ELLENSBURG - Missing two starters, the Sunnyside Grizzly wrestling team had to settle for second-place honors last Saturday at Ellensburg's Westberg Invitational.
Sunnyside had hoped to snag its fourth tourney title in six weeks, but couldn't make up for the loss of medal contenders Sam Romero and Austin Carman.
"If we would have had either of those guys we would have won," said Grizzly Coach George Paulus.
Even so, Sunnyside still put up a good showing with 181 team points to finish just behind first-place Othello at 196.5 points.
The only other Yakima Valley School to crack the top five at the 14-team tourney was Selah, which finished in third with 154.5 points.
A key to Sunnyside's strong showing despite the absence of a couple key grapplers is that four Grizzlies brought home individual titles in their respective weight classes.
Homer Romero (106 lbs.) won a title for Sunnyside by edging Othello's Anthony Barrera 7-5 in the championship round.
Paulus noted it was Romero's first match at 106 lbs. this season, and praised the grappler's effort against Barrera, who this season has already won tournament titles in that weight class.
In the very next weight class, 113 lbs., Sunnyside's Jesse Barajas cruised to a 10-1 victory in the championship finale over Othello's Alec Espinoza.
"It was nice to see Jesse put together a complete tourney," Paulus observed. "He thoroughly dominated."
That domination included winning two of his matches by technical fall and the other two by major decision. Barajas outscored his four opponents by a combined tally of 54-3.
Anthony Chavez (126 lbs.) hung tough for Sunnyside in his title tilt, outlasting Beamer's Haftem Tafere 17-12. It was the only relative close call for Chavez, as he pinned his previous three opponents.
The fourth Grizzly to finish on top was Cristian Ruiz (138 lbs.), who rolled to the title with an 11-1 major decision over Sumner's James Wyatt in the championship finale.
Ruiz's victory clinched a perfect day for the Grizzlies in title matches. "We went 100 percent in the finals, the kids stepped up against some real good competition," Paulus said.
Sunnyside very nearly had five grapplers in the finals, but Noe Palomino (145 lbs.) was edged out in the semifinals, 4-2, by Sumner's Jeremy Jackson. "Noe lost a heartbreaker," Paulus said. "He had the kid on his back the whole third round but couldn't quite do it."
Palomino had to settle for a share of third-place honors with WF West's Eric Braun. Because of limits in the number of wrestling matches per athlete each day, all third and fifth place awards were shared at the Ellensburg invite.
Other Grizzly medalists included Santos Guerrero (120 lbs.), who shared third-place honors with Manny Martinez of the All Stars, a contingent of unattached wrestlers.
Daniel Avalos of Sunnyside garnered third place honors with Othello's Anthony Ruiz in the 182-lb. class.
Rounding out Sunnyside's placers was Pedro Cardenas (285 lbs.), who shared fifth place with Ike's Christian Ramos.
Sunnyside returns to action in a CBBN dual match at Eastmont this coming Thursday.
"It will probably decide the league title," says Paulus. "We're 3-0, they're 2-1. It's going to be a good one, they match up well with us."
Maintaining a perfect league record, he adds, will require the Grizzlies "...to perform up to our abilities. If we don't, then they're going to pose a problem."