Miguel Licona, like many who have gone through the Newport Harbor High wrestling program, had gotten used to things being a certain way when he showed up to team activities.
A part of that was that when a wrestler walked into the office of Sailors coach Dominic Bulone, a framed sort of trophy would hang on the wall.
This was the Golden Singlet, the prize presented to the team that wins the Battle of the Bay between Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar. Newport Harbor had won six consecutive matches in which the trophy had been put on the line.
Licona, a four-year member of the wrestling program, had been on campus for the final two years of that streak, and then last season, rival CdM broke through.
From that loss, a hunger grew. Veterans like Licona could barely sleep knowing that the Golden Singlet match was coming up again, and this time, it would come with first place in the Wave League up for grabs.
Newport Harbor took back the Golden Singlet, as the host Sailors routed the Sea Kings 56-18 on Wednesday night.
“I remembered what it felt like to lose and get that taken away,” Licona said in reference to the trophy. “This year, that’s just what kept me going. Last night, I had been thinking how it felt to lose, and I didn’t want to feel that way. I talked to my teammates and made sure they felt the same way.
“That’s what you saw out there. We battled for the Golden Singlet.”
Newport Harbor improved to 9-4 overall and 2-0 in the League. The Sailors will host Huntington Beach with a chance to secure the outright league title on Jan. 16.
Newport Harbor junior Edwin Leon (113 pounds), sophomore Joshua Martinez (120), junior Edgar Castillo (160), senior Eddie Rios (285) and Licona (182) all won their matches by fall.
The Sea Kings opened with a 6-0 lead after Alex Britton pinned Kai Villasenor, but CdM’s strong start would quickly evaporate.
Leon rallied from a 9-6 deficit against Eric Rector in the final period, turning a potential loss into a pin to even the match.
“The second match, we were winning 9-6,” Sea Kings coach Mark Alex said. “We were winning 9-6 with a minute left, and we’re screaming, ‘Defense, defense, defense,’ and [Rector] goes for a takedown. He gets put on his back and pinned. That was a big swing right there.”
Leon recalled the move that led to his improbable victory.
“When you’re on your back like that, it’s either you give up two points, you give up a pin, or you got to get out of the ring and just start over from the back,” Leon said. “When that guy tried to flip me or when he put his leg back, I knew it was an opportunity to get that pin.
“When I go out there, I just cranked his neck as hard as I could and [gave him] some pain so that I could win the match.”
In one short series, Newport Harbor had turned the tide, and CdM, which is 1-1 in the league would be unable to break the momentum. The Sailors went on to win eight straight bouts before Danny Reichner finally ended the run with a pin at 170 pounds.
Junior Jack Jones (126) scored a 13-9 decision over Yosi Haimsarvey. It was another match that featured late drama, as Jones earned five points on near falls in the last 30 seconds to complete his comeback.
Throughout the match, Newport Harbor wrestlers did well to limit the points scored against them. It led to major decisions by Santino Panasitti and Cole Reynolds, who each scored four points for their team by winning their matches by at least eight points.
“I’ve been talking about how CdM will catch you if you’re not careful,” Bulone said. “They’ll try to roll you, catch you on your back, especially if they’re down by points.
“I mentioned it. It was kind of the scouting report on CdM, so the kids had that mentality coming in to just wrestle their style and try not to get caught.”
Newport Harbor defeated host CdM 38-36 in the District Championships on Dec. 11. Sophomore Emilio Franco, a promising upper-weight wrestler for the Sea Kings, had taken a loss that day.
Individually, Franco redeemed himself on Wednesday with a third-period pin against JJ Perez at 220 pounds.
“Since I lost at the District Championships last time, I feel like I was more motivated to win,” Franco said. “I just want to stay focused, be more relentless and not hesitate a lot when I fight.”
Both of the Back Bay wrestling squads will be sending wrestlers to the Five Counties Tournament at Fountain Valley High. The tournament begins on Friday and runs through Saturday.
Newport Harbor 56, Corona del Mar 18
106 – Britton (CdM) pins Villasenor (NH), 1:30.
113 – Leon (NH) pins Rector (CdM), 5:11.
120 – Martinez (NH) pins Hong (CdM), 1:43.
126 – Jones (NH) dec. Haimsarvey, 13-9.
132 – Nateras (NH) dec. Cegielski (CdM), 4-2.
138 – Panasitti (NH) maj. Stauffer (CdM), 9-0.
145 – Reynolds (NH) maj. Hurwitz (CdM), 10-2.
152 – Mungall (NH) wins by forfeit.
160 – Castillo (NH) pins Navarro (CdM), 1:13.
170 – Reichner (CdM) pins Lin (NH), :59.
182 – Licona (NH) pins Wood (CdM), 1:28.
195 – Osumi (NH) wins by forfeit.
220 – Franco (CdM) pins Perez (NH), 5:08.