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By Casey Christie / The Californian
BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
Hunter Hodges remembers vividly how his junior season of wrestling ended: in a painful loss to his own Bakersfield High teammate.
But motivated by that setback, Hodges concluded his senior season on a much more pleasant note -- a fifth-place finish Saturday at the CIF State Wrestling Championships.
"I feel like I wrestled my best at this tournament," Hodges said. "I left everything on the mat. I'm glad that I wrestled hard. (I'm) not so much happy with the fifth (-place finish), just happy that I wrestled hard and got what I deserved."
The 160-pound Hodges was one of four Drillers to medal during the two-day meet at Rabobank Arena.
Coleman Hammond (fourth place; 152-pounds), Bryce Martin (fourth place; 170-pounds), and A.J. Fierro (eighth place; 145 pounds) were the other three.
The Drillers, who got at least one win from seven of the nine wrestlers that they had compete in the tournament, took sixth place in the team standings with 78.5 points. Hodges was the only Driller medalist to end the meet with a victory.
Hammond and Martin each lost extremely tight third-place bouts soon after Fierro dropped a 5-2 decision for seventh place to Kevin Garcia of Paso Robles High.
"It was typical state tournament, a lot of ups and a lot downs," BHS coach Andy Varner said. "But I was proud of them. They all came out there and fought today and did the best they could. I'm glad those four guys got some hardware. They get to go back with something around the neck at least."
It was Fierro that kept Hodges from wrestling in the post-season a year ago.
A week prior to the Southwest Yosemite League Championships the two competed in a wrestle-off during practice to see which one would be the Drillers 160-pound entry at the meet.
Hodges lost to Fierro in overtime, leaving him without a spot on in the BHS lineup for the remainder of the season.
"It was was very disappointing," Hodges said. "I was not so much shocked because I knew (Fierro) was a good and it could go either way. But I didn't earn it. He earned it.
"I'm happy that it happened, now because it's made me a better wrestler."
Hodges demonstrated his growth as a wrestler during this year's post-season, taking first-place at the SWYL Championships before runner-up finishes at both the Yosemite Divisional and the Central Section Masters tournaments.
"I really did peak at the right time," Hodges said. "I had a little bump in the middle of the season. But I healed up and I came back and I got my conditioning back, which helps me a lot. And I was able to push the pace in all my matches."
Hodges was the aggressor during the 160-pound, fifth-place match in which he edged Colin Navickas of Huntington Beach-Marina, 4-3. Moments before that bout began, Hammond narrowly lost his bid to take third place at 152-pounds for a second consecutive year.
Trailing Clovis East's Kyle Perrault by two points, Hammond tied the match with a takedown just one second before the third period was set to expire.
But early in overtime Perrault ended things with a takedown and two back-points.
Martin's quest for third place ended in similar fashion.
He rallied from 4-1 third-period deficit to tie things up against Stevie Cervantes of Poway before eventually losing 5-4.
Hammond and Martin took their season-ending losses hard.
"It always stings a little when you lose that last one but they need to keep their heads up," Varner said. "They fought hard."