PARK CITY — Three for three.
Garden City High School took three wrestlers into Saturday’s Class 6A wrestling championships at Hartman Arena and walked out with three titles.
Refugio Chairez, Silas Pineda and Jacob Holt earned the golds for the Buffs, with Chairez and Pineda winning their first titles and Holt his second.
In all, the Buffs had eight medalists of the 12 wrestlers who qualified for state and finished third as a team with 149.5 points.
“It’s huge,” GCHS head coach Carlos Prieto said of the Buffs’ three individual titles. “It sealed the deal on a third-place team finish, and I couldn’t be more proud of the boys.”
The final team scores were not available at time of press, but Manhattan and Derby were well in front in first and second, respectively.
The Buffs’ individual title run began with another bewildering counter into a stunning pin for Chairez in his 285-pound final win over Lawrence’s Ejae Jewsome. Then Pineda put together six 6 minutes of technically sound, smart wrestling to find redemption in a 3-1 win at 120 pounds over Haysville-Campus’ Kale McCracken, who bested Pineda in Hays a month ago.
And then at 132, Holt exhibited a rare strength at that weight in dominating his title match with Derby’s Cason Lindsey, winning 8-3.
“It takes grit to be a champion, and those boys showed it tonight,” Prieto said.
Earlier in the day, the Buffs got a third-place finish from Andrew Garcia at 160, a fourth-place from Erik Dominguez at 126, and three fifth-place finishes from Diago Hernandez (120), Josh Janas (138) and Alex Rodriguez (195).
“I had a Derby parent tell me they didn’t hear about Garden City making a run at the state tournament, making a run at top three, but we always seem to wrestle our best at the state tournament,” Prieto said. “The boys showed that, and I’m really at a loss for words.”
No one had a better tournament than Chairez, whose season began with him crying in the GCHS sauna because he was not sure how he was going to cut 45 pounds off his frame after he finished football season at 330 pounds.
But he eventually did, and his season ended with him in tears once again, as he was crowned state champion.
“Finally,” he said. “This is what we all work for. I’m thankful everything worked out.”
Chairez got out-leveraged by Jewsome early in the second period of Saturday’s final, getting tossed to the ground for two points, but Chairez continued through the fall and rolled Jewsome through, getting on top for the pin.
“Most kids in that position are not going to roll through,” Prieto said. “It’s a move you don’t get out of, but Fuji is so athletically gifted and strong, he was able to pull it off. I’m just extremely happy for him.”
Pineda has wanted to see McCracken in Saturday’s final for nearly a month, after McCracken beat him in a tournament final in Hays. It just made the win all that much sweeter.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Pineda said. “I honestly don’t know how to describe it.”
It took some savvy for Pineda to pull it off.
“For the whole tournament, I wrestled more offensively, and then this match I still attacked, but I was mostly defensive,” Pineda said. “That’s how I normally am and how I am most comfortable.”
McCracken’s ability forced Pineda’s hand.
“I wrestled more wise on my feet, because I knew if he shot I’d have to defend it very well, because he’s a really, really good opponent … he’s my best opponent I’ve had all year long.”
After a scoreless first, Pineda gave up an escape in the second period, but answered with a late takedown to hold a 2-1 lead going into the third period. He was down to begin that period, and got a quick escape, and then held off multiple shots by McCracken to reach gold.
“Silas just moved his feet and kept him off balance all night long,” Prieto said. “Just wrestled a really, really savvy, smart match and ended up getting himself a state championship.”
Holt was aggressive in his match, overpowering Lindsey in multiple grappling holds to score takedowns.
“He’s deceivingly strong for someone that weights 132 pounds,” Prieto said. “It’s almost freakish. Pound-for-pound, he’s probably the strongest kid in the room. That’s saying something with big Fuji in there.”
Twice, Holt pulled Lindsey up out of a hold, and forced him to that mat. Lindsey did well to just avoid the pin.
“I did what I wanted to do,” Holt said. “I kept my head, even after he scored. Little things made a big difference for me. …
“I got to where I wanted to be, my hand raised in the middle.”
The third- and fifth-place matches were a mix of emotions for the Buffs, regardless if the tournament ended in a win or a loss.
“Is is what it is,” junior Hernandez said of his fifth-place finish at 120 pounds. “I wish I could have done better. I wish I could have scored more points for my team.”
Hernandez finished fifth a year ago, as well. So even a dominant 10-1 win over Manhattan’s Tate Sauder in the fifth-place match was not enough to quell his disappointment.
“It’s nice, but it’s not what was expected of me,” Hernandez said.
Rodriguez said the same of his fifth-place finish at 195.
“I'm feeling really disappointed in myself at the moment,” he said after his grinding 6-4 win over Leavenworth’s Tyler Robinson in the medal round. “I should have been wrestling for third-fourth.”
The win in the fifth-place match didn’t make up for it, either.
“It’s a win, it’s just not the win I wanted,” he said. “Last year I took sixth, and I was happy with that, but I can’t settle for fifth (this year).”
On the other end of the spectrum, Andrew Garcia was ecstatic with his third-place win at 160 pounds. After getting injured in his first match of state in 2018, Garcia was satisfied with a podium finish this year.
“This means everything,” Garcia said. “It took a lot of heart, a lot of determination and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point.”
Of course, his reaction was boosted by the incredible circumstances of his third-place win.
After scoreless first two periods against Derby’s Taidon Wills, Garcia got an escape early in the third period, and then seemingly had a takedown before allowing Wills to escape, giving Garcia a 3-1 lead. But after some protestation from Derby, the refs consulted and wiped the takedown off the scoreboard, and therefore also the escape.
“Sometimes I don’t get what a takedown is anymore. I thought we had two (points),” Prieto said.
That left Garcia with a 1-0 lead instead with 30 seconds remaining. Wills took advantage by scoring a takedown with 15 seconds to go, grabbing the 2-1 lead. Garcia went for the escape, and nearly got it, but had an opening for the reversal and went for it.
The refs ruled he had gained enough control on top of Wills and awarded the match-winning two points in the final seconds.
Also medaling for the Buffs were Erik Dominguez, who took fourth at 126 after losing in Friday’s semifinal and winning the consolation semifinal Saturday by the slight 1-0 edge over Mill Valley’s Carson Dulitz. Then, for third place, Dominguez rallied from down 4-0 but ultimately fell 5-4 to Lawrence-Free State’s Lou Fincher.
Josh Janas took fifth for the Buffs, wrestling through the consolation rounds to get into the consolation semifinals, where he lost, 10-7, to Shawnee Mission Northwest’s Curte’z Riley. But in the medal round, he dominated Olathe South’s Bobby Thomas, scoring the technical fall, 17-2.