Gilroy High wrestler Gavin Melendez gives a piggy back ride to a young wrestler before the Sept. 17 event with Randy Couture and Aaron Pico at the high school.
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Gavin Melendez had twice been a runner up at the Central Coast Section wrestling finals and was clinging for dear life to not have it be three in a row.
He took second at 120 pounds and 106 pounds in his junior and sophomore years, respectively, and held a 1-0 advantage over his opponent from Leigh.
“He was really strong, so I had to dig down into my guts, get out on bottom and ride him out,” Melendez said.
Melendez opened the third round in the top position and for two minutes rode out his opponent and survived a strong furry in the final 20 seconds to finally achieve what had eluded him: a CCS title.
“It feels really good, actually. I’m glad I won it,” Melendez said. “Two years in a row of losing it and then senior year coming back and winning it, it felt really great.”
His coach Greg Varela said scoring that elusive title could not have come to a more deserving wrestler.
“He’s Mr. Positive in the room. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a smile,” Varela said. “…He’s such a great kid and he tries so hard. He’s overcome his little quirks and his stage fright and stuff like that to see him like that in his senior year and to get it done is great.”
Varela said he’s asked Melendez to wrestle up to help fill the roster and he answered the bell and kept going.
The 138-pound grappler was one of six from Gilroy High School to win titles Saturday night and was one of nine who advanced to the finals.
In all 10 from the city of Gilroy will advance to Bakersfield in March.
Christopher’s Adam Mena took third at 170 pounds to punch his ticket as well.
Along the way, Gilroy for the 14th year in a row won the CCS Team title and came within one point of breaking last year’s record total, finishing with 281 points. The next top teams were Alvarez, who finished with 127 points, Half Moon Bay, who finished with 119, and Bellarmine who had 107 points.
Varela said 14-years of success starts with the dedication to the program from the kids, their parents and assistant coaches and continues to stoke the flames of passion for the sport, even with other teams eager to knock them off.
“It’s the kids and the parents and the support system. Our school supports us and our city supports us,” Varela said. “We have fans up there cheering for us. Now there’s a couple hundred cheering against us, but it’s just like the movie 300: Our group is going to hold our own. Win or lose, we’re going to hold our own.”
Varela said despite the success of the day, some calls went against his boys at times that could have taken them out of their game, but they stayed in and fought.
“I’m more proud of how they kept their composure than even how great they wrestled, and they wrestled great,” Varela said.
But for the success, there is also failure.
The biggest heartbreak of the night came with Gilroy’s final wrestler.
Noe Garcia, a heavy favorite to repeat as a CCS champ, needed the full allotment of overtimes to decide his match and ultimately couldn’t score an escape that would have sent him off to Bakersfield a section title holder.
Garcia and his Serra opponent Dominick Christmas were tied 1-1 after regulation. Garcia scored his point in the second on an escape and Christmas returned the favor in the third with an escape of his own.
So it went to overtime where neither wrestler could score a takedown through one minute and neither wrestler could score an escape through two 30-second periods.
In the second of those periods, Garcia in the bottom position got to his feet and was ripping Christmas’ hands off of him as the two went out of bounds.
Officials watching the match but not refereeing the contest thought Garcia had broken the clasp, but neither of the two refs scoring the contest saw it.
Garcia then had multiple chances in a do-or-die final round to score an escape, but couldn’t get it done.
Varela said there may have been a clock issue, as it wasn’t stopped right away on a whistle with less than 10 seconds to go. The clock was finally stopped with 1 second left and the ref added two more before allowing the contest to continue. Varela thought more time should have been added, which may have given Garcia a chance to score the escape.
But Varela said while he is upset by some calls he didn’t agree with, he said his wrestler resting on any of those reasons for the loss.
“Here’s why I love wrestling and here’s why I love our team,” Varela said. “I went over (to Noe) and said, ‘I can’t believe they let 3 seconds off the clock. I can’t believe you were facing him and they didn’t give you the escape.’ He goes, ‘you know what, I should have pulled him down.’
“He just looked at me and said ‘I should have pulled him down.’ That’s Noe. That’s what makes him. That’s how you know that’s not going to break Noe.”
