But on the big stage in the semifinals on Friday night, the Wolves’ standout felt at ease as he took on Adams City senior Fabian Gutierrez — the top seed in the bracket — for a spot in Saturday’s 113-pound state championship match.
Gutierrez (44-3) escaped with a 7-5 victory over Santillan, but not before the Grandview youngster made him sweat. Santillan had a lead as large as three points in the second period, but couldn’t hold it.
“The first two matches, my nerves were all up in me,” Santillan said. “This one, I felt like I’m a freshman, he’s a senior, so he’s the one who should be nervous. It’s his last chance.”
While the nerves were good, a slight tactical error changed the match from Santillan’s standpoint.
He held a 5-4 lead after two periods, but thought he was trailing and allowed Gutierrez an easy escape to start the period, which tied the score at 5-5.
Gutierrez wasted little time in getting the go-ahead takedown and was able to ride Santillan out for the remaining 1:30 on the clock.
“I didn’t have very good mat awareness, I was actually up by one point, but I thought I was losing by one point,” Santillan said. “That might not have changed the outcome much, but it would have changed the way I wrestled.”
Santillan drops into the consolation bracket, where he still has a chance to work his way into the third-place match.
He will face the winner of the third round consolation match between Pomona’s Justin Pacheco and Rocky Mountain’s Josh Nira — who Santillan beat 8-3 in the first round — for a trip to the third-place match.
“I’ve wrestled pretty good this tournament, so I’m proud about that,” Santillan said. “I’m confident I can work my way back.”