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SOU’s Gandara wins conference mat title

HAVRE, Mont. — As the No. 7 seed at 157 pounds, Southern Oregon’s Aaron Gandara came into the Cascade Conference Championships with something to prove and wrestled like it on his way to a title Saturday at Armory Gymnasium.

Gandara, a sophomore from Somerton, Ariz., was untouchable all weekend, giving up just two points in four matches. The Fresno State transfer became SOU’s first CCC champion since 2019 and first 157-pound champion since Aaron DeMay won the NAIA Western Regional six years ago.

Pancho Barrera, ranked 17th at 125, joined him on the all-conference podium by placing third. Lorenzo Vasquez (125) and 14th-ranked Justin Coon (133) both placed fourth, Evan Potter (133) took seventh, and Zack Wigzell (141) finished eighth.

Based on the CCC’s NAIA Championship bid allocations — determined by the number of nationally-ranked wrestlers the conference had in each weight class in the NAIA’s final regular season poll — Barrera, Coon and Gandara became automatic qualifiers for the national tournament. The conference awarded Potter a wild card bid, while JJ Talavera, ranked 11th at 157 but eliminated during Friday’s action, will hope for an at-large next week.

SOU finished eighth in the team standings with 57 points. Eastern Oregon, ranked 16th in the NAIA, pulled off an upset to win the tournament with 130 1/2 points. The Mountaineers beat out ninth-ranked Menlo (Calif.) with 123 points and eighth-ranked Montana State-Northern with 117.

Gandara improved to 22-9 on the season with his unbeaten run. After knocking out top-seeded and No. 8-ranked James Williams of Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) in Friday’s quarterfinals, he opened Saturday with an upset of Menlo’s No. 15 Abraham Del Toro, pinning him with seven seconds left in the second period.

In the final, he outmuscled Arizona Christian’s Carlo Castagnaro in an 8-1 decision. Gandara broke a scoreless tie in the second period with an escape and a takedown, and in the third scored a four-point near fall before adding a point on riding time.

TEAM SCORES: 1. Eastern Oregon 130.5, 2. Menlo (Calif.) 123, 3. Montana State-Northern 117, 4. Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) 105.5, 5. Vanguard (Calif.) 98, 6. Providence (Mont.) 95.5, 7. Corban 57.5, 8. Southern Oregon 57, 9. Simpson (Calif.) 41, 10. Life Pacific (Calif.) 24, 11. Arizona Christian 20.5, 12. Warner Pacific 0


SOU SPLITS AT VANGUARD: At Costa Mesa, Calif., sophomore pitcher Katie Machado continued a crisp opening month with six more shutout innings, helping No. 5-ranked Southern Oregon secure a split against Vanguard (Calif.).

The Raiders surrendered a two-run lead in the opener and lost 5-4 as Lions shortstop Lailani Mayfield drove in the winning run with a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning. Machado came to the rescue in Game 2, winning her fifth consecutive decision in a 3-0 Raiders victory.

Riley Donovan gave Machado a lead to work with by stroking a two-run single in the third. It brought home Erika Marquez and Kailer Fulton, who’d started the inning with back-to-back base hits.

The Raiders (10-3) manufactured one more run in the fourth: Lauren Weinberg was hit by a pitch, pinch-runner Faith Moultrie moved into scoring position with a steal, and Trinity Santoyo’s opposite-field single drove her in.

Machado, who has yet to lose in six starts, shrunk her ERA to 1.56 in her fourth complete game. She kept the slate clean despite allowing six hits and issuing three walks, and Cayla Williams came on for the save after taking over in the seventh with two on and none out.