A pair of champions
After a season's worth of dedication and years of relentless training, it all came down to a couple of seconds for Woodburn wrestlers Wesley Vasquez and Giovanni Bravo.
The Bulldog teammates each made dynamic runs to the finals at the 2019 4A State Wrestling Championships on Saturday, only to rally from late deficits with a few ticks left on the clock to emerge as Woodburn's first state champions in 19 years.
"It feels incredible," Vasquez said. "It feels really great winning. All the sacrifices I've made throughout the season and my six years of wrestling, it paid off."
Together, Woodburn placed four of seven wrestlers at the state tournament, taking six to the second day of competition to finish the weekend in seventh-place with 96 points.
It was the second championship match in as many years for Vasquez, a 113-pound junior who emerged as a surprise title contender last year after advancing to the 5A 113-pound title match as an unseeded sophomore.
But unlike in 2017, Vasquez was this year's top-seeded wrestler in his bracket and on a season-long mission to bring home a title after finishing runner up as a sophomore.
"Last year I was kind of psyched out being in the finals," Vasquez said. "It was something I didn't expect. But this year, I was just thinking about that state title. I'm here for a reason - to get that state title."
Vasquez marched his way to the finals with relative ease, pinning each of his three opponents in the first round to force a title match against Junction City sophomore Evan Potter.
The two were relatively evenly matched. Potter scored a takedown in the opening minute and held a 2-1 advantage after the first round. Potter expanded his lead to 4-1 lead early in the second, but a late escape and takedown by Vasquez knotted the score at 4-4 heading into the final two minutes.
Potter started the third round down and escaped with one minute left to take a 5-4 lead. Vasquez countered with a takedown with 53 seconds to go up 6-5, though his advantage would only last 15 seconds before Potter reversed make it 7-6 in his favor.
Vasquez was able to work his way out from under Potter over the final 30 seconds, but rather than pull away for the escape point to tie the match and send it to overtime, he held on, looking for an opening.
As the clock wound down, he said, he recalled the words of his older brother, Rafael, who wrestled with the Bulldogs from 2014-17.
"Just go at it. Don't stop. Just wrestle," he told himself, channeling his brother's advice. "Just keep on wrestling and try to figure out a way to get that two. Just find a way to get him on his back."
His chance came with one second left when he reversed Potter to take an 8-7 lead and pick up the championship decision.
It was as exciting a match as Woodburn had seen all weekend, only to be outdone by Bravo 30 minutes later.
Making his fourth straight trip to the championship tournament, the Woodburn senior was looking to bring home a title of his own after placing fourth as a sophomore in 2017 and fifth in 2018.
"This season I only wrestled about 14 times," Bravo said. "I knew that coming into this tournament, I wasn't supposed to take anything lightly."
Facing top-seeded junior Kane Nixon of Cascade, Bravo fell down 2-0 after the opening minute, only to score a reverse at the end of the round to go into the second round tied at 2-2.
Bravo took his first lead to open the second, but Kane managed to escape and score a takedown of his own, finishing the round with a nearfall to take an 8-4 lead heading into the last round.
Nixon looked to cement the victory and nearly pinned Bravo 30 seconds into the third to go up 11-4 before the Woodburn senior had the rally of a lifetime in the final minute.
"Once I started knowing I was behind, I kind of figured I had nothing left to lose," Bravo said. "It was my last match of the season for high school, so I had to go out hard."
After getting out from under Kane, Bravo scored an escape point and took down Nixon to make it 11-7. He added a two-point nearfall with 37 seconds left and sealed the victory with a suicide cradle to pick up three more points on another nearfall with just five seconds remaining.
"Throughout the first and second rounds, we were just going back and forth," Bravo said. "He was beating me second round. The third round I knew I was under and I had to let him up, take him to his back and do whatever possible."
Freddy Hernandez — 3rd, 126 pounds
The Bulldogs nearly put a third wrestler in the championship round, after junior Hernandez picked up a pair of victories via pinfall on the opening day to advance to the bracket semifinals.
There he faced freshman Braden Carson of La Grande, falling by 11-7 decision to drop to the consolation side of the bracket, where he scored a 57-second pin over sophomore Trey Trejo of Ontario to advance to the third-place match.
Going up against district champion senior Robert Watkins of Sweet Home, Hernandez made the emphatic final statement of the season, taking a 15-7 major decision to finish third overall.
Marcos Hernandez — 5th, 120 pounds
The Woodburn senior capped his high school career with a fifth-place finish, going 4-2 overall at the state finals. After opening with a hard-fought victory over Savien Burk of Mazama in the first round, Hernandez fell to the consolation bracket with a 2:24 loss to La Grande's Ezra McIntosh.
Hernandez picked up back-to-back victories by pinfall to advance to the placing rounds, falling Baker's Johnny Niehaus in the consolation semifinals before taking a second-round victory over second-seeded Tristan Spencer of Sweet Home to finish his season with a win.
Hector Paniagua (126 pounds), Angel Acevedo (145) and Israel Paniagua (152) each went 1-2 in their tournament appearances.
Overall, it was a dynamic 4A debut for the Woodburn wrestling team, which largely wrestled this season without its top weight classes.
"Just midweights to lightweights," Vasquez said. "Even though we didn't have a full lineup, I think we're doing great. The coaches are amazing. I think they deserve a lot of recognition."
2019 4A State Wrestling Championships
Feb. 22-23 at Veteran's Memorial Coliseum
1. Tillamook 264.5
2. Sweet Home 241.0
3. La Grande 189.0
4. Baker/Powder Valley 129.0
5. Cascade 105.5
6. Junction City 101.5
7. Woodburn 96.0
8. Phoenix 69.0
9. Marshfield 57.5
10. Henley 56.0