In the six-mat chaos that unfolded Wednesday inside Centennial's gym, it was easy to lose sight of an individual wrestling match.
But Bakersfield High senior Hunter Hodges never did. He knew that the end of the day, after nearly all of the coinciding Southwest Yosemite League dual meets had been concluded, he'd get his chance to face Frontier's Kyle Shepherd, who was ranked just ahead of him in the section and state rankings.
After all that, Hodges knew he needed to wait just a bit longer. At the opening whistle, Shepherd immediately took a shot. Hodges sprawled and whipped around Shepherd for a quick takedown in what became a 13-5 major decision.
"I kind of know Frontier likes to go out aggressively, and I knew he was a tough guy because I'd heard of him," Hodges said. "So I just got myself in good position and got ready."
Hodges' victory was part of the Drillers' 55-18 win over Frontier in the marquee matchup of the SWYL duals, in which all six league teams wrestled four opponents to add to one league match wrestled earlier.
Bakersfield, coming off three consecutive top-two finishes in the state and ranked No. 6 by The California Wrestler this year, finished 5-0 and will enter the SWYL Championships on Feb. 9 at Frontier as the heavy favorite.
Besides Hodges, the Drillers had key wins against Frontier from 145-pounder A.J. Fierro and 182-pounder Kyle Pope, plus pins from Sean Nickell (106), Arik Onsurez (120) and Bryce Martin (170).
Still, Bakersfield coach Andy Varner said work remains if the Drillers are going to make another run at a podium finish at state, March 1-2 in Rabobank Arena.
"We've got a long ways to go," he said. "We have some inexperienced kids who are working hard, and our section is not easy. I think some of them will surprise some people, but there's a long way to go before that. We're just trying to stay fresh."
Frontier's only non-forfeit wins came via pins from Josh Bailey at 195 and Augie Alcantar at 220.
"Bailey and Augie both had good performances, and I really thought Carlos Montejo really wrestled to the best of his ability against Pope (in the 182-pound match)," Frontier coach Kirk Moore said. "We had some good, some bad. Now we've got to work for a week and a half before league."
The Titans' Vincent Gomez, who's ranked No. 1 in the state at 126 pounds, didn't make weight and couldn't wrestle. Moore said he was disappointed in his senior; if Gomez makes the same mistake at the league championships, he would be eliminated from state contention.
Bakersfield had no such drama, other than the continued return to shape for Pope and Hodges, who are both recovering from injuries and/or sickness.
Hodges was injured during the semifinals of the Doc Buchanan Invitational earlier this month and had to default out of the tournament; that meant he couldn't wrestle Shepherd for fifth place and ended up just behind him in the resepective rankings.
"It was nice," Hodges said. "I had been kind of waiting for this match, but I didn't worry about when it would come. It lined up for now, and yeah, there was a little bit of anticipation."
Elsewhere, Centennial won three of its four duals on the day, losing only to Bakersfield. The Golden Hawks' tight decisions over Liberty (42-37) and Stockdale (43-30) propelled them to a 3-2 record and third-place finish. Liberty won two of its four duals and finished in fourth.
Other than the Bakersfield dual, Frontier barely lost a match, routing Independence 78-0, Stockdale 69-15 and Liberty 75-6.
The one-day dual format was designed to save trouble on setting up multiple mid-week duals that interrupted practice schedules, forced more weigh-ins and required setup for an event that often didn't last long because of forfeits.
Both Moore and Varner said they liked handling business all on one day.
"It was fun; it was different," Varner said. "We'll have to re-evaluate what we'll do next season, but it's nice not having to break up every week. I think the kids enjoyed it, too."