Runner-up finishes from Mojica, Johnson highlight strong performances at regionals

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove senior Ivan Mojica wrestles Hillsboro's Joe Rodriguez for a 120-pound championship at the Special District 1 regional tournament.For the last few seasons, the Forest Grove wrestling team has been built from the top down, with a handful of dominant wrestlers scoring most of the team’s points at major tournaments and also winning most of the Vikings’ trophies.

That trend reversed this season, with 11 wrestlers placing in the top eight of their weight classes at the Special District 1 regional tournament on Saturday, helping the Vikings score 174 points, the most for the team in more than a decade.

“We didn’t have the horses that we’ve had the last few years, but we had 16 different kids win matches,” Forest Grove head coach Frank Johnson said. “Most of the guys came to wrestle, and it showed with several of them scoring upset victories.”

The Vikings had no regional champions this year after winning 11 individual titles in the last seven seasons, but Forest Grove still qualified five wrestlers for the upcoming Class 6A state championships, which begin on Friday at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

Forest Grove’s top threats at the state tournament will be senior Ivan Mojica and freshman Matthew Johnson, who each narrowly missed out on winning a regional title last weekend.

Mojica finished second at 120 pounds, winning a thriller in the semifinals before losing a 7-0 decision to Hillsboro’s Joe Rodriguez in the finals.

The highlight of the tournament, however, came in the semifinals against Century’s Brennan Baccay. Trailing 6-3 with 10 seconds left, Mojica caught Baccay in a scramble and reversed him for five points, sealing an improbable come-from-behind victory.

Mojica will take a 35-5 record into the state meet, where he opens on Friday morning against Roseburg junior Tommy Dill.

“Last year, I let the stress get to me,” Mojica said of his first-round loss at the 2012 state wrestling meet. “I am confident I will place this year. I won’t let the stress get to me.”

Matthew Johnson will also be looking to avoid stress during his first trip to state. The 113-pound freshman finished second at the regional tournament, losing in the finals to Hillsboro’s Dauki Wilburn, the reigning state runner-up.

In the finals, Wilburn scored an early takedown to go ahead 2-0, but suffered a bloody nose that ultimately required six stoppages that lasted a total of two and a half minutes.

Johnson battled back and got as close as 7-6 on a takedown early in the third round, but Wilburn was able to ride out the final minutes for a 10-6 victory.

“Matthew likes to wrestle a high pace to wear his opponent down. He’s usually able to make fatigue a factor in his matches, but that didn’t happen in the finals,” Frank Johnson said. “All the timeouts allowed Wilburn to rest and he scored most of his points right after those interruptions.”

For his part, Matthew Johnson isn’t worried about the loss, but he is looking forward to a possible rematch at state.

“Looking back, it was a good match, but it was frustrating at the time because of all the breaks,” he said. “Without the breaks, it may have turned out differently. I hope to see him again.”

Johnson, who owns a 36-5 record this season, will start the state tournament against West Salem’s Jeb Powell, with the winner set to face reigning state champion Casey Coulter of Grants Pass in round two.

Despite that potential obstacle, Johnson’s goal is simple: “To be state champion. That has been my goal all year.”

The Vikings’ other state qualifiers were Cody Smith, Christian Guerra and Christian Rincon.

Guerra lost to eventual champion Joel Timmons in the 106-pound semifinals, but stormed back with two pins to finish in third place.

“I worked my hardest and never gave up,” Guerra said. “I learned more and I worked harder than last year. I was way more determined to make it to state this year.”

Smith beat third-seeded Casey Ray of Glencoe twice to finish third at 138 pounds.

“Even though I didn’t know much about how he wrestles, I knew I could beat him if I had the will power,” Smith said. “After I beat him the first time, I knew I could do it again in the third-place match.”

Rincon entered the weekend with a losing record, but pinned his way into a trip to state.

“He made the most significant gains of the season at the district tournament and now he’s going to state,” Frank Johnson said. “He couldn’t have picked a better time.”

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