Basalt wrestling heads to state feeling confident after late-season success
About two weeks ago at a tournament in Meeker, what had been a trying season full of illness and injury finally came to fruition for the Basalt High School wrestling team. The confidence gained there carried into last weekend’s Class 3A Region 1 tournament, which ended with three Longhorns punching their ticket to this week’s state tournament in Denver.
“The guys just suddenly peaked. We had a really good feeling going into regionals,” BHS coach Ryan Bradley said. “The really good thing is we ended the season on a real high note … it was probably the best wrestling we’ve done all season, right at the end.”
Seniors Oswaldo Morales, William Rivera and Thomas Wirth will each represent the Longhorns inside the Pepsi Center. Morales and Rivera are returning to the state tournament for the second time, while Wirth is a first-time state qualifier.
The 3A state tournament gets underway Thursday afternoon with preliminary matches. Semifinals will take place Friday night, with finals on Saturday.
A look at each of the three wrestlers competing this week for the Longhorns:
Oswaldo Morales, Sr., heavyweight (26-4 record)
Morales missed a couple of weeks earlier in the season with a concussion after accidentally getting elbowed in practice. He returned in time to battle his way to a third-place finish at the regional tournament hosted by Alamosa.
“I feel like I’m finally getting back into the groove,” Morales said. “A few of us are still a little banged up, but this is it for us seniors. There is nothing else. There is nothing after this weekend. It’s nerve-wracking, but at the same time it’s very exciting.”
Morales went 1-2 at state last season. He lost in the first round but came back to take a 3-2 decision over Holy Family’s Andrew Edwards in his next match. Morales and Edwards (14-5 overall) could potentially meet up in the quarterfinals if they both win their opening match.
Morales will face Mullen junior Dante Silva (11-6) in the first round. Delta’s Logan Church (31-0) looks like the pre-tournament favorite. Church was the state runner-up in 2017.
“Going into regionals, I knew the expectation was for me to place. Going into state I feel the same way,” Morales said. “The expectation is for me to get a place, maybe even make it to the finals. I like those high expectations, though. They give me something to shoot for.”
William Rivera, Sr., 220 pounds (27-9 record)
Rivera’s debut at state last season was a disaster. Then competing at 195 pounds, he lost his first-round match via fall in only 32 seconds to eventual state champion Fabian Estrada of Alameda.
“Last year my nerves got to me,” Rivera said. “It got into my head the first match. But I came around in my second match and wrestled really well in my third match.”
Rivera did answer back, winning a match on the backside of the bracket to eventually finish the tournament with a 1-2 record. He has a much more favorable draw in 2018.
“This year I feel a lot more confident in myself. Not that nervous. Going to try and have some fun,” Rivera said. “I’m pretty confident. Bum shoulder, but it’s either that or something else. You just got to keep going.”
Rivera will face Eagle Valley junior Rowan Sokup (15-7) in the first round. A potential matchup with Salida’s Eli Smith (28-1) awaits in the second.
Rivera is coming off a strong regional performance, where he took second. He lost to Bayfield’s Daniel Westbrook (32-11) in the final.
Thomas Wirth, Sr., 195 pounds (18-18 record)
Ask Wirth and he’ll tell you he simply wasn’t very good at wrestling before this season. The difference seems to be his connection with BHS assistant coach Mitch Wyatt, a former high school state champion in Alaska who competed for Colorado Mesa University.
“He really connected with Thomas, I think, and he really got Thomas fired up,” Bradley said. “Just going to Meeker he had a really good kid there and he beat him in overtime.”
Wirth was a big surprise at regionals, taking fourth. He won a crucial first-round matchup with Bayfield’s John Foutz (26-11) that led to him earning a spot in his first state tournament. Despite his .500 record, Wirth has a lot of steam entering this week’s showdown at the Pepsi Center.
“I also just got tough this year and realized if you want to win you have to be tough and you can’t give up at all,” Wirth said. “This year I knew going into regionals I had to win matches if I was going to go to state, so I just went in with the mentality that it didn’t matter who I got first round, second round, third round, I was just going to go in and beat them up and get that ‘W.’”
Unfortunately, Wirth’s state draw was hardly kind. He’ll face Sheridan senior Faustin Lopez (35-1), the top seed, in the first round.
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Basalt went 11-5 in the shortened regular season and finished a mere fourth in the Class 3A Western Slope League behind Moffat County, Gunnison and Delta. Then the Longhorns were the No. 21 seed in regional play that only includes 24 teams, but still shook up the bracket with a pair of big upsets.