Hollister High wrestling coach Steven Salcedo said there are occasional moments in the sport that make all the hard work and time put into it worth it.
One of those times came when Haybalers sophomore Tomas Salvador won the third-place match in the 220-pound weight class in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Finals Feb. 4 at Salinas High, propelling Hollister to the tournament victory.
The Balers qualified 11 wrestlers to the Central Coast Section South Regional on Feb. 11 at Watsonville High. They got there with a clutch performance in one of the closest finishes in PCAL Finals history. Hollister (213 points) had to fend off both Alisal (210) and Palma (208) for the title.
Even the fourth-place team, Monterey, wasn’t that far behind with 185.5 points. Not surprisingly, the final score came down to the last individual match involving wrestlers from the top two teams. Salvador was facing an Alisal wrestler and going into it Salcedo knew Salvador had to win his match via pinfall—a decision victory wouldn’t have done it—for the Balers to secure the championship.
And that’s exactly what Salvador did, utilizing a barbed wire move to flip his opponent and then record a second-period pin.
“As a competitor and coach, those are the moments that make it all worth it and fun,” Salcedo said. “It’s just really exciting when you get those wins in crunch time and see the guys all fired up.”
Salcedo praised Salvador, who told the coach afterward he knew the situation as well.
“So it makes me feel good about our kids’ confidence stepping out on the mat and going out there and taking care of business,” Salcedo said. “Tomas has learned a lot since last year and I had a good feeling he would come through because he was wrestling well earlier in the day.”
The league finals victory was extra sweet since the Balers had an up and down duel meet league season, finishing 3-2. However, things came together in the PCAL Finals. Art Parra (122) and Josaiah Escalante-Aranda (285) won titles in their respective weight classes.
Other top placers included runner-up finishes from the sophomores David Salcedo (115 pounds) and Aaron Rodriguez (128), and a second-place showing from freshman Leo Lucatero (145). Another sophomore, Francisco Rivera, placed third at 132 pounds.
“Those were really strong performances,” Salcedo said. “Not to say we weren’t expecting them to do that, but they came through and wrestled some really tough matches to do that. So that was very encouraging considering they’re very young.”
Other CCS South Regional qualifiers include freshman Alex Garcia (108), sophomore Miles Gamble (147), sophomore David Bisceglia (152) and senior Omar Yasin (172). Parra is the most experienced wrestler on the team and has had a tremendous junior season, highlighted by a handful of first-place tournament finishes.
He’s ranked No 23 in the state at 120 pounds and has competed well all season. Escalante-Aranda, meanwhile, has been a pleasant surprise in that he’s only in his second year of the sport and has made tremendous strides in his junior year.
“Joe has come a long way since last year in learning the sport,” Salcedo said. “He’s gaining some confidence out there on the mat, and it’s been really cool to watch him grow. He’s always been tough but this year really studied the game a little bit more and it’s showing.”
With a roster dominated by freshmen and sophomores, Salcedo is already looking forward to the future, though he’s basking in the present, too.
“A lot of people didn’t think we would finish in first and to be quite honest our kids outwrestled their seeds and did better than maybe even they thought they would do, which is awesome,” Salcedo said.
The Hollister girls team also had a strong showing, taking second in the league finals a day earlier at Alvarez High. Isabella Perez led the way by winning the 235-pound title. Zoe Talavera (160) and Lily Thrasher (131) had second-place finishes, and Gisselle Ruiz (150) and Lilah Oliveras-Serrano (143) took third.
Isabella Gutierrez (121) and Hailee Talavera (116) placed fourth, and Isabella Alvarez (137) and Honey Vargas-Espinoza (106) took fifth. All nine girls advance to the South Regional.
“Pretty cool because last year we only had four girls wrestlers total,” said Salcedo, who assists girls head coach Mikey Soto. “The numbers spiked up a bit for us with the girls this year which is great to see.”