By BRETT MARSHALL
Garden City High School's wrestling team finds itself in fourth place standing after Day 1 of the 55th Rocky Welton Invitational, trailing Class 5A nemesis Arkansas City, which leads with 146 points.
The Buffs qualified two wrestlers into today's 4:30 p.m. championship matches, with freshman Michael Prieto and sophomore Tevin Briscoe, holders of the top two records this season, advancing to title bouts.
Arkansas City comfortably leads Cleveland, N.M., with 120.5 points while Piedra Vista, N.M. is third at 112.5 and the Buffs close behind at 112.0. Newton is right on the heels of the Buffs with 108.5 to round out the top five teams after the opening day at The New Garden.
But the Buffs will have to battle through the consolation side of the bracket today without senior AJ Hurtado, last year's 6A state champion at 132 pounds who was in the 138-pound division.
After easily winning his first two matches, Hurtado banged heads with quarterfinal opponent JoAngel Cortez of Ulysses in the opening seconds and was stunned.
After examination by athletic trainers and the coaches, for precautionary purposes, the match was defaulted. Head coach Carlos Prieto said it was doubtful that Hurtado would wrestle anymore the rest of the tournament.
The younger Prieto, 34-1, reached the final with a last-second pin of Diondre Garcia of Monte Vista, Colo. in the second quarter after trailing 2-0 in his semifinal match. There was just one second showing on the clock when Prieto finally put Garcia down.
Briscoe punched his ticket to the finals with a solid 5-0 victory over Kendall Biddle of Arkansas City. Briscoe improved his season record to 33-3.
In today's championship matches, Prieto will take on defending Welton champion Logan Terrill, whom Prieto has already claimed three wins over this season. The two previously met at the Kansas City Stampede in a consolation match, and also in championship bouts at Derby and Newton. Briscoe will take on unbeaten Jacob Rubio of Randall-Canyon, Texas.
For the freshman Prieto, getting to the finals removes a little of added pressure of being at home with high expectations.
"This tourney did add some pressure with it being at home, with so many local fans and wanting to do well," said the younger Prieto, son of Carlos, the first-year coach of the Buffs. "This is really home, and it felt like a really big match. My dad just told me to go out and wrestle my best."
For just the third time all season, Prieto was taken down, when Garcia went up 2-0 just 40 seconds into the match. That score remained through the rest of the first period.
Prieto elected to be in the top position to start the second period, and worked his way through to get Garcia on his back. He finally succeeded late in the period, and worked until he got Garcia fully pinned just one second before the buzzer sounded.
"I was just trying to get a nice tilt," Prieto said. "I was able to get a cross-face cradle and had just enough time to get both of his shoulders on the mat."
Prieto had apparently suffered a stinger to his left shoulder in the first period, but shook it off and took command once he got on top in the second.
"It stung a little but my dad says every time you have an injury, you just battle through it and that's what I did," Prieto said. "I knew he wasn't going to let up and I just had to get back to wrestling the basics and it worked out."
For Briscoe, reaching the finals also was one the goals he set for himself before the start of the season.
"It feels good, and to be honest I expected to come in here and win," Briscoe said. "It was a good day, a lot of hard work."
Briscoe called it workmanlike in his 5-0 win over Biddle.
"Usually, the first one to get a takedown gets the win, and it gives you a cushion if you get the early lead," Briscoe said. "I just tried to keep the pressure on him, and I felt like I was able to dominate him even though it wasn't that high scoring."
Briscoe now gets the opportunity to take on Texas state champion Jacob Rubio of Canyon-Randall, who swept through his four matches with two pins and two major decisions. Briscoe had earlier dispatched Fernando Nunez of Maize and Caleb Coffey of CaĆ±on City, Colo.
"That's the great thing about this tournament is to see the best of other states," Briscoe said. "It's top-notch competition and it lets you know where you're at."
Two other Buffs had reached the semis, but came up empty, as Trevor Kennedy and Zac Finch dropped matches at 145 and 160 pounds.
Chris Adler (152), Anthony Gardner (170) and Montana Fuller all reached the quarterfinals earlier, only to come up short in those matches.
"Losing AJ really hurts, because he would have gotten us a lot of points," coach Prieto said. "Now we have to battle back through the back side (consolation) of the bracket. We just seem to have trouble here keeping everybody healthy, but better here than at state."
Prieto still expects his team to finish in the top five and told his team of his goals.
"We'll need to make up a bunch of points in the morning but I want us to be in the top 5," Prieto said. "It's a bigger challenge, but we'll get it done."
The tournament's consolation side was to start at 9 a.m. with consolation finals set to begin at approximately 2 p.m. and championship bouts to begin at about 4 o'clock.
Results in Scoreboard, Page D2.