Thrilling the Ignacio High School Gymnasium crowd with a last-ditch lift of his opponent, only to have the resulting takedown ruled out of bounds. If there was one wrestler who truly experienced the highs and lows of the Feb. 2 Butch Melton Memorial Invitational, it had to be Cesar Pedregon.
Locked in a battle with 3A Pagosa Springs' Connor Aragon as Aragon owned a slim 1-0 lead, Ignacio's 182-pounder managed to get underneath the Pirate and elevate him. With even impartial rooters diverting most their attention away from the adjacent mat where 2A San Juan Basin League rival Will Gabriel of Nucla was en route to a 7-2 title win, Pedregon looked to dump Aragon on the circle's edge for a two-point slam as time was expiring.
But the maneuver was denied, and the junior's day, which began with an 18-second pin of Shiprock's Hunter Woodis, came to an end with a fifth-place 3-2 record, helping the hosting Bobcats rack up 52 points and rank seventh out of 14 squads.
"Pleased to get all the matches that we did, and just really happy that we came to battle every single match," said IHS head coach Jordan Larsen. "All of our guys went out there and battled their hardest, and a lot of them are looking a lot crisper than three weeks ago, which is what we're looking for - peaking at the regional-season time."
Pedregon improved to 23-9 overall, but with the Feb. 7 SJBL Duals, hosted this year by Dove Creek, preceding this weekend's tell-all trip to Montrose, senior Dustin Sanchez looked most in form with a first-place showing at 160 pounds.
Seeded third at the weight, Sanchez quickly pinned Aztec's Brody Dalton in 1:41, and, after receiving a bye, he then trounced Pagosa's Aaron Thompson by 12-2 major decision - reportedly the Pirate's first loss this winter.
In the championship-bracket semifinals, Sanchez faced a true test in Farmington's Cirrail Allison, who had passed the 30-win mark this year earlier in the tournament. But, after six tense minutes, Sanchez emerged on the winning side of a 3-1 decision and advanced to face Aztec's Zane Chapman.
Chapman began well and took an early 4-0 lead before Sanchez buckled down and went up 6-4 going into the second period. His advantage grew to 8-4 entering the third, and when the final whistle sounded, it was an authoritative 13-7.
"You know, I just went out scared and he caught me. I realized, 'Oh God, I'm in a wrestling match; I'd better wrestle!,'" said Sanchez, his season record standing 25-5 compared to Chapman's 26-9. "I've been working to get this title. Last year I got fourth, and this year I told myself nothing was going to stand in my way. It just means everything."
"He didn't have a bad weekend last weekend," Larsen said, recalling Ignacio's work at Paonia's Screaming Eagle Invitational, "but had a match in there that we didn't see the resiliency. So, I think it says a lot of him to come back, especially going down just like last week, to a tough kid, sticking his chin in there, continuing to fight."
Preceding Sanchez onto the first-place center mat was fellow senior Skieler Grooms, who ultimately placed second at 138 pounds. Able to edge 3A Montezuma-Cortez's Anthony Abeyta 6-4 in his first test, Grooms then pinned Piedra Vista's Chadin Groen and Dove Creek's Wyatt Kennedy before dominating Cedaredge's Ty Walck 12-1 in the semis.
The Bobcat then went up against a Tiger, Aztec's Cody Candelaria, for all the marbles and came up short, losing by 23-6 technical fall in the second period after Candelaria rapidly built up a 14-4 advantage during the first two-minute stanza.
"I think my day went really well, you know? I just went out there, kept my mind focused, took it match to match," said Grooms (21-9). "Of course, my last match was difficult, but regionals is where it's at. So, that's what I'm looking forward to."
Laresen said Grooms wrestled smart but ran into a buzzsaw in Candelaria.
Also competing for the final time at home for Ignacio was senior Hunter Robbins, who finished a sixth-place 1-3 at 126 with a pin of Piedra Vista's David Garcia sandwiched between an initial loss to Aztec star Christian Robison (35-3) and a closing 16-1 loss to Farmington standout Chance Carrillo (25-3).
"Lot of down time in between matches, so you kind of got cold," Robbins (15-12) said. "But once you got back into it, got into the heat of things, it was intense. All day long.
"I was a little upset with the way I wrestled. Definitely could have wrestled better, but there's always the next one."
Freshman Isaac Welker went 0-3 and did not place at 113 pounds, while 145-pounder Tyler Barnes went 1-2. Clay Campbell ended up tying for eighth place at 170, as did Jeremy Roderick at 195. Heavyweight Randy Herrera finished fourth after going 2-3 with pins over Pagosa's Justin Baxtrom and Aztec's Josh Huntsman.
Of his senior trio, Larsen was pleased that each earned top-six status at his final Butch Melton Invitational.
"Probably the closest I've come to being emotional about a senior class in my career," Larsen said. "This group, I would say, is some of the best leaders by example that I've seen in terms of work ethic in the room and just motivating the other athletes and being here to support them. Honestly, couldn't ask for a better senior class, you know?"
Sanchez also was emotional about his final home meet.
"You know, it was really saddening because it's making me realize this is the last time I'll step on a high-school mat in front of my home crowd," he said. "So, it was really emotional for me."
"It pulls on the feelings a little bit, you know?" agreed Robbins. "Definitely going to miss it a lot, though."
After the aforementioned SJBLs, the Bobcats will compete at the 2A Region 1 Championships Feb. 15-16 inside the Montrose Event Center.
"What we're training for is two weeks away," Larsen stated, referring to the state championships. "Really looking forward to seeing what all those guys have come regional time."
2019 BUTCH MELTON MEMORIAL INVITATIONAL TEAM STANDINGS: 1.Aztec, N.M., 209; 2.Pagosa Springs 163.5; 3.Farmington, N.M., 149.5; 4.Cedaredge 100; 5.Montezuma-Cortez 74; 6.BAYFIELD 66; 7.IGNACIO 52; T-8.Aztec, N.M., 'B'/Farmington, N.M., Piedra Vista 42; 10.Nucla 24; 11.Dove Creek 14; 12.Shiprock, N.M., 6; 13.Dolores 4; 14.Mancos 2.
CHAMPIONS: 106-Jaren McBride, Aztec; 113-Erik Wyman, Pagosa Springs; 120-Taeoma Frank, Farmington; 126-Christian Robison, Aztec; 132-Sean Dale, Cedaredge; 138-Cody Candelaria, Aztec; 145-Cameron Lucero, Pagosa Springs; 152-Matthew Broughton, Montezuma-Cortez; 160-DUSTIN SANCHEZ, IGNACIO; 170-Ian Reinhardt, Pagosa Springs; 182-Will Gabriel, Nucla; 195-Caleb Varzeas, Aztec; 220-Taj Van der Linde, Cedaredge; Hwt-Dante Norberto, Farmington.
RUNNERS-UP: 106-Dominic Duran, Farmington Piedra Vista; 113-Brennen Puhuyaoma, Farmington Piedra Vista; 120-Dylan St. Vrain, Aztec; 126-E.J. Monterroso, Pagosa Springs; 132-Garrett Birzer, Aztec; 138-SKIELER GROOMS, IGNACIO; 145-Hunter Medina, Aztec; 152-Bode Wooley, Aztec; 160-Zane Chapman, Aztec; 170-Gavin Blair, Farmington; 182-Zackary Small, Farmington; 195-JOHN FOUTZ, BAYFIELD; 220-DANIEL WESTBROOK, BAYFIELD; Hwt-Derek Sanchez, Cedaredge.