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Grizzlies pound No. 5-ranked Eastmont

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Sunnyside's Christian Reyes (top) positions himself for a pin against Eastmont's Andres Curiel during last night's team win over the Wildcats.

George Paulus was looking ahead, even as a sea of family and fans crowded on the Sunnyside High School gym to congratulate him and his Grizzly wrestling team on last night's win over Eastmont.

"We've got one more to go before we can celebrate," he shouted over a noisy crowd soaking in Tuesday night's 39-25 Columbia Basin League win over the Wildcats, which wrapped up no worse than a share of the regular season league crown.

That "one more" he refers to is a home match with West Valley this coming Thursday in which a Grizzly win would earn Sunnyside (5-0, 10-2) the league title outright.

But smiles and handshakes all around last night were an opportunity to savor a win for fourth-ranked Sunnyside over the state's class 3A fifth-ranked Wildcats. Both teams were unbeaten in league competition heading into last night's showdown.

There wasn't much to cheer about during the first three matches, as Eastmont built a 16-0 lead with wins over Danny Almeida (189 lbs.) Jose Barajas (215 lbs.) and Adam Peters (285 lbs.).

Paulus said he wasn't worried about the slow start, noting his squad was looking for a team win by taking at least eight of the night's 14 matches.

The Grizzlies got those wins all right, in fact winning the next eight matches to sew up the team victory.

Christian Reyes (103 lbs.), Stephen Romero (112 lbs.) and Isaac Romero (119 lbs.) got the ball rolling for Sunnyside with consecutive pins to put the Grizzlies ahead for good at 18-16.

Sunnyside's Josh Romero followed with a 25-10 technical fall over Treston Smothers at 125 lbs. Shawn Olivarez kept the party going for the Grizzlies with a 6-3 decision at 130 lbs.

That set up what at first glance was a contest at 135 lbs. between Sunnyside's J.T. Gonzalez and Eastmont's Kyle Van Horn, ranked second and third in the state among 3A wrestlers in their weight class.

The Wildcats pulled a switch, though, putting Van Horn in the 140-lb. match against Sunnyside's Baltazar Avalos in anticipation of a win at the higher weight class.

The strategy misfired, as Gonzalez easily handled Van Horn's replacement, Colton Hankins.

Avalos then recorded an upset win at 140 lbs., rallying from an early 2-1 deficit against Van Horn for a 9-5 win.

"That didn't work out for them," Paulus chuckled.

Sunnyside was leading 33-16 at that point, and a decision by Caleb Gomez at 145 lbs. would wrap up the big team win with three matches left.

Gomez trailed Eastmont's Steve Alfaro 2-0 entering the third and final period, but brought the house down with a takedown to tie it at 2-2. Gomez then built a 4-2 lead before hanging on for a 4-3 win to clinch at least a share of the league crown for the Grizzlies.

"He out-conditioned the kid," Paulus said of Gomez's late rally. "All the running we do in practice paid off."

Eastmont couldn't surpass Sunnyside's 36-16 lead, but it made a dent with Michael Robbins' 6-1 decision over Danny Alvarez at 152 lbs.

Eastmont's Carter Nell followed with a pin over Andrew Swinehart at 160 lbs. to make it a 36-25 score.

Sunnyside's Jesus Mendoza (171 lbs.) capped off the big night, though, with a come-from-behind 4-3 decision.

Now, Sunnyside awaits West Valley.

Believe it or not, there will be more than an outright league title at stake in this Thursday's regular season finale. The Grizzlies will put a 10-match win streak on the line and history is in the making as Sunnyside's Isaac Romero is one win away from tying the all-time Yakima Valley record of 137 career wins.

Romero, 30-1 this season, earlier this year broke the Sunnyside High School career record of 106 wins set by Jorge Ruiz in 1996.

All of which makes Thursday night must-see wrestling.

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