River Bluff dug itself a big hole early in Saturday’s Class 5A state championship wrestling and nearly came back from it.
But Hillcrest held off the Gators’ charge with a win in the next-to-last match to win the championship, 41-30, at Airport High School.
River Bluff, which was going for its second title in three years, started off strong and led 12-10 after the first five matches. The Gators got wins from Isaac Ortega (195), Michael Kesler (220) and Ian Obeso (heavyweight).
But Hillcrest responded with a run, which included back-to-back pins by Darren Okeefe and Michael Shiffer to lead 35-12.
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Needing to win by pinfall in each of the final four matches, River Bluff wrestled with a sense of urgency. The Gators got halfway there as Armondo Maestre won at 138 and Parker Palmer at 145 to cut the deficit to 35-24.
Grant Hopkins ended the Gators’ rally with a pin of John Brown at 152 pounds to seal the match.
“I told them if we pin out, we win by one. I don’t care if you win, you guys got to pin,” River Bluff coach Evan Moxie said. “Got those first two and we are thinking, oh boy. We knew the last match we had a real good chance to get a pin.
“I think we could have won the match (152 pounds) if we were going out just to win. When you’ve got to go out and look for a pin, sometimes that happens. I couldn’t be more proud of this team. They battled and did an amazing job all year long.”
It was the Rams’ third state championship in school history and first since 2012 when they won back-to-back titles under Tommy Bell. This year’s title team was coached by his brother Robby Bell.
“I am very happy, very proud,” Robby Bell said. “My brother won two state titles in the 2011 and 2012 so it is great for us to get back on top. It shows a lot about the kids that we have and what a great job we do. I will take my 14 guys against anybody because I know what they put in the room every day. We are proud of them.”