Hilltop High School wrestling coach Thomas Juarez had two memorable things to celebrate on Thursday: the birth of his first child and a 37-28 victory over the Otay Ranch Mustangs to keep his team in the hunt for at least a share of this year’s Mesa League championship banner.
“We had to stretch our line-up and ask a lot from everyone,” said Juarez, who held up a tiny wrestling singlet – his child’s first – while he was talking. “The win was due to a lot of heart and conditioning, and the will to win.”
Fresh off a 41-22 conquest of the Eastlake Titans the previous week, Otay Ranch would have virtually locked up the rights to this year’s league banner with a victory at Hilltop on Thursday. In fact, the Mustangs moved out to a 9-0 lead with wins in the opening two matches – a 6-2 victory by Christopher Villanueva and a second-period fall by Jacob Schaeffer.
But the visitors went into a funk after that as the hosts won the next three matches to go in front 14-9, and reeled off wins in four of the next five bouts to build a 33-13 advantage on the scoreboard.
Alberto Garcia recorded a 17-2 technical fall at 132 pounds to put the Lancers on the scoreboard and 138-pounder Adrian Avina followed with a lightning-quick 14-second pin to give the hosts a two-point edge. Jake Alvarado, wrestling at 145 pounds, tacked on three more team points with a 6-0 shutout win to extend Hilltop’s lead to five points.
Christian Aguirre’s 11-0 victory by major decision at 154 pounds pulled Otay Ranch back into the fray at 14-13. But that only played into the meat of the Lancers’ line-up as Xavier Plascencia (162), Seamus Beyerle (170), Drake Madarang (180) and David Velazquez (195) combined to add 19 more points on the scoreboard.
Plascencia, the hero of last year’s Mesa League championship tie-breaker win over the Mustangs, got Hilltop’s steamroller going with a clutch 6-4 decision over Otay’s Adrian Hernandez. Beyerle then pulled away from the Mustangs’ Daniel Da’Rold to win by a 10-2 major decision. Madarang and Velazquez then scored consecutive pins to really put the hurt on the visitors on the scoreboard.
Madarang, wrestling up from the 154-pound weight class at the recent San Pasqual Invitational, pinned Emilio Razo in 3:08 after the much stronger Mustang grappler had thrown the Hilltop matster like a rag doll out of bounds a few seconds earlier.
When Velazquez then pinned Otay’s Mustafa Farha in 48 seconds in the next match, one could almost hear the Mustang locomotive screeching to a halt. Farha had grabbed Velazquez in a bear hug and thrown him to the mat and appeared ready to put the Lancer mat man in a pinning move before their positions were reversed in a split-second and Velazquez instead applied the pin.
Give the visitors credit, they didn’t give up and made it extremely interesting down the stretch.
Back-to-back pins by Rasheed Farha (40 seconds at 220 pounds) and Angel Tegardine (53 seconds at heavyweight) trimmed Otay Ranch’s deficit on the scoreboard to 33-25 with two matches remaining. The Mustangs needed to win those final two bouts, with at least one by a pin, to record what would have been a highly inspirational victory.
When Michael Orona promptly put his opponent on his back for the majority of the first and second periods in the 106-pound match, it appeared Otay Ranch might just pull off a miracle finish. But Orona appeared winded by all his exertions to record the pin and failed to build on a 7-1 lead in settling for a 7-3 minor decision.
That brought the score to 33-28, with the Mustangs needing a fall to win by a point. Conversely, all Hilltop’s Giany Barbosa had to do was stay off his back and not give up a fall. A win would be a bonus.
The first period of the final 113-pound match was obviously tense, with Otay’s Brandon McCurdy the more aggressive wrestler as the situation dictated. Barbosa seemed to gain confidence as the tactical match wore on and took a 2-0 lead into the final period. With a pin, McCurdy and the Mustangs could still win.
But Barbosa piled up the points on his opponent in the final minute to win by a 12-1 major decision.
After handshakes between the teams were concluded, Barbosa’s teammates promptly hoisted him on their shoulders as the hero of the hour.
“My coach told me not to lose, just to go out and wrestle my match,” Barbosa explained. “I knew if I beat that kid that we would win the league banner again if we then beat Eastlake.”
The Lancers and Mustangs are now 3-1 in league dual competition. Hilltop hosts Eastlake on Wednesday, Feb. 12, while Otay Ranch hosts Bonita Vista that same evening on Senior Night.
Should both the Lancers and Mustangs pick up dual wins next week, they would share the 2013-14 Mesa League dual championship. However, the Eastlake Titans can also secure a share of the league title with a win over Hilltop after the Titans topped Olympian, 47-20, on Thursday.
Otay Ranch opened the season with dual wins against Mater Dei Catholic (56-21), Olympian (46-25) and Eastlake. Hilltop has defeated Mater Dei Catholic and Bonita Vista but lost to Olympian while Eastlake has defeated Bonita Vista, Mater Dei Catholic and Olympian but lost to Otay Ranch.
Should the Mustangs top the Barons, the league title would be a first in school history for Otay Ranch, even if it is to be shared with another team.
"It's coming together," Mustang coach Gabe Ruz said. "We're starting to look like a team, and starting to work like a team. We seem to be peaking at the right time."
Should Hilltop stop Eastlake, the Lancers would repeat as Mesa League champs in what Juarez termed a “rebuilding” year for his team.
The Titans also fit into the same category of overachievers. "I like it," EHS coach Dean Tropp said of the Mesa League pile-up for the league championship. "It adds a new feeling that you can beat any other team on any given night. It's strange how teams match up differently agaisnt other teams."
Hilltop grapplers recorded wins against two Otay wreslters with winning records — Hernandez and Da’Rold.
Rasheed Farha improved to 23-5 on the season while Schaeffer upped his record to 11-4. Both Mustang mat men are featured near the top of the San Diego Section rankings in their respective weight classes.
Otay’s Orona improved to 11-7 on the season.
After dropping the opening two matches to Otay Ranch, Hilltop won seven of the next eight matches.