WRESTLING: Three Mustangs into semifinals at state after Day 1

Paul Fox squares off against Cameron Bailey (Vacaville) in the second round.

Three wrestlers are two wins away from one ultimate prize. After a long, long Day 1, which began with weigh-ins at 7 a.m. and concluded with the final match of the evening after 9 p.m., Gilroy High will have three wrestlers start Day 2 in the semifinals of the California Interscholastic Federation Wrestling Championships at Raboback Arena in Bakersfield.

Sophomores Paul Fox (126) and Nikko Villarreal along with senior Willie Fox (145), went a perfect 3-0 on Friday to position themselves one victory from a finals berth and two from a state title.

As for the team race, defending champion Clovis, which entered 13 wrestlers, looks poised to repeat. The Cougars totaled 164.5 points Friday and hold a 79-point lead over second-place Bakersfield. Poway is in third with 76 points. GHS is in sixth place with 51 points.

Paul Fox, ranked No. 5 in California, encountered No. 2 Evan McKirdy, a senior out of Del Norte, in the quarterfinals. Fox took a 6-2 cushion into the third period and withstood McKirdy’s aggressive push down the stretch for a 6-4 decision.

“I was nervous going into that one,” GHS head coach Greg Varela said. “That guy is a monster. I’ve been watching him, and I knew that we had to keep Paul in his power position. Paul was on him, on him, on him. He wrestled a flawless match.”

About an hour after surviving a brush with defeat in a 5-3 overtime win against Matt Gay of Clovis, No. 2-ranked Villarreal was again locked in a nail-biter in the quarterfinals. This time Poway’s Victor Lopez was on the other side of the tape. The result, though, stayed in Villarreal’s corner. In a full, 6-minute battle, Perez was called for stalling three times, thus lifting Villarreal into the semifinals, 3-1.

“We have talked to the kids about that. Guys at state try to stall, to slow you down, keep it close and steal it at the end,” Varela said. “So he has to get used to that. It’s about keeping your composure. He rose to the moment.”

It will be Villarreal’s second consecutive trip to the semifinals. He placed third as a freshman last season.

A determined Willie Fox, the state’s top-ranked 145-pounder, appeared in control throughout Day 1, and showed his maturity in a 7-2 quarterfinals triumph over No. 5 Luke Wilson of Righetti.

“He gave up the first takedown, but I wasn’t worried,” Varela said. “And came back and controlled that match.”

In his fourth trip to the state meet, Willie Fox’s semifinals appearance marks the first time the senior has advanced passed the quarterfinals.

“There are milestones that he has had to hit,” Varela said. “He fell short at CCS – he got that. He fell short at Doc B – he made that milestone. Quarterfinals have killed him the last two years at state, so it was a big hurdle for him to get past. Tomorrow, the semifinals, is uncharted territory, so let’s just go at it.”

It wasn’t all roses for the Mustangs, however. Freshman Jesse Vasquez (106), sophomore Victor Olmos (120) and senior Jose Lara (285) were eliminated from the tournament. Vasquez went 0-2 in his state debut. Lara looked in top form in a Round 2 fall victory, but dropped his next two bouts. And Olmos, who improved upon a 0-2 showing in 2011, went 2-2.

“Victor is one of those kids, who, if he gets an ‘A-,’ he will work 1,000-times harder to get that up,” Varela said. “He’ll be back.

“But Jose is a heart-breaker. He works so hard and is such a respectful kid.”

Saturday’s semifinals action is slated to start a 9:30 a.m. Should any of the Mustangs move on to the finals, those matches get underway at 7:15 p.m.  Check back tomorrow afternoon for a semifinals recap. Follow sports editor Josh Weaver on Twitter for up-to-the-minute results.

The Mustangs’ semifinal matchups: 126: Paul Fox vs. No. 3 Joshua Rodriguez (Righetti); 132: Nikko Villarreal vs. No. 3 Javier Gasca (Kingsburg); 145: Willie Fox vs. No. 6 Bryan Salinas (Northview)

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