SAN MARINO — Pins were aplenty when the La Cañada High and San Marino wrestling teams clashed for the Rio Hondo League title Tuesday.
Only one match ended without a fall as the Spartans picked up the 54-27 victory for their second straight league title after notching nine pins to the Titans' four pins and one decision win.
"San Marino is usually a very buff team and our team is good at throwing," said La Cañada sophomore Alex Bache, explaining the reason for all the pins. "With those two matched up together, it's usually pins after pins after pins because everyone is trying to muscle each other into pins."
Although the score may not show it, the dual meet was a roller coaster of momentum and emotion as La Cañada (3-0 in league) took a commanding early lead before San Marino (2-1) charged back into contention and nearly tied it up late.
"We weren't the guaranteed team this year," said La Cañada Coach Gavin Williams, whose team captured its fourth league title in school history. "We knew San Marino was going to be a battle. It only improves both of our teams having these kind of battles."
The result may not have been what San Marino Coach Joe Gallardo wanted, but he had no complaints.
"We've come a long way from the team we were last year — losing to South Pasadena, 66-6 — to competing for the league title this year," Gallardo said. "I couldn't ask for anything more. I am proud of my guys, they did a great job."
The Titans were in a precarious position down, 30-9, with seven matches to go after La Cañada's Brian Streeter and Gabe Villalobos gave the Spartans two pins in a row in the 135- and 145-pound matches.
San Marino answered with back-to-back pins from two of its best wrestlers, Adam Padilla and Andrew Barth.
Padilla pinned Kevin Stoner 57 seconds into the 152-pound match's third period. Barth (160) followed with a pin 80 seconds into his match against Nick McMenamin to put San Marino right back in it, 30-21.
Bache made the La Cañada faithful breathe easier in the 170-pound match when he pinned the Titans' Michael Scott with 22 seconds left in the second period to extend La Cañada's lead to 36-21.
With four matches to go, San Marino needed three pins and to not lose more than three points the rest of the way to keep hope for a league title alive.
Titans' 182-pounder Brian Chang gave his team its biggest win of the night when he pinned Marty Vardanian with 45 seconds left in the first period to bring the score to 36-27 and the home crowd to its feet.
"We knew [Vardanian] was their best wrestler," Gallardo said. "We knew it would be tough, but Chang was ready. I never counted him out, but he exceeded my expectations. He went out there with heart and did what he had to do to get the win."
Despite the loss, Williams could only praise Vardanian and what he means to the team.
"Marty Vardanian is still the best wrestler on the team," Williams said. "The thing that happened is Marty went out there trying to win the whole match by himself. He had the entire team on his shoulders and was afraid to make a mistake, but he worked with our guys all week to make sure they were better wrestlers for today."
San Marino's elation after Chang's win turned to disappointment a few minutes later when La Cañada's Christian Tichon (195) pinned Alex Knott 79 seconds into the match to give the Spartans an insurmountable 42-27 lead.
Tichon said he didn't realize his individual win sealed the team victory until he saw Williams, his team and fans cheering louder than they had all night.
"Marty lost his match and I thought he really deserved another league title," Tichon said. "I just wanted to wrestle for him."
La Cañada finished out strong with pins from Brendan Daly and Guillermo Padilla in the 220 and heavyweight matches. The strong finish mirrored the Spartans' quick start as they opened the dual meet with three straight pins from Chris Skaggs, Daniel Wyatt and Anthony Landero for an 18-0 lead.
"We didn't really let [their quick start] affect us," Gallardo said. "We put ourselves right back in there and some things went our way and some things went better than we expected."
Thomas Krimmel and Jon Chow brought the Titans back in it, as Krimmel gave them their first points by pinning Nathan Arboleda with 37 seconds left in the second period.
Chow, along with La Cañada's Jonathan Skaggs, were responsible for the most exciting match of the night, as the 132 pounders took their match into overtime. Chow nabbed the win and first takedown of the extra period to give San Marino three points and bring the score to 18-9.