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Placer grapplers roar back

Hillmen get inspired individual matches to rally from 31-12 deficit, top Center in PVL opener
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Mike Valdez used a stirring comeback win to help spark the Placer High wrestling team past Center Tuesday night at Earl Crabbe Gym. But even after bringing the green and gold fans to their feet with a hard-fought reversal in the final seconds of his match, Valdez wasn’t raving about his performance. “Honestly, I was quite disappointed with the way I wrestled,” said Valdez, who pulled out a 3-2 win at 138 pounds. “I’m glad I won and helped the team, but I thought I should have pinned that guy.” Valdez’ rally was part of a big Placer push that helped the Hillmen turn a 31-12 deficit into a 42-31 win in their Pioneer Valley League opener. Placer got off to a strong start as junior Mason Lenover got a quick pin at 174. But the Cougars flexed their muscles in the heavy weights, winning five straight matches to build a 25-6 lead. Josh Mason got a big first-round pin at 115, but the Hillmen gave up a forfeit at 122. Justin Mason pulled off the first dramatic comeback of the night. Down 3-2 heading into the third round, the 128-pounder endured for a 5-3 win. Junior Gama Gomez brought a thrill to the Placer crowd with a first-round pin that came just a split-second before the two minutes expired. Gomez’ six points cut Center’s lead to 31-21. Valdez’ victory and a pair of forfeits gave Placer the lead, but freshman Will Thornton secured the team win. Wrestling at 163, Thornton overpowered his opponent for a first-round pin. “There were a couple of really close matches that went our way and those were the difference,” first-year Placer coach Don Packheiser said. “It was a bit of a chess match. Gama and Will pulled out pins and I think Mason went out and set the tone for us. Without that pin, we may not have won the match.” The Placer squad is suddenly an underdog in the PVL after winning three straight league titles from 2008-10. Injuries and defections have thinned out the roster and the Hillmen had to forfeit two matches on Tuesday, though the Cougars also forfeited two. Valdez’ performance was one of several gutsy displays for Placer, which will not have another home match this season, though it will host the Placer Duals on Jan. 28. “He’s been out about a week with a hip injury, but he went out and took care of business against one of their studs,” Packheiser said of Valdez. The Hillmen will need many more inspired efforts to make a run at the PVL crown. The next step is a highly anticipated dual at Bear River next Wednesday. The Bruins are 2-0 after wins over Lincoln and Foothill and they face a shorthanded Colfax team today. “If everyone comes out and wrestles well, it will be a close match,” Valdez said of the Bear River showdown. “I’m not going to underestimate them. We know they’re working hard to beat us.”