 on the season. “Taking third last year gave me a lot of motivation for this year. This ranks pretty high (on my victory list).”
With Salcedo and assistant coach and former two-time CCS champion Chris Evans exhorting Camacho to find another gear—upon seeing Camacho bending over and putting his hands on his knees, Evans kept on repeating, “You’re not tired,” along with some other choice words that cannot be printed in a family newspaper but was certainly needed at the time to remind Camacho of why he was in a position to win the title.
Somehow, Camacho summoned enough energy to pull out a grueling match that tested the resolve of both athletes.
“It was a battle of grit and a test of will,” Salcedo said. “Michael had just enough in the tank to pull it out at the end. I was just hoping he would have enough.”
Camacho did, and in the process showed a fierce determination that should serve him well going forward. Like Camacho, Puga produced one of the signature wins of his career, earning a 7-3 decision over Alisal’s Jose Quintero in the 220-pound title match.
Puga was clutch throughout the tournament, beating Christopher’s Antonio Gomez 4-3 in the semifinals. He also held off Gilroy’s Ryan Encincio 3-1 in the quarterfinals, a harbinger of standout performances. Puga has been coming on strong lately, as he knocked off the No. 2 seed from Harbor at Mid-Cals.
Puga was the No. 10 seed in that tournament, and it jump-started a late-season surge that obviously carried over into MBLs.
“Doing well at Mid-Cals gave me a lot of confidence going into this,” said Puga, who improved to 18-10 on the season. “I’m pretty happy for this moment. It means a lot to me.”
Puga worked hard in the off-season, which bolstered his physical skills. But it was a change in his mental makeup that gave him an additional boost to get over the top.
“I had a change of mentality,” he said. “At times I didn’t think I could win, but I just kept telling myself I could win.”
Relying on agility and speed, Puga used a series of maneuvers to whip around his opponent and control the action. No one was prouder of Puga than Salcedo, who has seen Puga rapidly develop into one of the team’s best wrestlers.
“Miguel is a very smart kid, and good things couldn’t have happened to a better kid,” Salcedo said. “He’s more finesse than strength, and pretty technical. It was a great moment to see him wrestle like that.”
The Balers also received strong performances from Michael Guzman, Matthew Ramon and Thomas Frederick, who all won third-place matches. Guzman proved clutch in edging Christopher’s Deen Agustin 3-2 at 106 pounds, Ramon was equally strong in a 6-4 decision over Christopher’s Anthony Figueroa at 152 and Frederick won via injury default in the 195-pound division.
NOTES
Hollister resident Michael Zaragoza won the 138-pound final over Gilroy’s Gavin Melendez in the Monterey Bay League Championships on Saturday at Watsonville High. The Palma junior took a 3-2 decision over Melendez, avenging two losses to the Gilroy standout earlier this season.
Zaragoza scored three points on an escape and takedown. A year ago, Zaragoza took second at 132 pounds and fourth in the Central Coast Section Championships. Zaragoza said the key was defending the shot, because Melendez has a strong outside single.
When Zaragoza woke up Saturday, he had a feeling something good would happen.
“I sensed something would be different,” he said.
Zaragoza ranked the victory as one of the top in his career, and that’s saying something since the junior has wrestled in numerous national tournaments in the last couple of years.
“It’s my first-ever win against Gilroy, so you’re feeling pretty high,” he said. “But I know I’m not done yet.”

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