At the 2013 AHSAA state wrestling tournament on Saturday, the senior appeared in his third consecutive Class 1A-4A state final and, unlike the previous two times, Cortez won the state championship, defeating Ty Sissom of Susan Moore in a 4-3 decision. It was also the third time Cortez defeated Sissom this year.
“It feels like a dream,” Cortez said. “I’m just shocked. First of all, I want to thank God. Without him I wouldn’t have done it.”
After winning the 113-pound championship, Cortez donned a Superman shirt — cape included — that was given to him from his girlfriend for Christmas. He showed super hero-like abilities during the state tournament, competing with a broken pinky.
“When I came in here (on Friday), my pinky finger was black,” he said. “But we prayed over it on Wednesday night, went to the doctor on Thursday and he said it was broken, but I could wrestle 100 percent.”
The pinky was broken on Tuesday while Cortez was playing dodge ball during P.E. One of his friends threw a ball toward him, and as the wrestler attempted to block it with the ball that he was holding, the thrown ball caught the end of his pinky.
“First, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s just jammed,’” Cortez explained. “Then my friends said we needed to pull it, so they all pulled it.”
Broken finger and all, Cortez was able to get past Sissom for the second time in a week, also defeating him the sectional finals last Saturday.
A strong stalemate took place during the first period before Sissom struck first with a take-down. With Cortez down 2-0, that’s when everything changed.
“When he got the takedown to go ahead, I realized I had to win it because it was my last chance,” Cortez said. “So I went into the mindset that I was going to give everything I had, so I just went hard.”
The comeback came in the third period. A take-down tied things up for Cortez before another take-down won it for the senior.
“He’s just awesome,” Weaver coach Andy Fulmer said. “Every match is always close. It’s always a battle and his time just finally came. The dedication finally paid off and he gutted it out.
“He’s a warrior.”
Matt King of Wellborn, however, did not have the experience of Cortez, which is what Panthers coach Matt Tanner said cost the seventh-grader against Zach Van Alst of Montgomery Catholic in the 106-pound final. Van Alst won 10-2, a major decision.
“Van Alst has been here before and he’s won it,” Tanner said. “He and Matt grew up wrestling at the same place, so they’re the same type of wrestler. I think the outcome had to do with experience, and that’s something Van Alst has over Matt.”
Van Alst held control of nearly the entire match, taking a 2-0 lead after the first period and extending it to a 10-2 lead heading into the third.
“(King) wrestled like we planned and used our strategy, but (Van Alst) was just better today,” Tanner said. “Matt wrestled great, and that’s what I hoped he would do. He can’t beat himself up about it because he just wasn’t the best guy today.”
King was close to pinning Van Alst several times within the final minute. His closest attempted was ended when Van Alst wiggled out of bounds with six seconds.
“I talked to Matt after the match and said, ‘Now you know. Now you know what you have to put into it to win it,’” Tanner said. “He’s a seventh grader. He hasn’t been pushed, and he’s been very dominate up to this point and up to that match.”
Despite wrestling with a high-ankle sprain and fractured fibula suffered last Saturday at sectionals, Matt Smith of Wellborn won the 138-pound consolation final against Jacob Howard of Weaver in a 6-3 decision.
The senior had finished as a runner-up the past three years
“We came in this morning knowing that this was his last match,” Tanner said. “All the things he’s been through this year came down to this one match. No matter, he was going to take everything he’s been through and put it in this match.”
Smith entered the match having defeated Howard on Friday in the quarterfinals, 3-1. After taking an early lead and holding it into the third period, Smith did not give Howard any room to make a move.
“He went out there and shocked me because in four seconds he had a take down,” Tanner said. “From then on, he dominated. When that takedown happened it was over.”
Howard made several moves in an attempt to win the match, but was unable to gain any points on Smith.
“The fact of the matter is, Matt Smith right now is the best 132 wrestler 1A-4A right now … on two feet,” Tanner said. “And we could argue that all day.
Another strong performance by a young wrestler was that of Lincoln’s Jamario Howard. The sophomore, who won the 126-pound weight class last year and finished fourth the two years prior, had one of the most heartbreaking losses of the day. In what was named the 1A-4A Best Match, Howard fell to Blake Boshell of Dora in overtime, 3-1, in the 132-pound final.
“Going into it, we knew it was going to be a tough match,” Lincoln coach Brian Kelly said. “Sure, we would have loved to come away with a win but he’s going to refocus.”
After two periods of a scoreless match, Howard took a 1-0 lead before Boshell followed it up with a point of his own shortly after. When the clock hit zero, the two went to sudden death for one minute.
However, it only took 27 seconds for Boshell to struggle with Howard enough to get the Lincoln wrestler on his back to win the state title.
“Hopefully, this will be a good learning point for next year and give him a goal already set,” Kelly said. “Every time he’s lost, in the regular season or not, he’s come back refocused. I look forward to him to come back even harder next year.”
Tanner Dixon of Piedmont ended his career for the Bulldogs on a high note, pinning Dante Stanley of Fultondale at 5:57 in the match.
“He had a tough draw early (in the tournament) and just wrestled hard,” Piedmont coach Harley Lamey said. “I told him earlier that I love these moments because it’s good to see him go out there and wrestle in his last match and win, but, at the same time, I know he’s done wrestling. It’s kind of a bittersweet moment.
“I’m proud of him. He did a good job, and I’m sad to see him go.”
After Dixon defeated Stanley on Friday, 8-3, Lamey said the senior would need to take a different approach in the 160-pound consolation final. The changes had Dixon starting the match slowly before recording a near fall at the end of the second period.
In the third, Dixon was successful with a pin after reversing Stanley’s move.
Weaver had a pair of wrestlers competing for third place on Saturday with Wil Mizic shining bright in the 132-pound weight class. Mizic pinned Matt Murray of St. James at the 4:28 mark to medal.
Blake Freeman, however, caught a tough break in the 170-pound consolation final. Facing Zak Jones of Holtville, Freeman needed a pin to win as time ticked down in the third quarter. Inches away from the pin, Freeman’s attack was reversed, and Jones pinned him at the 5:57 mark.
Two wrestlers from Cleburne County came up just short in Saturday’s consolation finals.
Freshman Dalton Wiggins of Ranburne nearly won his match in the 145-pound weight class, but fell in a 6-2 decision to Coleman Adams of St. James.
Eighth-grader Tyler Mayfield of Cleburne County also struggled against Steven Lindsey of St. Clair. After both wrestlers won their consolation semifinal matches with pins, Lindsey beat Mayfield in a 10-5 decision to win third place.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.