MADERA -- Frontier wrestling coach Kirk Moore is not one typically prone to hyperbole, so it's safe to say his Titans' performance pleased him Friday at Madera South High School.
"It was a great day," he said. "It was the best day at any tournament we've had in the seven years of this program."
Five Frontier wrestlers made their way to the semifinals at the Central Section's Yosemite Divisional, one of the toughest state-tournament qualifiers in California. They're all guaranteed spots at next week's Central Section Masters Championships in Visalia; from there, nine of 12 wrestlers reach the state championships March 1-2 at Rabobank Arena.
Bakersfield High also had a good day, putting seven wrestlers into the semifinals and keeping 12 of 14 alive in the consolations when action resumes at 9 a.m. The Drillers sit in third place in the team standings with 133, just behind Clovis-Buchanan's 138. Two-time defending state champion Clovis leads the tournament at 162 and has 10 wrestlers in the semifinals, three more than anyone else.
Lemoore has 110.5 points, just half a point in front of Frontier, a young program not used to such rarified air.
"Five in the semifinals, plus three guys wrestling back (in the consolation bracket)," Moore said. "For us, that's the best tournament we've ever had. Everything went about as well as it could have."
That meant state No. 1 Vincent Gomez breezing through three matches at 126 pounds to reach the semifinals, and No. 2 seeds Izaiah Ozuna and Josh Bailey following suit at 132 and 195 pounds, respectively. But it also meant 160-pounder Kyle Shepherd gutting out a come-from-behind quarterfinal victory.
Perhaps Frontier's most pleasant surprise came as the day came to a close. Auggie Alcantar, a 220-pounder who started wrestling as a freshman, only to be met with an ankle injury that cost him an entire year, came into the tournament a relative unknown and a No. 6 seed.
He won't leave that way, not after dominating No. 3 seed Peter Mendoza of Madera South before pinning him 32 seconds into the third period.
"Hard work pays off," Alcantar said. "For me, it's been a really long process, but things really turned around for me my senior year. And I love being the underdog."
Alcantar takes on No. 7 seed Adrian Garza of Lemoore in the semifinals, which begin at 10 a.m. today. The finals are scheduled for 5 p.m.
Several Bakersfield wrestlers expect to be in those finals, including top seed Coleman Hammond at 152 pounds. He used a pin and two technical falls to reach the semifinals. No. 2 seeds AJ Fierro (145), Hunter Hodges (160), Bryce Martin (170) and Kyle Pope (182) also all had mostly easy paths through the first three rounds.
"Our five solid guys, our most consistent guys, all had good days and all are in safely," BHS assistant coach Steve Varner said. "The idea is to get the most individuals you can into next week. You focus on each guy, and the team stuff takes care of itself."
But on top of its fab five, Bakersfield added two more semifinalists. 132-pounder Antonio Gutierrez was losing 10-5 to Clovis West's Chris Lane in a battle of freshmen when Lane was called for an illegal slam that injured Gutierrez's shoulder. Gutierrez was given an automatic victory and then taken to a local hospital by BHS coach Andy Varner.
Steve Varner said he was unclear whether Gutierrez could simply default to sixth place and qualify for Masters or if he had to weigh in this morning for that to be possible. He said Gutierrez could have trouble cutting weight if he was hurt badly.
The Drillers' seventh semifinalist qualified on happier terms. Nick Kidd, the No. 6 seed at 195 pounds, had a surprisingly easy time reaching Masters. He beat Clovis West's Alex Ku 11-5, then pinned Tulare Union's Ruben Abreago. Then, he watched as Ridgeview's Jaccob Lopez pulled one of the day's biggest surprises by pinning the No. 3 seed, Josh Karam of Clovis North.
Given a less heralded opponent, Kidd capitalized with a second-period pin of Lopez.
"I was really surprised that Ridgeview won, but I would have been going in blind either way," said Kidd, who had never wrestled Lopez or Karam. "I just had a lot of focus. I came not ready to lose. I knew what I had to do to make Masters."
Five more Bakersfield wrestlers can reach Masters with a win in today's first consolation round at 9 a.m. That includes two other upperweights who reached the quarterfinals before losing close matches: 220-pounder Travis Ellebracht and heavyweight Shaq Garret.
"Our big guys are unknown, so we weren't expected to do well," Kidd said. "But we really pushed ourselves, and it's paid off."
Other locals in the semifinals are: Foothill's Nick Marquez (120), Stockdale's Ryan Holmes (170) and Tehachapi's Dillon Harroun (182).