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Lancers steal spotlight, share of league title with showdown wins Phillip Brents | Fri, Feb 14 2014 03:24 PM

Hilltop High School wrestling coach Thomas Juarez called it a “weird season” for this team, but the Lancers are nonetheless Mesa League dual meet champions again after holding off stiff challenges from Otay Ranch and Eastlake in consecutive weeks to close out regular season competition.

The Lancers topped visiting Otay Ranch, 37-28, in a thriller on Feb. 6 and nipped a determined Eastlake squad on Wednesday, 39-30, to finish 4-1 in league dual competition.

Hilltop shares the 2013-14 dual title with Otay Ranch, which also finished 4-1 in league following Wednesday’s 50-15 Senior Night victory against visiting Bonita Vista.

“After we lost to Olympian, we decided to go for broke,” Juarez said. “We asked our kids to make some enormous sacrifices by wrestling in higher weight classes so we could surprise some teams that didn’t expect them to be there.”

That was the case in snatching wins against both the Mustangs and Titans.

Otay Ranch, which could have essentially wrapped up the league title with a win over the Lancers, built an early 9-0 lead and appeared to be generating momentum on the mat. But Hilltop stole that momentum and reversed the score to 33-13 before staving off a furious Mustang rally.

On Wednesday, the Lancers’ vaunted Four Horsemen — Xavier Plascencia (160), Seamus Beyerle (170), Drake Madarang (182) and David Velazquez (195) — all opened with pins to boost the hosts to a quick 24-0 advantage. Then it was Eastlake’s turn to play catch-up as the visitors went on to capture seven of the next nine bouts to pull within 33-30 on the scoreboard with one match remaining.

Marco Collins won by a 2:52 pin in that final match to secure a share of the league title for Hilltop, but it could easily have been the Titans who shared this year’s league title with the Mustangs.

The key match came a weight class earlier when Lancer freshman Dominic Esparza (19-5) battled heavily favored Yoab Garcia of Eastlake to a 19-12 decision. Garcia won to bring his team to within three points on the scoreboard. But a pin by the EHS grappler would have tied the contest at 33 heading into the last bout, with either team taking the match with a win.

“The key for us was Dominic taking on their stud and not getting pinned, and then to have Marco finish off his senior season with a win,” Juarez said.

Hilltop scored seven wins — six by pin. Eastlake also won seven matches, though only three by fall.

Jamar Adams (220) and Raul Ortiz (285) both won by pins to halve the early Lancer lead. Gabe Galvadon (106), Roberto Velasco (120) and Isai Garcia (126) all recorded wins by minor decisions before Danny Rubalcava (145) won by pin to pull the visitors to within 33-27 on the scoreboard with two matches remaining.

Titan coach Dean Tropp heaped praise on the Mesa League’s late season championship intrigue. “I like it,” he said. “It adds a new feeling that you can beat any other team on any given night. It’s strange how teams match up differently against other teams.” 

The Otay Ranch-Hilltop dual ended in the same exciting manner, with the Mustangs needing wins in the final two matches to pull off what would have been an incredibly inspiring win. Mike Orona won by a 7-3 decision at 106 pounds to trim the Hilltop lead to five points, but the Lancers stole the spotlight as Giany Barbosa won by a 12-1 major decision in the finale to earn a trip atop his teammates’ shoulders.

Barbosa also won by pin on Wednesday while Alberto Garcia (132) rounded out the Lancers’  list of winners.

The league championship banner, though shared, is the first in school history for Otay Ranch.

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