Denver Hayden's Kelly Bruchez believes Soroco's Whittier Gates has the toughness and talent to be a state champion -- just not this year -- because as far as Bruchez is concerned, as a senior, it's his turn first.
Bruchez defeated Gates, a sophomore, 14-3 in Friday evening's semifinals to advance to the 152-pound final tonight. Bruchez will face undefeated Andy Nicodin of Hilltop Baptist.
While Bruchez has guaranteed himself at least second -- he has not placed before -- Soroco's Josh Iacovetto will shoot to win his second straight state title tonight.
Iacovetto defeated Mancos' Vince Bazille by fall in 4 minutes, 24 seconds in Friday's 112-pound semifinals. Iacovetto will meet Meeker's Trent Randall, a two-time state placer in Class 3A.
Like Bruchez and Gates, Iacovetto and Randall are familiar with each other. Unlike Gates, who had beaten Bruchez this season, Iacovetto hasn't found the recipe for success against Randall. The Meeker senior has stuck Iacovetto twice this year on what Iacovetto called "a very quick" fireman's carry.
But Iacovetto is in Denver this weekend, and he believes that could make all the difference.
"It's my senior year. It's my last chance," Iacovetto said. "I always come through when it's show time."
Bruchez seems to have found a love for the Pepsi Center as well.
He came from seven points down to defeat Jerred Lohman, 10-7, in the quarterfinals Friday morning. Lohman was the defending champion at 152 pounds.
Bruchez said defeating Lohman was his focus coming in. Tigers coach John Svoboda stressed to Bruchez, however, the importance of preparing for Gates the same as he did for Lohman because anything could happen at the state tournament.
Bruchez listened well, as he came out aggressive, but smart, in his semifinal match.
"I've worked four years for this," Bruchez said.
He and Iacovetto will be a part of the Parade of Champions at 6:30 p.m. today.
In addition to Bruchez, Iacovetto and Gates, Hayden sophomore Jake Doolin and Soroco senior Brandon Ager are both still alive in the brackets. Gates and Doolin can finish as high as third and no worse than sixth after advancing to the semifinals before losing. It will be the first top-six finish for each wrestler.
Ager, after losing his first match on Thursday, won both his consolation matches Friday to advance to today's third consolation round. He must win at least one more to place, which was his goal coming in.
"I haven't placed before," Ager said. "This is my first Saturday. It was do or die."
Gates advanced to the semifinal match against Bruchez after an 11-6 quarterfinal win over Eads' Cody Cordova, essentially sitting on Cordova's chest for the final 45 seconds of their match. Gates was unable to get the fall, but the reversal and three near-fall points he gained for the rather unorthodox move lifted him into the quarterfinals to face Bruchez.
Gates said he had a feeling he would see Bruchez in the semifinals, and Gates added he was hoping to because it guaranteed Routt County -- and the Western Region -- a state finalist at 152 pounds.
Iacovetto's win Thursday gave him a date with Calhan's Austin Blount in Friday morning's quarterfinals. The last time Iacovetto and Blount met on the Pepsi Center floor, it was for the 103-pound state title. Last year, Iacovetto got the best of Blount in a close match. This year, it was double-overtime close, but Iacovetto again came out the winner, defeating Blount 4-3.
Iacovetto scored the match's first point on an escape in the second period, but Blount took Iacovetto down in the third, moving ahead 2-1. Iacovetto quickly escaped, sending the 112-pound match into overtime. Neither wrestler scored from the neutral position in the one-minute, sudden-death overtime. In the second overtime, Iacovetto had the option of selecting the up or down position because he scored the match's first point. Iacovetto selected down and had 30 seconds to get out from under Blount or go to the consolation rounds. Iacovetto escaped in just enough time.
Doolin's 130-pound quarterfinal win wasn't nearly as dramatic, but it meant just as much to the Hayden sophomore. After a close 6-5 win on Thursday, Doolin came out Friday more energetic and aggressive against Lasan's Joe Montes, a senior.
In the final 35 seconds of the quarterfinal match Friday, Doolin secured his win with a reversal and a quick three near-fall points, building a 15-4 lead. Montes escaped at the end, but it was better for Doolin to allow Montes to escape than to risk getting turned to his back with a 10-point lead.
Doolin was then pinned by Akron's Luke Crumley in 3:08 in the semifinals.
"The kid Jake wrestled was a good kid," Svoboda said. "The kid was better than him on this particular day. He was disappointed he didn't win. You can't help but be disappointed."
Ager defeated Hilltop Baptist's Josh Oehlerking 3-1 at 135 pounds and Center's Clint Phillips 5-1 in his Friday consolation matches. His next opponent is Baca County's Axel Parish this morning.
Today's 2A/3A sessions begin at 11 a.m. with the third-round consolation matches to be followed immediately by the semifinal consolations. The 2A/3A fifth- and third-place matches are at 2:30 p.m.
Hayden senior Alan Stark and Soroco senior C.J. Horn saw their seasons end Friday. Stark won his first round consolation match by fall over Swink's Lee Holder in 2:01, but he fell 12-4 to Norwood's Brandon Alexander later Friday.
Horn, a first-time state qualifier, lost his preliminary match Friday and his first-round consolation match Friday, 7-0, to Peyton's Jason Enderle.