WEST RICHLAND - For the second consecutive year, the Sunnyside High School wrestling team had to settle for second place honors at the Hanford Winter Cup wrestling tournament. The invite was held this past Saturday at Hanford High School.
But, longtime Grizzly Coach George Paulus was surprised his team placed that high considering Sunnyside's recent hectic schedule. The ironic part is the Grizzlies more than likely would have won the tournament if it hadn't been for some persistent problems with Sunnyside's lighter weights.
The Grizzlies were second with 175-1/2 points. Kiona-Benton, a 2A school, won the invite with 192 points.
"We kind of let them be strong," said Paulus of Ki-Be winning the tournament. "But I was pleased with how we did. We wrestled well. It surprised me."
The Grizzlies crowned two champions at the invite, Ray Romero and Gabe Lara.
Romero hardly missed a beat in capturing the 145 lb. title. Romero moved to 15-0 on the season with his 4-0 championship run this past weekend. Romero devoured Kiona-Benton's Tony Chapin in the finals, winning by technical fall, 18-3, in the third round.
"Ray just annihilated people," said Paulus.
After receiving a first round bye, Romero pinned his next opponent in 32 seconds and then moved into the championship match with a first round pin in the semis.
One might have never been able to tell Lara had severely injured his ankle a little over a week ago against West Valley. Lara won the 215 lb. crown for the Grizzlies, pinning Naches' Jake Messer in the finals in 3:21.
"Gabe looked really good," said Paulus. "(His leg) didn't give him any fits at all."
Lara also took care of some unfinished business in his semi-finals match against Josh Campbell of West Valley-Yakima. Lara won by pin in 5:37 over the Ram wrestler. Lara had injured his ankle in the match against Campbell nearly two weeks ago.
Joe Evans nearly pulled off a major upset at 171 lbs. for the Grizzlies. Evans went 3-1 on the day, taking second place honors. Evans lost a 5-2 decision to Kennewick's Robert HazenBerg, whom Paulus said is the No. 1 rated 4A wrestler in the state at this weight class.
"The kid is an animal," said Paulus of HazenBerg. "Joe wrestled him pretty tough. Joe made a couple of positioning errors."
The Grizzlies had a number of consolation champions (third place) at Hanford.
Sunnyside's Rudy Martinez added another third place finish to his collection at 140 lbs. Martinez went 3-1 on the day, defeating Wes Walker of Mack High School 5-2 to win the consolation crown. Martinez lost to Rudy Gonzalez of Ki-Be in the semis.
At 152 lbs., Sunnyside's Daniel Mendoza (4-1) defeated Wapato's Eddie Garza 6-2 to place third. Paulus said he was pleased with the way Mendoza wrestled after losing his second round match.
Sunnyside's Reece Paulus took third place honors at 160 lbs. Paulus went 3-1 on the day, defeating Blake Nelson of Mack High School by pin in 2:53. The only loss of the invite for Paulus was in the semis to Hanford's Jared Stoker, who went on to win the 160 lb. title.
Grizzly heavyweight Pete Garza had a nice run, placing third with a 4-1 record. Garza defeated Hanford's Cody Myers in 1:41 of the second round to win the consolation championship.
The trouble for the Grizzlies started in the lower weights.
Freshman Ricardo Rivera had to be pulled from the tournament at 103 lbs. after two matches, but still placed sixth. Paulus said Rivera hurt his shoulder and he didn't want to risk any further damage.
Michael Christensen failed to make weight at 112 lbs., leaving the Grizzlies with no one in that weight class. Christensen bumped up to wrestle unattached at 119 lbs. Christensen went 2-2 and placed fifth, but the Grizzlies didn't receive any points for his efforts because he wrestled unattached.
Greg Burbidge went 2-2 for Sunnyside at 119 lbs and didn't place.
"He showed some good stuff," said Paulus.
Carlos Padilla-Garza finished 2-3 for the Grizzlies at 189 lbs. to take sixth. Padilla-Garza lost by pin in 3:59 to a West Valley-Yakima wrestler.
Sunnyside's Charlie Alvarez and Mark Uribe went 0-2 for the Grizzlies, respectively, at 125 and 130 lbs.
Omar Magana, at 135 lbs., failed to show up for the bus the morning of the tourney, leaving the Grizzlies with another void in the line-up.
Sunnyside will be hosting a 15-school junior varsity wrestling tournament this coming Saturday. Wrestling starts at 9 a.m.
The varsity is off until Jan. 8, when the Grizzlies will host Prosser.
. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at email@example.com