Tristan Ezell won his first varsity tournament and did so using his patented lateral drop in the championship match.

Finishing on the top of the podium of the Moon Valley Invitational on Saturday was a big step for the Desert Vista junior, but to understand how far Ezell has really come it is better to rewind to earlier in the tournament.

During a match in pool action at 195 pounds, his opponent got frustrated and allegedly punched Ezell a few times. The referee didn’t notice until final seconds and Ezell, who had a busted lip to show for it, never reacted.

In years past, there was a good chance Ezell would have never left the corrective action up to the referee.

“After that match I told him it was a big step for him,” Desert Vista coach David Gonzalez said. “The old Tristan would have responded in a negative way. The goal is to get here (the finals) and not the make bad decisions that prevent it from happening. He let it play out and let the referee do his job.”

Ezell finished off his job in the finals by pinning Adam Berry of Peoria Liberty. Both wrestlers like to use upperbody throws and neither took a shot. There was a lot of hand fighting, feeling each other out and little action. It was tied at 1 in the final minute when Berry pushed in a little too much and Ezell pulled off a lateral drop and got the pin at 5:11.

“I knew he liked to go with underhooks and he got too wide with it, came into me and I hit it,” said Ezell, who is 14-0 on the season. “It just gives me even more confidence to step out there against anyone.”

The Thunder finished fifth overall in the 31-team tournament despite the fact that injuries robbed them of strength and points.

Two-time state champion Alex Bambic (182) weighed in but after warming up it was decided to hold him out because of an injury he has been nursing. The Thunder travel to California after Christmas and then have the Peoria Invitational and Flowing Wells Invitational in January so the schedule is going to be brutal.

Additionally, Cooper Gardner (145) and Jeremiah Imonode (170) both sustained injuries after semifinal defeats and defaulted to sixth place.

The good news was the fact that the younger Desert Vista wrestlers got a chance to finally step on to the mat for something other than a dual meet. Many of their opponents already had more than 20 matches on the season whereas the Thunder have only had seven dual meets.

The results were good overall.

“We have some things we can go back to (practice) with an idea of what we need to work on,” Gonzalez said. “With just a few matches some of the younger wrestlers really hadn’t a chance to develop yet. Now, we kind of have a blueprint of what needs to be done as several things cropped up.”

Other Thunder placers were state placer Brian Mitchell (113, fourth), Aaron Masterson (132, sixth), Matt Mathers (138, seventh), Mitchell White (160, seventh) and Brandon Fox (HVY, sixth).

Masterson had one of the better showings and it can only help as the Thunder head to 2013.

“I felt like I lost some matches I could have won,” he said. “I didn’t finish strong. I have to train harder and make sure I don’t lose (late) in matches anymore.”

Ahwatukee had another champion in Corona del Sol 145-pounder Zach Walton as the junior defeated Coconino’s Mica Barker 7-1 on the strength of a couple of takedowns.

“I’m working so hard, training and focusing, it is good to see it rewarded,” he said.

He helped the Aztecs win the team title, while Camp Verde was second. Dobson, Coconino and Desert Vista rounded out the top five.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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