MONROVIA — Hoover High's inaugural season in the Rio Hondo League was described as a roller-coaster ride by wrestling coach Mark Bitetti.
The Tornadoes won their first league dual against St. Paul, but dropped the next four en route to finishing fifth in the six-team league as a team. Things started moving in the right direction again for Hoover at its first taste of the league's individual finals Saturday at Santa Fe Middle School in Monrovia.
Three Hoover wrestlers — Arthur Ghukasyan, Sebastian Ghauliance and Gio Martinez — advanced to the championship round of their respective weight classes, but it was Martinez who brought home the Tornadoes first-ever individual league title by pinning St. Paul's Mark Millan 1:05 into the second period of the 220-pound match.
“It feels good, I guess; I haven't experienced anything like this so I don't know how I should react,” said Martinez, adding he never expected to be a league champion at the start of the year. “I just told myself I am going to take it one match at a time and see how far I go. So far, I've made it here.”
Martinez fell behind, 2-0, after Millan took him down with 24 seconds left in the first period. The senior brought the deficit to one point when he escaped from Millan's hold with two seconds left in the opening frame.
Things didn't look good for Martinez in the early goings of the second period, as he was on his stomach with Millan leaning over him looking for a pin. That's when Martinez notched a key reversal and flipped Millan to his back before locking his head and working for the pin with 55 seconds to go in the second.
“It was longer than I'm used to, but he was good so I wasn't able to do the usual move,” said Martinez, who’s scored his share of pins in the first period. “I just had to work at it, see what he gives me and take my chance at it.”
While Ghukasyan and Ghauliance weren't crowned league champions, their seasons will still continue as the top-three finishers in each of the 14 weight classes earned a trip to CIF Individuals.
“They're going to work hard all week, it's amazing how much they learn when they have a good week at practice,” Hoover Coach Mark Bitetti said of Ghukasyan, Ghauliance and Martinez. “They're better this week than they were a few weeks ago by far — they all are. They're just raw and learning all the time.”
It looked like maybe Hoover's year was headed for another drop Saturday, as all six of its wrestlers that reached the consolation round lost and settled for fourth place.
Things took another turn for the worse after Ghukasyan suffered a heartbreaking loss to San Marino's Adam Padilla, 7-5, in overtime of the 145 match.
Ghukasyan trailed, 3-1, after Padilla notched an escape with a minute to go in the second period, but Ghukasyan tied it up at 3 when he worked a key reversal with 27 seconds into the third period. Padilla went back up, 4-3, with 1:11 left in regulation when he escaped again.
Ghukasyan fought for the lead and nearly had it, as he came close to takedowns with 18 seconds and .4 of a second to go, but Padilla proved elusive, as he managed to fall out of bounds each time to stay ahead.
The second near takedown before the end of regulation proved frustrating, as Ghukasyan pushed Padilla, who shoved him back. Officials congregated and rewarded one point to Ghukasyan for unsportsmanlike conduct on behalf of Padilla, which sent the match into overtime, despite plenty of debate from the San Marino coaching staff and supporters.
Padilla rose to the occasion in overtime, which included one one-minute and two 30-second extra frames. He notched an escape and reversal in the second period and held on for the victory.
“It was a good match, there was a lot of excitement with that one,” Bitetti said. “He's a fighter, Arthur will fight until the end.”
Ghauliance fell to top-seeded 160-pounder Brian Chang of San Marino, 16-8.
In consolation action, Arianna Caban (113) fell to La Cañada's Andrew Saraceda, 6-0. Jesse Martinez (138), Julian Talamontes (170), David Reyes (182), Joshua Lee (195) and Eric Jones (heavyweight) were all pinned with a trip to CIF on the line.
Still, Bitetti called Saturday a good day for Hoover wrestling.
“It was a good first step and we're all back, except for Gio, the whole lineup,” he said of his young team. “We're going to keep recruiting and building some excitement on campus. We need a good freshman class still; we really just need the numbers.”