‘On top of the world’

Espinoza beats rival to reach title match

Palisade’s Randen Espinoza pinned Terrell Banuelos of Montrose, left, in Friday’s semifinals of the Class 4A 106-pound bracket.

DENVER — Randen Espinoza looked down and spotted his opening Friday in his Class 4A 106-pound Colorado state wrestling semifinal match.

Montrose’s Terrell Banuelos had tied the score at 2-2 with a lightning-quick reversal. Espinoza got to his feet, then noticed that Banuelos’ leg was vulnerable for a move.

Espinoza grabbed the exposed leg to gain the advantage, and the match was over in a flash.

The Palisade junior made a quick turn, rolled Banuelos into a cradle and the match was over at one minute, 51 seconds when Espinoza secured the pin.

“I’m on top of the world right now, I’m so excited to be in the finals, I’m so happy right now,” Espinoza said.

The two Western Slope wrestlers saw each other twice this season before Friday. Banuelos (37-5) scored a 6-5 win at the Warrior Classic, then Espinoza (43-4) won in the regional tournament with a 4-2 decision.

“Getting the pin over Banuelos, who’s a really tough kid and we go back and forth, it’s just overwhelming,” Espinoza said.

The quick pin was unexpected but it gave another jolt to Espinoza’s soaring confidence.

“It gave me the biggest boost, I’m so ready for this next match,” he said.

The championship match will be a huge test, as Espinoza tries to bring Palisade a state title for a second straight year. Last year, Dalton Hannigan won the first state title for Palisade since 2003.

Espinoza will face Pueblo County freshman Grant Willis, who beat Espinoza 12-1 in the regional final. On Friday, Willits (41-3) had to go into overtime to advance.

“I learned a couple of things (from regionals) and I worked on some things throughout the week, so I’m pretty confident, it should be a close match,” Espinoza said. “I just need to stay on him and be aggressive.”

For Delta’s Marcus Garcia, it was a disappointing but somewhat satisfying semifinal loss at 285.

Justin Petrash (37-3) of Air Academy battled to a tough 1-0 win over Garcia to advance to the finals.

Petrash pinned Garcia in a Utah tournament earlier this season, so Garcia was pleased with his effort against the division’s top seed Friday.

“He kicked my butt (last time), pinned me in the second, but I wrestled him tough today,” he said.

After a scoreless first period, Petrash scored an escape in the second, then it was up to Garcia to try for a possible escape in the third.

He came close but Petrash grabbed a leg and forced Garcia out of bounds.

“He rode me for two minutes and my coaches don’t like that,” Garcia said.

The Delta junior said it was a physical match.

“He wrestled harder than I did today, so I have to wrestle hard for third,” he said.

Two other 4A Western Slope heavyweights, Jesus Casillas of Montrose and Rifle’s Jose Prado both lost in the quarterfinals.

Cordell Stroud (37-9), Delta’s other wrestler in the semifinals had a close first period with Pueblo East’s Phillip Benavidez at 182 pounds.

Trailing 6-3 in the second, Stroud made a mistake and Benavidez took advantage and scored the pin to move on.

Rifle’s Dallas Rohrig (24-4) had his dreams of a state title dashed in the final 20 seconds of his 132-pound match.

Wrestling aggressively, Rohrig took a 4-2 lead over No. 1 seeded Marcus Martinez of Pueblo South after two periods. But in the third period, Martinez was awarded two stall points, then gained a quick takedown with less than 20 seconds remaining to advance to today’s finals.

Martinez beat Hannigan 1-0 in the quarterfinals earlier in the day.

Rifle’s Clayton Coombs lost his semifinal match at 195.


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