There was a time when Cristobal Gonzalez nearly let it all slip away.
So, it was only fitting that Gonzalez hung on with both hands Saturday night to become a state champion.
Gonzalez, a senior for Ventura High at 189 pounds, recorded a deciding two-point takedown against David Schenk of Anderson with 13 seconds remaining, then bearhugged him until the final whistle to earn a 5-4 victory in the the state wrestling championships before about 6,000 at the University of the Pacific's Spanos Center.
"No words can express the way I feel," said Gonzalez, undefeated in five matches in the two-day tournament. "I knew I had to take him down in the last seconds, and I did."
Gonzalez (56-3), the first state champion in school history and the first from the region since 1985, overcame considerable odds--not to mention his own apathy.
Schenk, a senior and state champion at 171 last season, had lost only once in 52 previous matches.
Gonzalez, third in the state at 189 last season, defeated Schenk, 10-8, in overtime in December. Schenk twice defeated Gonzalez, including a 3-2 overtime decision in January in the final of the Fountain Valley tournament.
Last season, Ventura Coach Paul Clementi, frustrated by Gonzalez's truancy and indifference, suspended him from the team for the duration of a tournament. This season, Gonzalez transformed.
"Nobody deserves this more than Cristobal," Clementi said. "He's turned things around in his personal life and he just worked so hard this year. He grew up as a leader and he grew up as a man."
Said Gonzalez: "It was a lot of people talking to me. Coaches, my brothers. . . . I said, 'Who is going to lead this team?' "
Gonzalez took a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, but Schenk pulled even by the end of the period. An escape gave Schenk a 4-3 lead in the third period.
Gonzalez appeared to record the go-ahead takedown with 40 seconds left, but the play was whistled dead when both wrestlers tumbled out of bounds. The call was met with resounding boos.
"The refs do one thing and you have to do another," Gonzalez said. "You can't let it bother you. I knew he was a good athlete and I you have to be ready against those guys."
Gonzalez helped Ventura finish 10th with 58 points and Santa Ana Calvary Chapel won its third consecutive title with 110 points.
Injuries caught up with Joe Martinez of Ventura, who advanced to a 215-pound semifinal against Josh Saul of Calvary Chapel but was forced to injury default in the second period.
Martinez (42-9) won three matches Friday, despite taking repeated injury time because of back pain. Against Saul, Martinez held leads of 2-0 and 4-3 before falling behind, 6-5. With 30 seconds left in the second period, Martinez's allotted injury time elapsed.
"I've been having back spasms since the beginning of the season," Martinez said. "They say I'm developing a stress fracture.
"Not wrestling went through my mind, but my one last goal is to win the state."
Martinez returned and finished sixth, losing to Travis Wojcik of Fallbrook, 3-2, and Ben Fox of Buchanan, 8-3.
Seniors Dustin Clocherty of Ventura at 135 pounds and heavyweight Chad Troxler of Simi Valley finished fourth, winning three matches Saturday before being defeated in third-place matches.
Troxler (55-7) won by injury default over Tyler Padovan of Ponderosa, pinned David Chavez of Diamond Bar in 2:27 and beat Mel Robasciotti of Paso Robles, 6-3.
Troxler lost to Billy Widler of Anderson, 4-2.
Clocherty (52-4) lost to San Diego Section champion Brody Barrios of Poway, 5-4.
Keith Thomas of El Camino Real at 152, Dylan Hull of Agoura at 189, Franky Valdez of Chatsworth at 189 and Alex Perez of El Camino Real at 215 were eliminated in consolation competition Saturday.