CIF State wrestling: Newman’s PJ Klee finishes second

PJ Klee of Cardinal Newman, right, battles Gilroy’s Paul Fox during the CIF State Wrestling Championships on Saturday in Bakersfield. JOHN SACHS / Tech-Fall.com

PJ Klee of Cardinal Newman, right, battles Gilroy’s Paul Fox during the CIF State Wrestling Championships on Saturday in Bakersfield.
JOHN SACHS / Tech-Fall.com

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

BAKERSFIELD — PJ Klee finished second at Rabobank Arena on Saturday, and ran off the floor in disgust. Pablo Gonzalez finished fourth and was practically walking on air.

Expectations have a lot to do with how kids greet their results at the CIF State Wrestling Championships.

Klee competed for Cardinal Newman as a senior with the unwavering goal of winning a state championship. A wrestling prodigy who spent 2½ years at prestigious Blair Academy in New Jersey, he returned home to Rohnert Park and dominated local competition this year, supplementing those matches with appearances at elite national tournaments.

Klee became the first Cardinal Newman wrestler ever to medal (i.e. finish in the top eight) at the state tournament as he advanced to the 152-pound final. But he ultimately fell 3-1 to Gilroy’s Paul Fox in a grueling match that proved a bit controversial — both for the way it was scored and for Klee’s reaction to the outcome.

Klee looked dominant through most of his first five matches here, including a 2-1 victory in Saturday morning’s semifinal over Nolan Kistler of Martin Luther King in Riverside, and he battled Fox to a scoreless draw through two rounds of the final. The decorated Gilroy senior, who was 51-0 this year entering the match, finally scored a point on an escape with 32 seconds left. The big blow came 14 seconds after that when Fox briefly got Klee on the ground.

[RELATED: Click here to see full results from the CIF State wrestling meet]

The question was: how briefly?

“In my point of view, the guy didn’t have enough control beyond reaction time to get awarded the 2(-point) takedown,” Cardinal Newman coach Francisco Manriquez said. “It was a split-second where he had both legs, and then he didn’t have both.”

“Control beyond reaction time” is built into the wording of the rule.

The call was huge, taking Fox’s lead from 1-0 to a more daunting 3-0 with the clock winding down.

“That changes the whole outcome of the match,” Manriquez said. “Because if it goes the other way and he makes the call to where it’s no takedown, it’s a one-point match, we’re on our feet, we’re in the match. Instead there was a lot of time getting burned from the clock.”

Manriquez mounted the raised, floodlit stage in the middle of the arena to argue his point with 10 seconds on the clock, to no avail. Klee scored a point for an escape in the closing seconds to draw within 3-1, but got no closer.

When the match ended, instead of meeting in the middle of the mat to slap hands with Fox, Klee sprinted off the mat and off the arena floor to a rain of boos. (Gilroy had many more fans than Newman in Bakersfield.) He explained later that he was frustrated by other calls in the match, too. Klee said the referee gave him two points after a scramble in the first round, then waved it off, and that Klee executed a “merkle” maneuver that should have garnered two points but didn’t.

Manriquez understood Klee’s feelings, but did not condone the wrestler’s post-match actions.

“You’re supposed to shake the guy’s hand,” the coach said. “It shows good sportsmanship.”

Klee was trying to become just the fifth Redwood Empire wrestler to capture a state title since the CIF began holding the event in 1973. He was glum 30 minutes after his loss, but had regained his perspective.

“It sucks in the moment,” Klee said. “But I’m really glad I got to this moment. Hopefully the Cardinal Newman wrestling team keeps excelling on and off the mat. I just look forward to coming back and seeing some of my younger teammates compete in the state tournament next year and the years to come.”

Gonzalez, meanwhile, in the 285-pound bracket, had an incredible day before running into seemingly the only guy in the state who can beat him.

The Ukiah heavyweight finishes his senior season 43-3. His first loss of the year was to Miguel Villanueva of Madera South, but he avenged it twice, including once here on Friday. Both of his other losses were at the hands of Carlsbad’s Chance Eskam, who pinned Gonzalez on

Friday and beat him 5-2 in the third-place match Saturday.

Eskam is not your typical heavyweight. Most of the big guys have some jiggle to them, including Gonzalez. Eskam is built like a brick shed — squat, wide and not very marbled. But Gonzalez knew his opponent has a tendency to tire late in bouts. He hoped to ride out the storm, then upend Eskam when he got pooped. But the Carlsbad wrestler built a quick 5-0 lead that Gonzalez couldn’t overcome.

Before that final loss, Gonzalez had a dream day. Thrown into the fifth round of the consolation bracket after Friday’s late loss, he had to win three matches in four hours to advance to the third-place showdown.

“The main part about this sport is when you lose, you gotta resituate your goals,” Gonzalez said. “If I do lose, like I lost (Friday) night, I let it hurt for a little bit. I let it sink in, like, ‘Yeah, I lost, now it’s time to come back.’ And last night I was just thinking long and hard, like, I came too far, trained too hard just to go out my first match.”

Gonzalez came out blazing. He pinned Chico’s Malik Hopkins in the second round, beat Casa Roble’s Jake Minshew 6-3 and outpointed Woodcreek’s Dominic Balmer 5-1.

Minshew threw Gonzalez to tie the match at 3-3 with about 40 seconds left, but the Ukiah wrestler came to his feet to take a one-point lead and stayed on the offensive for the remainder of the match.

Even after those three wins, fatigue was not a problem for the big man with the purple-and-gold Wildcat stripes dyed into his hair.

“I don’t get gassed, actually,” he said after his final bout. “Any matches you see me wrestling in, I might be sweaty and it might look like I’m breathing hard and stuff. I’m only breathing hard to keep up with my body. I’m not tired. I’m ready for another match right now.”

Before Gonzalez, Ukiah’s last state medalist was Pancho Manriquez, who finished second at 119 pounds in 2003.

Yes, the same Pancho Manriquez who coached PJ Klee this year.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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