RICHLAND - The Sunnyside High School Grizzlies earned themselves a late Christmas gift by capturing top honors at yesterday's Hanford Invitational.
Surprisingly, the Grizzly grapplers won the team championship using three wrestlers who normally compete at the JV level. Sunnyside tallied an invite best 184 points, edging the runner-up host Hanford Falcons by nine and a half points. Prosser was a close third with 172 points. A total of 14 teams competed at the Christmas holiday tournament.
"We won because we put together two good first and second rounds," said long-time Sunnyside Coach George Paulus. "We also came through when it came down to the nitty-gritty, those do-or-die matches at the end."
Sunnyside had just one individual titlist at the invite, that being 103-pounder Isaac Romero. The freshman won all four of his matches on the day, including a 6-2 affair against another Sunnyside freshman, J.T. Gonzalez, in the championship round. Gonzalez was one of the wrestlers who comprised an all-star squad that was hastily formed at the invite.
The one other wrestler Sunnyside advanced to the championship finals proved to be another freshman. Underclassman Joseph Villanueva won his first three bouts in the 125-lb. weight class before suffering a pin against Scott Thompson of East Valley.
"Joseph was a little unhappy with getting pinned and placing second," said Paulus. "But I told him that with only being a freshman and losing to a State champion, it was pretty darn good." Paulus explained that Thompson is a three-time State tournament placer, having won a State title his sophomore year and nabbing third place honors at State as a junior last season.
Sunnyside senior Steve Sanchez was headed for glory Tuesday, winning his first two matches handily. But in the semi-finals, his back stiffened and he withdrew from the tourney. He settled for sixth place honors at 119 lbs.
"This early in the season, there was no point in taking any chances," Paulus said.
Five of the Grizzlies picked up major team points for Sunnyside by advancing to the consolation finals. Four of them were victorious in the trophy round to earn third place honors.
The first of the third place finishers for Sunnyside was sophomore Ricardo Rivera at 112 lbs. He won by injury default over Jake Muse of 4A Southridge in the trophy round.
Senior Lionel Moreno (160 lbs.) gave Sunnyside its second third place finish. In the consolation finals he defeated Tyler Brischle of Spokane's West Valley High School by a 12-2 score. Moreno scored four takedowns and one near fall against the Spokane grappler.
Casey Smith, in what Paulus described as the junior's best outing of the season, nabbed a third place finish for the Grizzlies at 215 lbs. Smith scored a first round near fall against Rick Larson of Naches enroute to posting a 9-3 victory over the Ranger wrestler in the trophy round.
The last of the third place finishers for the Grizzlies was heavyweight Pete Garza. The 275-lb. senior picked up a forfeit against James Gleason of Spokane's West Valley High School in the consolation finals. Garza was 3-1 on the day.
Sunnyside junior Carlos Garza-Padilla also advanced to the consolation finals, but was edged 6-3 by Art Weaver of Wapato and settled for fourth place honors in his 189-lb. weight class.
The one other Grizzly who placed yesterday was junior Michael Graham. Compiling a 2-2 record, Graham earned fifth place honors at 152 lbs.
Although they didn't place for Sunnyside, junior Jose Salinas at 130 lbs. (2-2) and senior Omar Magana at 140 lbs. (2-2) both won a pair of matches to pick up valuable team points for the Grizzlies.
Also competing at the Hanford invite for Sunnyside were freshman Sam Bardell, 0-2 at 135 lbs.; sophomore Zeke Galvan, 0-2 at 145 lbs.; and junior James Van Wingerden, 0-2 at 171 lbs. Paulus said all three, varsity fill-ins, stepped up their games and wrestled well against quality opponents.