Six CCS champions
Nic Aguilar (106) and Alex Felix (132) both defended their CCS crowns from a year ago. Aguilar won by technical fall (16-1) with Felix earning a 9-0 major decision.
“It’s pretty hard, but this is Gilroy, honestly. We’re expected to win because we train year round,” Felix said of repeating as a CCS champion. “We train as hard as we can because we’re going for that state title. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Aguilar made it known quickly that he wasn’t going to give up his title, nor his No. 1 ranking in the state, easily.
He held a 5-1 lead after the first round thanks to scoring a takedown and a near fall. He then racked up more points in the second to take an 11-1 lead and nearly had a pin at the very end.
But as Aguilar dropped Riley Saison’s (Alvarez) shoulders to the mat, the time ran out, with the ref calling the pin two or three seconds after the buzzer sounded.
Within the first 20 seconds of the third round, Aguilar scored a takedown into a near fall that put him over the top for a tech fall.
Felix earned his win in much the same easy fashion as Aguilar, taking control early and not giving anything up along the way.
He had a 5-0 lead after the first period and scored a reversal in the second and a takedown in the third for the final margin.
That set off a series of wins for Gilroy as Joe Barnes (145), Juan Villarreal (152) and Javin Aragon (160) all scored victories for Gilroy and all their first CCS titles.
Barnes earning it as a freshman, Villarreal in his second year and Aragon in his third.
Aragon previously took fourth in 2014 and did not place in 2015.
A couple of shocking losses
Gilroy nearly had two others claim titles, but either came a finger short or was stunned with a dramatic reversal.
After Aguilar breezed through his 106 match, Joe Delgado looked to be doing the same at 113.
Delgado was up 6-3 after the first period thanks to a trio of takedowns. He eventually went up 9-3 in the second period when his opponent scored an escape and the drama started.
Delgado took a shot to throw Enrique Zavala of Alisal, but he didn’t get it quite right and found himself laying on his back.
A surprised looking Zavala landed on top of Delgado, took a beat to realize where he was and went for the pin in a move that stunned Gilroy and sent the gym into hysterics.
Gilroy’s next wrestler John Fox battled in his own highly-charged match that went back and forth the entire time and the crowd fed into it.
Fox led 3-2 with a takedown, but got reversed at the end of the second period to trail 4-3.
He scored an escape to start the third, but got taken down quickly and landed into a pin loss at the 4:52 mark of the match.
Christopher’s day
Mena advanced to the 170 pound quarterfinals thanks to a pin and a 16-4 win in the first two rounds. But the wrestler fell by a 12-6 decision to drop to the consols where he battled back to take third.
He scored a 13-3 win and a pin to advance to the semis where he eked out a 7-6 win to wrestle for third.
There Mena wasted little time, winning his match in 31 seconds to qualify for state.
He was one of nine wrestlers who advanced to CCS.
Anthony Lopez went 3-2 at 182 pounds, falling to San Benito’s Michael Comacho in the quarters and then to Live Oak’s Jacob Locsin in the consols.
Anthony Figueroa at 152 also went 3-2, having to battle the entire time in the consols after an opening round loss.
He rattled off three wins to get to the second day, but fell just shy of the consol quarterfinals.
Antonio Gomez went 3-2 at 220, including knocking out Gilroy’s Ryan Encincio before bowing out of the tournament.
Rounding out the day was Dean Agustin (120) and Evan Duran (126) who both went 2-2, Mario Anchondo (132) and Collins Okoronkwo (heavy) who went 1-2 and Dylan Han (106) who went 0-2.
Final roundup
Rounding out the day for Gilroy, Daniel Vizcarra took fourth at 120 pounds, Angel Carbajal went 2-2 at 170 pounds and Ryan Encincio went 1-2 at 220 pounds.
On the girl’s side, Adriana Orozco at 143 pounds took fourth after a 2-0 loss in the consolation finals.
Michal Vance (150) went 1-2, coming up just shy of advancing to the consol semis which would have allowed her to wrestle for a possible placing.
Now all eyes turn to Bakersfield as Gilroy tries to keep the momentum going.
“This is a huge tournament, it means the world to our team, but we’ve got one more to go,” Varela said.

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Cheeto Barrera is the sports editor for the Morgan Hill Times and Gilroy Dispatch.


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