Merced senior Tony Lopez had never had so many Golden Valley fans rooting for him at one time. With one hip toss, Lopez brought both Bear fans and Cougar faithful to their feet.
Not only did Lopez’s pin of Pitman’s Eric Bajeran win the Central California Conference heavyweight title for himself at Friday’s CCC championships, but also clinched the tournament team title for Golden Valley, which gave the Cougars a share of the CCC title for the third time in school history.
“Some of the Golden Valley coaches and wrestlers came up to me saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you,’ ” Lopez said. “I said, ‘For what?’ They told me I won them the team title.”
It was a thrilling finish as the Cougars edged out Pitman 210 to 207.5 to split the conference title with the Pride, which had five wrestlers win individual titles in Hayden Mattox (122 pounds), Nick Valadez (134), Gilbert Valadez (140), Logan Wolfley (162) and Nick Roditis (222).
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Golden Valley had built a 16.5-point lead heading into the finals after sending a meet-high eight wrestlers to the finals.
The Cougars then earned another eight points with back-to-back wins to start the finals from Cresilio Rivera (108) and Tanner Browning (115). Golden Valley then had to see if its lead would hold up.
As Lopez pinned Bajeran, Cougars coach Chopper Mello pounded his hands on the scoring table as his wrestlers celebrated from the stands.
“Winning a title was one of our goals this summer,” Browning said. “When we lost our dual against Pitman it was a big disappointment. We made it our goal to win the tournament and be co-champs.”
Lopez highlighted a big day for the Bears as well as they won four individual titles. Isaiah Alva (147), Romeo Medina (154), Kenneth Hamel (184) all joined Lopez as champions.
Hamel had an impressive 13-6 win over Golden Valley’s Ty Bowden in the final. The Merced junior has improved a lot from last year.
“My offense is a lot better,” Hamel said. “I’m better on top than I was. I’m doing a better job of holding people down.”
Lopez earned the only pin of the finals. Golden Valley fans were pulling for the Merced senior because its lead over Pitman had been cut to just 3.5 points. Any kind of win by Bajeron would have clinched the title for Pitman.
“He went for the double underhook so I just took advantage of it and used a hip toss,” Lopez said.
Turlock took home two individual titles with Rafael Herrera (128) and Albino Orozco (172) both winning. Buhach Colony's Jay Johnson won the other individual title at 197.
Herrera found himself on his back early in the second round and finding himself in an unfamiliar position seemed to wake him up because he scored six straight points on his way to a 12-4 win over Pitman’s Lorenzo Lewis.
“I shouldn’t have been on my back,” Herrera said. “I knew my dad would be pretty mad. I knew I was mad at myself. I knew I had to score. I had to wrestle at my pace. I knew he couldn’t wrestle at my pace. I had to push it.”
Mello felt one victory might be enough to hold off Pitman in the finals. As it turned out, the Cougars needed two and they came at the start of the finals.
Rivera avenged his loss to Vargas in last year’s final.
“Me and him go back and forth,” Rivera said. “I worked all week knowing I’d face him. I knew he would be my biggest opponent.”
Rivera scored four big points in the final 10 seconds of the first round on a reversal and a near fall to take a 4-2 lead. The Cougars junior built a 7-2 lead before Vargas scored an escape and a takedown at the end of the second round to cut the deficit to 7-5.
However, Rivera controlled the third round recorded a takedown late to win 9-5.
“I was a little worried after he made it close, but I just trusted my training,” Rivera said. “I’ve got to thank my coaches. This wouldn’t be possible without them.”
Browning trailed 3-2 to Turlock’s Brady Egleston in the third round of his final match. Browning scored a takedown and rode Egleston out for the final minute to win 4-3.
“I knew he was long and I knew I had to wrestle strong,” Browning said. “I didn’t want to get caught underneath. Once he got the escape I knew I had to go to work. I knew I had to stay tough and not give up. After I got the takedown I had to ride him out and that was tough.”