DENVER - It's an uncommon thing to face a neighborhood friend as far into the state wrestling tournament bracket as the championship semifinals.
But on Day 2 of the Class 4A state wrestling tournament on Friday, Longmont senior Nathan Morris and Mead senior Caleb Mendez found themselves in a familiar, but odd, situation. The time for matches against strange opponents at the Pepsi Center was over.
In the local 152-pound rivalry reprising itself on the big stage, Morris edged Mendez in a 4-3 decision that punched his ticket to his first state championship match.
"I've wrestled him before so I knew his style a little bit and I was really cautious," Morris said. "I was probably too cautious, that's why I got the stall call. He's a great wrestler and it was a good match. I've been working really hard for this."
Morris (40-5) has beaten Mendez (38-6) twice, most recently by a 10-1 major decision during the teams' dual meet on Feb. 1. On Friday, Morris, who placed fourth last season, scored a takedown to take the lead in the second period and was able to ride that lead to the victory despite a late reversal from Mendez.
In his first state championship match, Morris draws the toughest matchup possible in Pueblo County's Hunter Willits (44-2), who will be wrestling for his fourth state title. Dropping into the consolation semifinals, Mendez will try to wrestle his way back for a shot at third place.
"I've known Nathan for a long time," Mendez said. "He grew up wrestling for my dad's club so we're good friends. We both work hard, so it's a tough match to lose but I wouldn't rather lose it to anyone else. Last time we wrestled, I kind of waited for him to make his move first and that didn't work out. This time, I wanted the pace and my goal was to beat him on my feet but he got that takedown, which set the match to where he had the lead.
"It was the first time I've made it to the semifinals, though, so that was nice."
In the 160-pound semifinals, Longmont sophomore Drake Engelking (22-2) lost a 1-0 decision to Cheyenne Mountain's Zac Baker (41-5), who has won all three of his tournament matches thus far by one point. Engelking reached the 160-pound title match as a freshman last season.
All's well for Welham
Holy Family's Kolsen Welham knew that the second day of the state tournament is made for upsets, and he witnessed plenty of them prior to taking the mat late Friday night in the Class 3A 160 pound semifinals.
Facing fellow senior Ian Vigil of Mullen, he made sure he was going to be the one to give himself a chance for a title. With an early barrage of takedowns and near-falls, Welham gained a head of steam for the state title match with a second-period tech fall of Vigil (18-2).
He'll face Hayden Jonhson of Steamboat Springs as the favorite to win his first title.
"Seeing all these No. 1 and No. 2 kids go down to lower-ranked kids kind of gets in your head and you just want to not be in that spot," Welham said after making the semifinals with a first-period pin of Samuel Westra of Englewood. "Getting this one was huge for me, because I knew they were tough. I'm just trying to wrestle smart and wrestle my best match each time out."
Bean keeping Lyons afloat
Keegan Bean of Lyons faced an opponent in the 2A 182 pound semis that had not allowed a point in two state tournament matches, but that did not faze the junior as he was able to pin Centauri's Salomon Chavez in the third period Friday night, gaining his first championship match appearance.
Bean's all-business approach started Thursday night, and he appears hell-bent on finishing what he started.
"Last night I was in bed at 9 o'clock and you get to sleep early and you don't let the nerves get to you," Bean said. "(Chavez) had a higher seed than me so he was the one with the target on his back. I came out hot, and even though it's just my junior year I am ready to take this."
Bean will face Meeker's Chase Rule, a senior.
Green's epic journey continues in grand fashion
For all intents and purposes Darren Green of Broomfield's night appeared to be over much earlier than he had hoped against Mountain Range's top-ranked Louie Romero in the 5A 120 pound semifinals.
Romero, a state runner-up with his eyes on redemption, had his way through the first four minutes of the match -- holding a 9-3 lead going to the third.
Green, whose strategy was to wear his opponent out to have a chance in the final two minutes, made it work. The freshman chipped away at the lead and eventually rolled Romero onto his back in the final minute and completed the comeback. He was rewarded three final near fall points at the buzzer to cap an 8-0 third period that saw him win 11-9.
Green will have a chance to become the first Eagles freshman since Phil Downing, who won four straight titles, to win a championship when he faces Pomona sophomore Colton Yapoujian on Saturday night.
Eagles junior Preston Renner was able to take down Lakewood state champion Gabe Dinette twice in the first period, but couldn't add anything to it. The Tigers junior went on to win 9-4.
Legacy's Funk comes painfully close
Legacy junior Aidan Funk was eight seconds away from punching his state finals ticket in the Class 5A 160 pound finals.
After two overtimes left he and Cherokee Trail's Josh Richardson knotted at 4-4, they went to an ultimate tie breaker with Funk on top forced to hold onto to the much taller Richardson for 30 seconds to win. On a restart with eight seconds to go Richardson was able to nearly break free but it caused Funk to lock his hand to hang on and it cost him. A penalty point was awarded and Richardson moved on.
Lightning senior Drian Hays was attempting to become the first wrestler to beat Castle View's Tate Samuelson in their 170 pound semifinal. Hays took the match to the third period, was trailing, and was pinned by the Sabercats junior at 5:29.
Erie's Hackney edged in semis
Erie 285-pounder Nate Hackney was painfully close to reaching the 4A finals. He was tied 1-1 with Sand Creek's Alefosio Saipaia late. But the Scorpions junior got an ounce of leverage and made the most of it, tossing Hackney with under 20 second remaining to win 3-1.
In another semifinal, Tigers senior 138-pounder Ernie Quintana had the tall task of taking out arguably one of the states best in Windsor's Chris Sandoval. The Wizards senior improved to 44-0 with a 10-2 win.
Thompson and Long honored
Before the start of Friday's semifinals, CHSAA honored its coaches that have had 20 years of service to their respective schools.
Among the honorees were Lyons assistant Linn Long and Legacy's head coach Mike Thompson.
Watt eliminated in quarters
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the early afternoon quarterfinals session on Friday at the Pepsi Center was Broomfield 285-pounder Mason Watt.
The Eagles junior was one of the top seeds in a loaded 5A weight class that puts an onus on staying off your back. Unfortunately, Watt got caught by Lakewood's Hayden Still and was pinned at the 3 minute and 4 second mark of the second period.
It was the best of times ...
It was quite the contrasting two matches for Lyons 285-pounder Aaron Vasquez in the 2A consolation rounds on Friday.
The Lions senior's first-round consolation match saw him pin Crowley County's Cannon Buford in a hasty 18 seconds.
It took Vasquez just nine seconds more to be eliminated in the next round. Hotchkiss senior Connor Collins ended Vasquez's season with a 27 second pin in the second round of consos.
Follow us on Twitter: twitter.com/BoCoPreps