Central's Barrera scores big upset to advance to 4A state wrestling title match
DENVER — Returning state wrestling champions don’t lose too often, but Central’s E.J. Barrera was unfazed Friday night when he stepped onto the mat in the Class 4A 170-pound semifinals.
The Warriors’ senior scored the upset of the state wrestling tournament, pinning Pine Creek’s Garrett Niel in 3 minutes, 10 seconds to advance to tonight’s finals at the Pepsi Center.
“I’m just so happy, so happy, all that hard work paid off,” Barrera said after the match. After the win, he celebrated on the mat, saluted the Central fans and hugged Central coach Laurence Gurule.
Barrera and Niel were locked in a battle from the opening whistle.
Both wrestlers tried to be physical and use their strength, but the first period ended in a 0-0 tie.
“I wanted to be a little cautious but not too cautious. So I tried to feel him out a little,” Barrera said.
With the feeling-out process over, it was time to go for broke.
Niel made the first attack and it was a perfect move, getting Barerra on his back, but only for a couple of seconds.
Barrera then twisted and pushed his way back into an offensive position, turned Niel and got the pin.
“He got on my back a little and it was all or nothing,” Barrera said. “I bridged like crazy, and went as hard as I could to get him on his back.”
Barrera knew he was in for a tough match. Niel won a state title at 182 last year in Class 5A. He was the No. 1 seed and Barrera, even though he was 42-4, a regional champion and was ranked No. 2 for most of the season, was on Niel’s side of the bracket.
“I knew I had to take him seriously. (He’s a) tough guy, state champ, I just wanted to give it all I had” Barrera said with a laugh.
Barrera will try to become Central’s first state champion since 2009 when hfaces Pueblo South senior Elias Manzanares ( 32-11) in tonight’s title match.
Barrera’s win was the bright spot in an agonizing semifinal round for the Warriors. Seniors Andrew Bench and Riley Garner-Orr both lost close matches.
Garner-Orr gave up a point late in the third period and lost 1-0 to Pueblo County senior Justin Davis at 138.
Garner-Orr now sets his sights on a third straight third-place medal.
At 132, Bench lost in overtime to Mike McFadden of Cheyenne Mountain, 4-2.
Central’s Jacob McClaskey (106) and Weston Holdren (182) lost in the quarterfinals.
Palisade had a rough 4A quarterfinal round with four loses — including all three of the Bulldogs’ regional champs getting knocked out of the championship bracket.
Austin Bernal lost a major decision at 152 pounds and Isaac Maestas and Terrance Williams lost close decisions.
Maestas gave up an escape in the third period and lost 3-2 at 160. Williams gave up an escape in the third period to make the score 1-1 at the end of three periods. In the third overtime, Hunter Mooring of Pueblo West scored an escape to win the 195-pound match 2-1.
Palisade freshman Jagger Wade lost a 1-0 decision at 106.
Montrose’s lone quarterfinal qualifier, Fabian Lujan (120), also lost.