The Belen Eagle grapplers got what they thought they should have gotten a week earlier — a State High School Wrestling Tournament third-place trophy.
After finishing fourth in the team standings at the state individual tournament in Belen the previous week, the Eagles bounced back from a loss to Farmington Saturday morning and cruised to a 54-23 win over the Taos Tigers in the consolation final of the state dual tournament at Rio Rancho High School.
“We got some redemption,” Eagle head coach Jerry Moya proudly said. “The resilience of the guys showed. We know we should have had a trophy last week, but we let it slip away.”
Belen was in second place, just six points behind eventual champion Aztec, after the first day of last week’s two-day tournament. But the Eagles slipped into fourth place after a disastrous session in which 10 Belen wrestlers lost semifinal matches.
“We came back and had a real good week of practice,” Moya continued. “These guys showed so much character, so much pride. They came back and did a real good job.”
Belen dominated Taos in the third-place match at the duals tourney, scoring nine pins — all but one of them in the first round.
Steve Sisneros set the tone with a first period pin of Taos’ Estevan Martinez in the opening 145-pound match. Also scoring pins for Belen were Frankie Gallegos (160), Ben Harper (171), Casey Peralta (215), Kip Lewis (103), Joseph Carrillo (119), Chris Sanchez (125), Joel Garvin (130) and Justin Gabaldon (135).
“It felt good to go out there and pin that guy,” said Gabaldon, Belen’s only senior wrestler, who was wrestling the last match of a three-year varsity career. “I have no regrets; I’m satisfied. I wrestled as hard as I could.”
Earlier in the day, the Eagles wrestled hard but lost their semifinal match, 39-22, to defending state duals tournament champion Farmington.
Belen’s Gabe Borrego lost a tight, 4-2, decision to the Scorpion’s Andrew Nash in the opening match at 119. But Chris Sanchez and Garvin won close decisions and Gabaldon scored a major decision to give the Eagles a 10-3 lead.
Farmington, which went on to lose in the finals to Aztec, 37-27, clinched the victory by winning seven of the next eight matches.
Scorpions’ coach Roy Johnson could have forfeited the last two matches and rested those wrestlers for the final, but it was nice that he didn’t. He would have deprived fans of seeing two entertaining bouts.
Belen’s Kip Lewis toppled Artie Martinez, 4-0, in a tangle of the tiniest wrestlers at 103. Then, in the best match of the morning, Belen sophomore Joseph Carrillo defeated Farmington senior Aaron Lee in an exhilarating 112-pound finale.
Lee, a state champion last year and state runner-up this year, led Carrillo, 3-2, after the first two rounds. But Carrillo earned an escape in the third period to tie the score and force overtime. And after a scoreless overtime period, Carrillo finished off Lee with a pin 12.5 seconds into the second overtime.
Carrillo is one of several outstanding young wrestlers who will return for Belen next year.
“Next year, we’re going to be even stronger,” said Ben Harper, a junior. “This was a good year. It got us a lot of good mat time for a lot of the young guys — the sophomores and freshman who came in. It made us a team.”
Asked if taking third place at the duals tournament was redemption for missing out on the trophy at last week’s meet, Harper said, “It does. We wanted a trophy, and third is not bad. It’s nice.”
Nice, but, Belen, which hasn’t finished in the top two but has now won six third-place trophies in Moya’s 12 years as head coach, longs for more.
“Next year, we want to be over there,” Moya said pointing to the championship mat on the other end of the gym.