Michael Guzman finished third in the 145-pound finals of the MBL Championships.

For San Benito High, wrestling has become far more than just a sport; it’s a way of life. This year, the Haybalers enjoyed a strong season, highlighted by an impressive win over Alvarez High earlier in the season. The team entered the first post-season tournament of the season with a burning desire to win.

But when that desire to win is consistently tamped down by an arch-rival that also happens to be a dynasty, well, athletes need to dig that much deeper. The Haybalers dug deep at the Monterey Bay League Championships last Friday, finishing in second place to host Gilroy High.

Although San Benito didn’t win the tournament, a number of impressive performances would make even the most cynical of onlookers call their second-place showing anything but a loss.

“My goal {for the finals match} was not to get pinned,” said senior Matt Ramon (152 pounds), who has been down this difficult road three times before.

He made the finals in his weight class, and took a respectable second. He wasn’t alone. With the team’s goal to qualify as many athletes to the Central Coast Section Championships as it could, coach Steve Salcedo felt good going into the MBL Finals. But he was also realistic.

“Last week we had a really tight duel with Alvarez and I think we won 37-34, so we kind of took a little bit of that momentum into the league tournament,” he said. “I told the guys, ‘Go out there, do what you’re supposed to do. Compete.’”

The Balers notched an impressive 220.5 points. But they were up against the buzzsaw of Gilroy, which took the MBL Finals with a massive 360 points, the Mustangs’ 16th straight victory in this meet.

San Benito walked away proud, however, with seven grapplers breaking into the top three in their respective weight classes, including five who made it to the finals. One of those athletes was Ramon, who had to go up against Gilroy’s John Fox, who, at 33-8, is finishing up a particularly impressive season.

“I already knew what was going to happen because Johnny, he’s a really good wrestler,” said Ramon. “I’ve already seen him against the No. 2 guy in the section, that was a really good match.”

Michael Guzman (145 pounds) and Enrique Ojeda (285 pounds) both placed third in their weight classes, while Joe Delgado (113 pounds), Ricardo Gallardo (182), Eric Fernandez (195) and Alberto Rodriguez (220) each had second-place finishes.

Salcedo was quick to call out the sheer toughness of the MBL when he said, “We do have one of the toughest leagues in the whole section, so you know obviously we’re shooting for first place. But with Gilroy being in our league, the CCS champions, we know we did pretty well with a second place finish.”

Pretty well doesn’t begin to cover it though, with the team beating wrestling juggernauts like Alvarez and Alisal, even without their star Bryce Mattson (160 pounds), who could have racked up even more points for the team.

Though Salcedo was disappointed to be without his star athlete for the league tournament, he remains positive that Mattson can still make waves in CCS, which begins on Feb. 23.

“Bryce Mattson didn’t wrestle, he had a concussion,” Salcedo said. “He suffered a concussion earlier in the year at the Overfelt tournament. He has just recently been cleared, but he’s not ready yet for competition. Luckily, in his weight class there were only six guys, so the top six qualify for CCS. He qualifies for CCS, he should be back and ready to go by then.”

San Benito will field an impressive array of wrestlers at the CCS Championships, with the goal to perform strongly, make a statement, make it to state—and get out healthy.

“Our league is tough, but if we can make it out of the league, we should do fairly well at CCS,” Salcedo said. “We’re looking to hit the top three at CCS. I think our guys are ready to go. We have two weeks until CCS, so these next two weeks will be focused on staying healthy, getting in shape, and just giving ourselves the best opportunity to make the state tournament and do well in the section.”

If their MBL performance was any indication, the Balers have the talent—and the fortitude—to do just that.

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