Mustangs senior Chase Saldate enters CCS as the overwhelming favorite to win the 152-pound division title. Photo by Robert Eliason.
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For the Gilroy High wrestling team, last Saturday’s Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Championships was all about one thing: get in, get out. And that’s exactly what the Mustangs did. They totaled 274 points to cruise to another league championship victory in what they hope will be a harbinger in this week’s Central Coast Section tournament. With fewer teams competing in the league tournament this season, most of the Gilroy wrestlers only had to win two matches to claim an individual championship. 

Gilroy winners included Scotty Moore in the 108-pound weight class, Oscar Alfaro at 122, Jayden Gomez at 128, Nathan Aguilar at 134, Henry Porter at 140, Donte Lopez at 147, Chase Saldate at 154, Doug Porter at 162, Chad Sakamoto at 172, Josh Cortez at 220 and Nicholas Villarreal at heavyweight. Freshman Zach Fierro placed second at 115 pounds to Palma’s Zak Thompson, who is one of the state’s best. Most of the Gilroy champions won in rapid fashion, either by pins in the first or second period. Saldate had about 90 seconds of total mat time over two matches, which was the goal. 

“In these type of tournaments, you try to go out and get out as fast as you can,” said Saldate, who is the top-ranked 152-pounder in the nation and 33-0 on the season. “At this point in the season, there’s no reason to try to blow your lungs out. Get in, get out and keep your body rested.”

Villarreal, who is 30-2 this season, made quick work of both of his opponents to win another heavyweight title. 

“My first match was around 50 seconds, and the final probably took around 45 seconds,” Villarreal said. “This is something you have to do to get to the next stage.”

That would be CCS, which Gilroy has won an unprecedented 17 years in a row. The Mustangs will certainly find tougher competition at CCS, but they’re expected to easily outdistance any team for an 18th consecutive championship. 

“Going into CCS, I’m going to see it as a regular tournament,” Saldate said. “I’m looking at it as the last time to get my body and technique in perfect tune for state.”

Even though Gilroy has some standout freshmen on the squad, Saldate reminds them they’ll have to be at their best and focused at all times in the CCS Championships. 

“I tell the freshmen as good as I was when I was a freshman, these kids aren’t going to lay down for you,” the Michigan State signee said. “In my freshman year, I was winning my (CCS tournament) semifinal by three (points) and got thrown on my back (and eventually lost).”

Saldate said everyone on the team did what they had to do in the league tournament, and pointed to Lopez as one of the highlights of the tournament. 

“Guys like Donte really stepped up, and they looked good as normal,” Saldate said. “It was good to see Dante go out and dominate because we’ve kind of thrown him into a higher weight class (due to Victor Jacinto’s injury). Dante might be a little undersized (at 145), but his performance was huge. … Our freshmen looked good as well. Even though Zach lost, he didn’t look timid out there, which can be the case with freshmen. Scotty looks to be better with what he’s done conditioning-wise, and Oscar looked in good form, too.”

Although the loss of Jacinto was a costly one—he tore his ACL at the State Duals—he still comes to practices and watches all of the team’s matches. 

“We were pretty bummed about it because he was ranked third in the state and had a chance to win state,” Villarreal said. 

Saldate and Villarreal, who both finished as runner-ups last year in the CIF State Championships, are primed to finish the deal this time. 

“For sure, I’ve been on a mission to win a state championship my senior year,” Saldate said. “We have (banners of) all the state champs hanging up on the walls in the wrestling room, and my big thing is to get my name up there for us as well.”

For wrestlers the caliber of Saldate and Villarreal, it’s all about fine-tuning and never losing match awareness at this point of the season. Villarreal said he’ll have to make sure he’s working his angles correctly and not get caught under the bigger heavyweights, since he walks around at 225 to 230 pounds and is considerably lighter than someone like Bakersfield’s Josiah Hill. The two have wrestled four times overall in what has been a fantastic rivalry, with both winning twice. A potential third meeting in the state final would break the deadlock. 

Saldate, meanwhile, took something away from the Fall Grappler Classic last summer—one of the few losses he’s had in the last year outside of the high school season. 

“I was shooting to shoot and got cocky pretty much,” he said. “From that loss, I realized I can’t be too offensive all the time. I was thinking that I was killing this guy so keep doing it, because I could take this kid down. I did it and got thrown and ended up losing the match.”

Saldate tends to overanalyze his performances, so he’ll have his coaches watch his video before they instruct Saldate on what to do. Then Saldate goes out and does it, time and again. 

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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