Martinez gives Titans another state wrestling champion, capping perfect season

Golden Gate High's Andy Martinez won a state title Saturday in the 160-pound division to finish his senior season with a 59-0 record. PHOTO COURTESY OF EDWIN REY

BY ANDREW SODERGREN
SPECIAL TO CSI

Twelve months ago, Gerald Roger became the first wrestler in Golden Gate High School’s 15-year history to win a state championship.

It certainly didn’t take long for the Titans to get their second.

Senior Andy Martinez capped a 59-0 dream season Saturday night with a Class 2A title at 160 pounds. He defeated Jacksonville Robert E. Lee’s Ahmahd Denmark 9-3 in the title bout at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.

“Andy’s been on a mission since his freshman year,” Titans coach Edwin Rey said. “He really put it all together his senior year. No one was going to stop him.”

Martinez cruised into the semifinals with a pair of pins Friday but was pushed in his semifinal match against Lake Gibson’s Raul Soto. He built a sizable early lead before Soto hit a few takedowns late to close the gap. Martinez bore down, scored a late takedown himself and walked off with a 13-8 win.

“That was the hardest match of the tournament by far,” Martinez said. “I got the lead and he caught me with a few takedowns. I didn’t feel I was in that much trouble, though.”

As if the day wasn’t already special enough, Martinez earlier was awarded the Russ Mauger Mental Attitude Award. That honor is handed out each year at the state tournament to the wrestler who “best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, leadership, ethics and integrity.” Palmetto Ridge two-time state champion Joey Nadotti won the prestigious award in 2016.

“It was the first time we’ve ever had a guy nominated,” Rey said. “Andy has been absolutely exemplary as a teammate and a leader. It’s very rare to find a kid who can lead both by example and vocally. It’s been a complete blessing for us to have a young man like him come through and help build the culture that we have developed.”

Martinez nearly saw a rival in the final match, something he and Rey were preparing for. But Barron Collier’s Dominic Pappalardo — who lost a pair of close matches to Martinez in the district and regional finals — dropped a 3-2 decision to Denmark in the semifinals. Pappalardo finished fourth and was one of three Barron Collier wrestlers to place along with Nick Clayton (second, 220) and Justin Ugarte (third, 145).

“That was one kid we were a little leery of, only because we had seen him five times this year — well, six if you count the preseason,” Rey said. “(Barron Collier coach Anthony Partello) came up with good game plans to keep the last two matches close, and it’s always tough the more times you face the same guy. But we were ready if that happened.”

Martinez, who finished fourth in the state last year, knew he had a target on his back the longer he remained undefeated. But he said the pressure of remaining perfect never got to him.

“I just treated every match like it was the state finals,” Martinez said. “You know everyone you face wants to be the one that hands you that first loss, so you have to be mentally prepared every time out.”

Golden Gate nearly had another state champion Saturday, but freshman Christian Moder dropped a hard-fought 14-10 decision to Charlotte senior Donovan Cataldi in the 132-pound final. Moder finished a stellar year at 48-10, avenging a 5-4 district championship loss to Palmetto Ridge’s Roman Garcia with a fall at the 1:25 mark in the first period of their semifinal match.

“Christian was coming off the flu heading into districts and then had a knee injury at regionals, so it was nice to see him at full strength this week,” Rey said. “Roman’s a really tough kid and we knew we didn’t handle business the last time, so we really wanted another shot at him.”

Golden Gate’s other state qualifier was senior Anthony Valdivia at 152 pounds. He won his first match Friday and then lost his second to fall into Saturday’s consolation round. He won his first match but lost a 4-3 decision to Braden River’s Jacob Holland — the eventual fifth-place medalist — in the blood round.

The Titans finished ninth in the overall team standings with 54 points, just a half-point behind Fort Myers. Golden Gate was one of three Collier County schools in the top 10, behind fourth-place Palmetto Ridge (110 points) and sixth-place Barron Collier (62 points).

“The local wrestling clubs keep getting better and better,” Rey said. “By the time we are getting these kids as freshmen, they’ve already been wrestling since they were little kids. And you’re seeing that with guys like Moder and both (Tyler Washburn and Brennan Van Hoecke) from Palmetto Ridge. They’re instantly challenging for state championships as freshmen. We’re showing that Collier County can compete with anyone in the state.”