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Balderas qualifies for CIF State Wrestling Championships
Ceres High School varsity wrestler Gabriel Balderas has joined elite company.

The 112-pound sophomore became just the third Bulldog in the last 10 years to qualify for the CIF State Meet thanks to a memorable performance at last week's Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships.

The other two participants were Curtis Hulstine (2010) and Michael Scott (2002).

"It didn't hit me until I saw everyone in the stands jumping up and down," Balderas said. "It was surreal."

Gabriel finished sixth overall at the Masters tournament, held on Friday and Saturday at Stockton Arena. He won three of six matches.

Balderas locked up a state berth when he edged Buhach Colony's Johnny Salazar 2-1 in the quarterfinals. He lost twice by decision to Salazar earlier this year.

"I went into the match with the mindset of anybody can win if you wrestle hard," Gabriel said. "I just kept going after him."

Balderas appeared headed for another loss to Salazar before executing a granby roll in the waning seconds of the final period. Down 1-0, Gabriel was awarded two points for the reversal.

Gabriel's mouth was bloodied in the first round.

"I never stopped moving," he said. "I was more aggressive. I did what my coaches were telling me. The whole week of practice helped a lot."

Gabriel surprised himself.

"It does give me confidence," he said. "I beat kids that were ranked higher. It makes me want to work harder."

"He was very focused," head coach Jon Nowicki said. "You could see it in his eyes."

Balderas reached his ultimate goal a year early.

Gabriel celebrated the accomplishment with his parents, coaches and teammates.

Wrestlers from crosstown-rival Central Valley also applauded Balderas' effort.

"It means everything to me," Gabriel said. "Not everybody has that support. I like having him (my dad) there."

"It was emotional," said Gabe Balderas, Gabriel's father. "I had tears in my eyes. I was in shock. My whole body was shaking after the (quarterfinals) match."

Gabriel exacted revenge in stunning fashion.

"It was exciting and scary at the same time because it was so close," Gabe said. "He won it with five seconds left. I've never seen him hit that move in a match. He's practiced it before."

Ceres High senior Wesley Schwieger finished in the top 12 while competing in the 119-pound division.

The third-year grappler would have been guaranteed a top-eight finish had he won one more match. He compiled a respectable 3-2 record.

Schwieger finished 1-2 at Masters in 2010.

"We're really proud of Wesley," assistant coach Steve Festa said. "He's one of five guys in the last six years we've coached that's advanced to the second day of Masters."

"He had a great career," Nowicki added. "He ended the year real strong."

Schwieger will train with Balderas during the week leading up to the CIF meet.

"He (Gabe) can get so much better still," Festa said.

"I don't have any expectations," Gabriel said. "I just want to go out there and compete."