Since the start of wrestling season Kaleb Abernathy has methodically moved his way up the Central Section and state heavyweight rankings.
Sporting a 26-1 record and with three tournament titles already to his credit this year, the Centennial senior entered the finals of the Kern County Invitational on Saturday ready to keep things rolling in a positive direction.
Despite a dangerous slipup early in the second period, Abernathy furthered his case for being one of the state’s most highly-touted 285 pounders by pinning Kern Valley’s Jacob Lightner.
“I expect to win and I expected to win,” Abernathy, currently ranked No. 2 in the section and No. 17 in the state, said. “I knew I was going to come in here and dominate this heavyweight bracket. I knew I had it in me. I felt it.”
Just moments before Abernathy abruptly ended the match 31 seconds into the second period, he appeared to be in trouble.
“He caught me on my back,” Abernathy said. “Me just being me, I can’t lose. I don’t want to lose. I tried my hardest to build a base and then I just lifted him up.”
According to Abernathy the move he used to win the match is called, “The Muscleman.”
“I’m known for my strength,” Abernathy, said. “But I’m also very technical, too.”
Abernathy, who was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Wrestler – Upper Weights, wasn’t the only competitor to shine in the spotlight of the Centennial gym on Saturday.
Liberty’s Johnny Maldonado earned Most Valuable Wrestler – Lower Weights honors after defeating Shafter’s Anthony Perez, 3-2, in the 126-pound final.
Tied late in match, Maldonado scored a takedown with 25 seconds remaining and then held on to get the win.
“He’s a tough opponent,” Maldonado said. “I lost to him earlier in the season. I’ve been training hard. I’ve been watching what he does. I knew he was going to hit those outside shots and I defended it.”
Maldonado credited his training partners for helping him earn the gold medal.
“They’re pushing me,” Maldonado said. “They’re making me work hard every day. I work hard because of them and I want to be the best.”
Maldonado’s victory over Perez was one of several finals bouts that went down to wire.
Delano’s Angel Nava came up just short, 14-13, in losing to Valencia’s Cory Faulconer in the 120-pound final.
Nava was leading 12-10 late in the match before Faulconer rallied to win by scoring four quick points via reversal and near-fall.
While Faulconer and Nava battled it out for the full six minutes, half of the 14 championship matches ended early because of pins.
Garces’ Isaiah Martin ended the 220-pound final prematurely when he planted Centennial’s Antonio Valle on his back for three seconds.
Martin, ranked No. 20 in the state, finished off Valle after four minutes and 40 seconds of action.
“I just went in there and stayed tough, didn’t give up, and wrestled all six minutes,” Martin said. “I haven’t been wrestling all six minutes lately. The whole key right now is to finish, finish, finish.”
Martin was one of two Garces’ wrestlers to win their weight division.
The Rams’ Jordan Cooper won the 132-pound title.
Bakersfield High, whose top wrestlers spent Friday and Saturday competing in the Temecula Valley Invitational – Battle for the Belt, still managed to win the KC Invite team championship.
The Drillers narrowly edged out Shafter 155-153 for first place. Golden Valley was a close third with 150.5 points. Valencia (148.5), Liberty (148), Centennial (147), Foothill (112), South (102), Ridgeview (101), and Garces (91) rounded out the top-10.
Sixteen different schools sent wrestlers to the finals. Valencia had the most with four. Shafter and Ridgeview both had three qualify for the championship round.
BHS’ lone finalist, Jordan Annis, missed out on winning a gold medal. Instead, it was Frontier’s Andrew Carter that walked away with the 160-pound title after he beat Annis 4-2, scoring the deciding points via a reversal with just 22 seconds left in the match.