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Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — The Roughriders are turning their comebacks into an art form.
For the second straight week, defending Olympic League dual-meet wrestling champion Port Angeles has rallied from a big deficit to keep its hopes of a second consecutive title alive.
The Riders nudged Kingston 33-32 after being behind 23-0 at Kingston on Jan. 9, and then they ripped Olympic 45-28 after being behind 25-0 at home Thursday night, outscoring the Trojans 45-3 down the stretch.
That’s putting an exclamation point on the comeback.
“Honestly, I wasn’t worried about the outcome,” Port Angeles coach Erik Gonzalez said.
“I don’t worry about the scoreboard. I knew the heart of our lineup, the most experienced and oldest kids, were coming up.”
Kingston and Olympic both were able to get big leads on the Riders because those matches started in the middle weights — 132 pounds in the Olympic match.
That’s where Port Angeles is the weakest, the least experienced. The defending champs are extremely strong in the lower and upper weights but they give up a lot of points in the middle.
“We need to get better in the middle weights,” Gonzalez said.
Port Angeles is ranked No. 7 in state on the 2A level while Olympic has No. 17 and Kingston No. 19 rankings.
The Trojans, considered the Riders’ toughest dual-meet competition this year, won the first five on three pins, a major decision and a decision and were feeling pretty confident at that point, especially after dismantling fellow league powerhouse Kingston 62-17 earlier in the week.
But then Port Angeles star Brian Cristion stepped onto the mat at 170 pounds and everything changed.
Cristion pinned a solid opponent, Elijaah Simons, at 2 minutes, 46 seconds, and the rout was on.
The Riders earned six pins, a forfeit and a decision in the final nine matches.
Afterwards, Cristion said he wasn’t concerned about starting the comeback rally or getting the pin.
“I’m going out there to wrestle no matter who it is, and I do the best I can,” Cristion said.
“I’m going out there just to wrestle. I don’t watch the scoreboard.”
On the other hand, Cristion said he wasn’t concerned about the Riders losing the match.
“We have a lot of heart,” he said.
“Our heart will prevail. Also, we work harder than any team. I guess it’s showing out there [on the mat].”
Cristion dominated Simons, who proved to be a worthy opponent, trailing just 5-0 after the first round.
But Cristion, on the bottom to start the second round, was up and on his feet in a fraction of a second for the one-point escape and then made short work of Simons.
Cristion quickly went ahead 10-0 before pinning Simons with 1:14 left in the round.
The standout senior, who captured fourth in state at 182 pounds last year, suffered a rare lost last week against Kingston’s legendary Bobby Reece III — a two-time state champion who was undefeated in his high school career up to that point.
In a team strategy that almost paid off, the Buccaneers had Reece, a junior, wrestle up to face Cristion to grab some crucial points for Kingston.
Reece had his hands full, barely beating Cristion 6-4 after Cristion was penalized two points for stalling.
But the strategy didn’t pay off in the end as the Riders were able to hang on for the one-point victory.
Cristion now is 25-2 on the year after pinning Simons.
Ironically, Reece isn’t perfect anymore after he lost his match to Olympic’s Zeke Gaeta on a technicality earlier in the week.
Reece, 102-1 for his career, led Gaeta 12-1 when he used an illegal move, a figure-four leg lock on Gaeta’s head in a pin attempt in the second round.
Gaeta strained a neck muscle on the move and couldn’t continue to wrestle. Referees awarded Gaeta the win because the injury was caused by the illegal move.
Gaeta did not wrestle against the Riders on Thursday.
The Riders’ most impressive win came at heavyweight where Michael Myers pinned Napoleon Timoteo in 5:11 despite suffering a right shoulder injury earlier in the match.
Myers was leading 14-6 late in the second round when he remained on the mat in obvious pain after Timoteo got up for a one-point escape.
The 285-pounder stayed in the match despite favoring the shoulder the rest of the way.
He ended up pinning Timoteo with 48.4 seconds left in the match to give the Riders a 30-25 team advantage, their first lead of the dual meet.
“He tried to throw me, and I just heard [my shoulder] pop,” Myers said.
“It’s just one of those injuries. Nothing too serious, I hope.”
Myers, now 20-5 for the season, was determined to stay in the match and not lose by injury default.
“Even if I had dislocated [my shoulder], I would have come back to wrestle. I love the sport too much not to.”
Actually, Myers’ shoulder probably was separated, Gonzalez said.
“He probably has a slight separation there. We will have it checked. He’s a tough kid.”
Also earning pins for the Riders were Matt Robbins at 182, Kyle La Fritz at 220, Tyler Gale at 106 and Ozzy Swagerty at 126.
Eric Wahl took a forfeit at 195 while Brady Anderson earned a 7-2 decision against Adrian Madison at 113.
After beating powerhouse teams Kingston and Olympic the past two weeks, the Riders are in good position to repeat at league champions.
However, Port Angeles concludes the regular season with three matches of four teams in three straight days this coming week. All on the road.
The Riders wrestle at Bremerton on Tuesday, at powerful Klahowya on Wednesday and at Sequim on Thursday against the archrival Wolves and Port Townsend in a double-dual meet.
Klahowya will be the toughest test during the week.
The Eagles won the league championship two years in a row prior to the Riders’ title last year.
“Obviously, we control our own destiny,” Gonzalez said.
North Kitsap 47, Port Townsend 35
PORT TOWNSEND — The two short-handed Olympic League teams traded forfeits back and forth through the match with the Vikings holding on for the win.
Winning matches for the Redskins were Forrest Piatt, earning a technical fall at 160 pounds; Tristan Minnihan, also earning a technical fall with the score 18-3 at 170; and Trevor Garrett, beating Augie Pichl at 182.
In an exhibition match between two standout Port Townsend girls varsity wrestlers, Hannah Welch came from behind to pin teammate Malia Henderson.
Welch was behind 14-5 when she made her move for the pin.