"Outstanding Wrestler" doesn't do justice to Martin Sandoval's performance at Saturday's CIF Central Section Masters wrestling tournament hosted by Mt. Whitney in Visalia.
Porterville's 138-pounder pinned all four of his opponents en route to a Masters championship.
The road featured a pair of rematches from the Yosemite Divisional semis and final. First up was Buchanan's Abner Romero, who nearly beat Sandoval in a narrow 9-8 decision last week at Madera South with a trip to the Divisional finals on the line. Sandoval completely dismantled him this time around. His third pin of the day came just four seconds before the final buzzer with a commanding 12-0 lead already in hand.
A finals rematch pitted Sandoval against Clovis West's Chris Garcia, who forced an 11-6 decision in Madera. The two rivals didn't even make it to the third period at Mt. Whitney as Sandoval landed a pin at 3:51.
"I knew (Garcia) was going to come hard at first because after last week I'm sure he's pretty pissed off," Sandoval said. "He's a good wrestler, so I just wanted to stay in his face and keep the movement going. Right off the bat he shot and I got him on his back and stayed on him."
Sandoval was joined by teammate Mason Pengilly a top the podium. Pengilly defeated Exeter's Arnulfo Olea 4-0 in the 120-pound final. Porterville's two Masters champions led a group of five Panther state qualifiers, four of whom placed at least fourth on Saturday. Abel Contreras (132) took third, Gregory Pagela (152) placed fourth and Javier Jimenez (106) finished seventh.
Sandoval's pin boosted Porterville to fourth overall in the team standings, which head coach Tim Vanni said is the team's highest finish at the Master's.
Talk to the Panthers, however, and you may get the impression they aren't all that impressed.
"It's just another stepping stone," Pengilly said when asked what it's like to be a Masters champ. "Every day I think about (state)."
"It's just another match before state," echoed Sandoval. "That's the main goal right there. State, that's all I think about. I think about it every day. Dream it. It's everything. It's all state. It's all about state."
The mentality is shared throughout Tulare County.
Redwood's Joey Cisneros placed third with a 5-4 comeback win over Monache's Matt Gamble in the 106-pound consolation final. He lost to eventual champion Adrian Camposano from Central 9-7 on a stalling call in overtime of the semifinals. Although Cisneros lost to Camposano 22-9 in the Divisional semis, Redwood coach Dave Watts thought he should have won this time around. He also doesn't think it makes much of a difference.
"It doesn't matter this week," Watts said. "It's next week that matters. Everything starts all over at the state meet."
Cisneros will be joined in Bakersfield by teammate Isaiah Torres, who qualified as the eighth place finisher at 113 pounds. His only win of the day came against Clovis East's Joseph Jauregui, who took second in the Divisional tournament and is ranked No. 17 in the state for the weight class.
"Isaiah wrestled a little bit above his head today," Watts said. "He looked really good. He beat the Clovis East kid. That kid is the real deal. He was just tenacious."
Redwood's Blake Marple failed to qualify out of the 160-pound bracket, although Watts did note that he gave a "valiant" effort after wrestling "above par" at Madera South to make it to the Masters.
Monache's Seth Hood looked to have been eliminated as well when he lost 6-2 against Kingsburg's Jonas Tirado in the 120-pound ninth place match. But Hood, who qualified for the Masters as an alternate, received yet another extra life when news came in that his weight class was one of five receiving an extra qualifying spot because the Oakland Section winner did not place at a qualifying tournament earlier in the season.
The four other Central Section weight classes sending a 10th wrestler are 106, 126, 132 and 170.
Hood and Gamble will be joined in Bakersfield by teammate Josh Sibayan, who took third at 126 pounds with a 10-7 win over Wasco's Joshua Hokit. The Maurauders finished 17th overall as a team, the second highest finish for a team from Tulare County.
Exeter (19th) qualified a second wrestler when Kyle Jones pinned Frontier's Aaron Gomez for the ninth and final spot in the state tournament.
Dinuba gave Tulare County five teams with multiple qualifiers as Michael Wright (160) finished fourth and David Padilla (195) finished eighth.
Woodlake's Nathan Mesa (182) was the final Tulare County state qualifier with a 3-1 win over Firebaugh's Nathaniel Vivanco for the ninth and final ticket to Bakersfield. Mesa was upset by Frontier's Carlos Montejo 2-1 in overtime of a consolation match, forcing him to win consecutive matches to earn his spot at state.
Jaime Galvan, Mt. Whitney's sole representative as the tournament host, did not qualify for state. He lost 5-3 in the 195-pound ninth place match against Corcoran's Enrique Carranza.
Although the Central Section sends nine and sometimes 10 wrestlers to state from each weight class, qualifying out of the Masters at Mt. Whitney was no easy task as the section is widely regarded as the best in California. Even so, the road only gets tougher at Rabobank Arena on March 1-2.
"Their sharpening their skills just a little more, getting ready for that high caliber competition every match," Vanni said. "Going into state, you can't give up a point. You can't make a mistake. Guys are sharpening up and it's getting down to the nitty gritty. You've got to wrestle solid all the way through."