The “spotlight” returned. After all, Wednesday night celebrated high school wrestling, the Belen seniors and two of the top programs in New Mexico.
It has been a tradition to turn off the lights in the Belen High School gym for the Eagles-Los Lunas dual and shine a spotlight on the wrestling mat. It gave the showdown a special feel, but it was discontinued because the spotlight seemed to increase tension among hyped-up fans.
BHS senior wrestler Ely Gutierrez recently went before the Belen Board of Education, asking for the spotlight to return.
“We wanted to bring it back on, like it’s always been,” Gutierrez said. “It’s the most fun way to wrestle.”
The school board approved.
Before the match Wednesday, Gutierrez spoke to the crowd, encouraging good sportsmanship. That set the tone for an exciting and positive evening.
While Los Lunas dominated the annual dual, 54-23, the showcase of talent on both sides was impressive. There were 12 pins in 13 matches, bringing cheers from the nearly packed house.
LLHS junior Noah Gurule was first on the mat, registering a pin at 114 pounds.
“Nerve wracking,” was how Gurule described it. “It’s a big deal for both towns. It feels good to quite literally have a spotlight on you.”
Los Lunas built a lead in the first half of the dual with pins by Ernie Gonzalez, Aaron Zamora, Aaron Pyle and Cash Bachicha.
The Eagles stayed competitive with a pins by Laz Layton and Diego Avila, in just his second match back after a football injury, and a technical fall by Gutierrez.
However, the Tigers scored consecutive pins from Jonathan Trujillo, Logan Talley, Miguel Andrade and Jasiah Baca to build an impressive lead.
Josh Jaramillo scored a fall for the Eagles to end the evening.
There was one girls’ match, with Belen’s Andie Saiz scoring a decision.
“The atmosphere was perfect,” said Los Lunas coach Steve Chavez.
He was pleased to see the Tigers’ rack-up so many pins, comparing it to getting an extra burger at McDonald’s.
“You take it, and these guys gave me more than an extra burger, they gave me the steak,” he said.
Belen coach Nick Sanchez said the dual was taking another step.
“We’re still improving,” Sanchez said. “There is work to be done.”
As for the competition, “It’s nice to see everybody cheering on the kids and not making it about themselves,” Sanchez noted.
“It’s a good rivalry but I’m glad it’s over now,” the Los Lunas coach said. “They move forward and we move forward.”
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.