Palm Desert wrestling coach Tom Lee knew Thursday’s rivalry match against visiting La Quinta was going to be close. After looking over both teams’ lineups, consulting past matches and using his years of wrestling expertise, he penciled it in as a tie.
He wasn’t far off.
Lee’s Aztecs, down six points with three matches remaining in their home gym, mustered the team’s third-consecutive win over La Quinta by the slimmest of margins, 33-32.
“I knew it would come down to pins, and with a couple bad breaks here and there, and we could have lost it,” Lee said. “We could have also won by a larger margin, and at the same time, they could have won too.”
Lee was right. Pins, or at times the lack of them, made the difference in Thursday’s match. Twice Thursday, Aztec wrestlers were severely over-matched, including the 106 and 195 pound contests. In both matches, the Aztecs lost only by a technical fall, rather than a pin, keeping two points from La Quinta that could have made the difference.
Both teams entered Thursday’s match as only vague representations of teams’ past, having lost a combined 15 seniors from last year’s teams that dominated the rest of the Desert Valley League and competed to a 51-24 Palm Desert victory in their head-to-head match.
The performance of Lee’s youth, he said, was not only a great sign of things to come in the future, but it made a huge difference in Thursday’s outcome.
“Some were put in tough situations tonight. Our 106-pounder (Griffin Biggert), if he gets pinned, that’s a one-point difference right there, and if they get that pinned, we’re now tied in both points and the tiebreaker criteria.
“That shows the presence of mind to know what to do. He really helped us a lot.”
The Blackhawks started strong, jumping out to a 9-3 lead after the first three matches, with a tech fall win from Dominick Jahnig (106) and a major decision from Joseph Ferrara (220).
From there, two pins from the Aztecs’ Chase Overgaag (113) and Dominic Ortiz (126) propelled them into an 18-12 lead after six matches.
Four matches later, with two pins from Jacob Tessandor (138) and Ben Velasco (152), La Quinta again found the lead and extended it to 27-21 with Noel Magallanes’ (160) minor decision that brought home three points.
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Senior Palm Desert stud Anthony Mantanona brought the Aztec crowd to its feet with his pin that took all of 12 seconds in the 170-pound match to start the comeback, followed by another from Cameron Van Dyke.
With only one match remaining, the Aztecs up six points and ahead four-pins-to-two, Lee knew he had things sealed, but it didn’t mean the final match came without drama.
Midway through the second period, the refs called a technical fall for La Quinta’s Richard Rico, but after much discussion between the refs and coaches – and after some players had gone through the handshake line – they ruled the match should continue, with the La Quinta contingent hoping to at least seal a tie on the scoreboard, though the outcome would have been no different.
Rico came close multiple times to pinning Palm Desert’s Diego Rodriguez, but Rodriguez mindfully stepped out-of-bounds under his own power, giving Rico two points for his delay and ending things officially in a technical fall.
“These one-pointers, they sting a little bit more than the rest,” La Quinta coach Ryan Flores said. “We lost, but we still did a lot of things right tonight.
“A couple more go our way, and it’s a different score, but we’ve got to build off it and get back to work.”