It was fitting that as Bakersfield High chased its 17th consecutive league wrestling title, Bryce Martin stepped on the mat first.
Martin, one of the team's few seniors and probably its only state-title threat, beat Frontier's Ethan Bird with a technical fall to set the tone for Bakersfield's 63-12 rout of the Titans on Thursday at the Southwest Yosemite League Duals at Centennial.
"I just went and wrestled my match, tried to keep the intensity up," said Martin, who placed fourth at 170 pounds in the CIF State Wrestling Championships a year ago.
Travis Ellebracht, another BHS senior, worked a first-period pin at 220 pounds, but Frontier answered with pins from Josh Bailey at 195 pounds and Jarrod Snyder at heavyweight. Bakersfield led just 14-12 as the dual flipped over to the lightweights.
That's when Bakersfield pulled away. The Drillers won the dual's final nine matches, earning bonus points in all of them. Six of the nine were pins.
"Oh, those guys turned it on," Martin said. "We knew Frontier would come out strong -- it's a little bit of a rivalry -- but our young guys wrestled really well."
Martin is ranked No. 2 in the state at 170, according to The California Wrestler website, but it's an atypical year for Bakersfield in that it has few other individual hopes for a title. Freshman J.J. Figueroa is ranked No. 6 at 113 pounds, but no one else ranks inside the top 10 in their weight class.
Instead, the Drillers, ranked No. 13 in the state as a team, start five freshmen.
"We have a really good junior high program," Drillers co-head coach Anthony Box said, "so these freshmen come in with a lot of experience at the top level. But it's a big jump from junior high to high school. Our guys are starting to make it."
All four of the BHS freshmen in the lineup Thursday won: Navonte Demison with a technical fall at 106, Figueroa with a pin at 113, Ricky Gonzalez with a pin at 152 and Sam Loera with a major decision at 160.
"These guys know they're good, but I think now they're starting to believe it," Box said.
Bakersfield and Frontier started the day with three easy victories over the SWYL's other teams, and both had won league-opening duals Jan. 15. That made the final match of the day a de facto league dual championship. The other half of the league title will be handed out Feb. 15 at Frontier at the league tournament.
Frontier has never defeated Bakersfield but finished as SWYL runner-up for the fourth straight year, beating third-place Liberty 54-19 on Thursday.
"Overall, I thought the team wrestled fairly well," Titans coach Kirk Moore said. "We came out hard against Liberty and stepped up and came together."
But many Titans faded late against Bakersfield. Five times, matches that were close after a period ended in third-period pins.
"We started out fairly competitive, but as match wore on, we didn't rise to the occasion for the whole six minutes," Moore said. "We're down 2-1, but instead of grinding it out and losing 5-3 or something, we let momentum carry over and we lost our compusure."
And so the Drillers will enter the league tournament in two weeks as the heavy favorite to clinch their 17th straight title. After that, however, this young team will be a heavy underdog in section meets against nationally ranked teams Clovis, the three-time defending state champion, and Clovis-Buchanan.
"We're all about shocking people and making a name for ourselves," Martin said. "We like being the underdog. Freshmen aren't supposed to do anything, but they're working hard. We're excited to end the season well."