By Andrew Johnson

SHELBY – Winning a district championship is difficult enough.

Winning a championship for the first time since 1992, by beating a defending state semifinalist, and then your archrival, is even more difficult.

But that’s exactly what the Hart wrestling team did on Wednesday night when it captured the Division 4 district title at Shelby High School.

The Pirates opened the tournament by edging traditional power Hesperia, which advanced to the state semifinals last year, 34-31.

Then they defeated their neighborhood rivals from Shelby 58-17 in the finals to capture the district trophy.

Hart head coach Brad Altland said the victory over Hesperia was crucial for his team, and helped his wrestlers gain the confidence they needed to complete their mission against Shelby.

“It was huge,” said Altland, whose team improved to 27-6 on the season. “We’ve been stuck behind (Hesperia) since I started coaching, about 18 years ago. This is first time we stepped up and got it done. It was a great feeling.”

Hart gained an early 9-0 lead in the finals against Shelby with a 10-3 victory by Abel Mendoza in the 160-pound class, followed by a Shelby forfeit at 171.

Each of the next three Hart wrestlers – Carlos Garza (189), Jacob Hoebeke (215) and John Guadarrama (285) – pinned their opponents to give the Pirates a 27-0 lead.

Hoebeke and Guadarrama got first-round pins while Garza’s came in the second round.

“They really stepped up,” Altland said about his upper-weight wrestlers. “They set the base and made it easy for the other guys. They took the opportunities, and momentum is what it’s all about.”

In the 103-pound class, Hart’s Robbie Altland shut out his opponent 6-0 to give Hart a 30-0 lead.

The Pirates didn’t let up. Noah Cantu (112) pinned his opponent only 43 seconds into the match to make the score 36-0. Jacob Bosley (119) jumped out to a 9-2 advantage before picking up an 18-5 major decision victory to extend Hart’s domination to 40-0.

Shelby collected its first points of the night when Chris Beyer (125) pinned his opponent with 50 seconds remaining in the first round.

Christian Cooper (130) also put up points for Shelby when he won via technical fall by a score of 18-2.

The comeback attempt continued when Shelby’s Nick Felt (135) took only 21 seconds to pin his opponent, cutting the Tiger deficit to 40-17.

But those were the last points of the night for Shelby. Hart’s Jerry Brandel (140), Arturo Perez (145) and Brady Tate (152) all pinned their opponents to seal the 58-17 Hart victory.

Cantu, who is 43-1 on the season, spoke about what it meant to earn a district title.

“It means a lot,” the 112-pounder said. “I’ve been wrestling since I was five and it just feels good. We’ve come pretty far this year, and I think it means even more (beating Hesperia and Shelby) to do it that way.”

Tate, Hart’s 152-pounder, echoed those sentiments.

“It was huge,” he said. “It’s always great to beat Shelby. We’ve had trouble with them in years past and it’s starting to turn. Hopefully our underclassmen will see that and continue it.

“I feel confident. But we can’t stop now. We have to continue going to work and keep pushing hard so that we can go all the way.”

The Pirates will now head to the Division 4 regional next week at Hesperia High School, where they are scheduled to meet Kent City in the semifinals.

“We have a shot to get to the next step and it’s huge,” Altland said. “The ball is in our court and we need to go to work.”

Shelby advanced to the finals by defeating Holton 84-0, due to a slew of forfeits and five pins by Shelby wrestlers.