District wrestling: East Lake breaks through for title
ST. PETERSBURG — East Lake has been the team on the brink all season. The Eagles won a large dual in Pasco County but placed second at its own East Lake Invite, second at MyHouse and second at the Pinellas County Athletic Conference meet; it started to become a theme for the 2015-16 season.
"We've been second at districts two of the last three years to Palm Harbor, then we got re-districted, paired with another tough team (Dixie Hollins)," East Lake coach Joe Marzo said. "With all the hard work the kids have put in this year, it was nice to see them break through and get what they deserve."
The Eagles toppled county powerhouse and host Dixie Hollins 225-218.5 in Friday’s Class 2A, District 9 meet for their first district title since 2008. Dunedin took third with 161, Northeast fourth (86) and River Ridge fifth (71.5).
With two rounds remaining, the Eagles led Dixie 172.5-170. Both teams put nine wrestlers through to the finals and there were five head-to-head matches between them. The backbreaker for Dixie was losing their 145- and 220-pounders before the meet even began. The tenacious tandem of Brandon Nevitt and Clifton Thomas, up at 195 and 220 last week at PCAC, slipped back down to 182 and 195, respectively, on Friday.
Yet the Eagles, with 10 seniors in the lineup, scored big points in both the consolation semifinals and consolation finals. The Eagle lead of 2.5 swelled to 23, then to 33 heading into the finals. It was a gap not even the Rebels could close.
At 106, Dixie Hollins freshman Hugh Herring broke through with a 10-7 win over East Lake's Jackson Fessler for his first district title.
Dixie took the second head-to-head with East Lake as 113-pounder Liam Ward scored an 11-0 major decision against Ed Fucillo; it was Ward's second district title. Drew Harrington (120) scored a 19-4 tech pin on East Lake's Garrett Allen for his second district title.
Then East Lake struck back as 126-pounder and PCAC champ Josh McGinnis faced his same opponent from PCAC, Dunedin's Stephen Nichols. Nichols led 4-2 into the third period but McGinnis scored a reversal, then got three back points to win it 7-4.
"It's hard because (Nichols) knew what I was going to throw at him this time and I had to pick and choose my moves wisely," McGinnis said. "The kid is tough."
In the fourth Dixie-East Lake head-to-head, 132-pounder Zack Addis scored a takedown on Stephen Araca with 30 seconds left in the match to win his third district title. At 138, freshman phenom Coleman Bryant, fresh off his thrilling victory in the PCAC final, battled Dunedin's Grant Cardwell to a 1-1 draw into the third period. Finally, with five seconds left in the match, Bryant nailed a takedown to win his first district title 3-1.
"It was the same thing last week," Rebels coach Nick Spataro said. "This kid (Bryant) wrestles non-stop, six minutes, everything he has, every match."
At 145, Dunedin school win record holder, Brendan Ditro, ate up East Lake's Drew Dougherty, scoring a first-period pin to claim his second district title. Dunedin's Thomas Bujalksi followed up in characteristic, nail-biting fashion as he claimed a 5-3, overtime win against Isaac Gomez of East Lake.
Clearwater's Jensen Rice notched his first district title as the only Tornado champion of the day. Rice topped Dixie's Dalton Busch 9-3.
At 170, Boca Ciega's Sadrick Daniel set up across from George Hall of East Lake. Neither could gain an advantage and Hall held just a 1-0 lead into the third period. In the third, Hall scored a takedown and got Daniel to his back, pinning him with less than a minute in the match. The pin put the district title out of reach for Dixie as it made it 225-204.5.
"A lot of our guys hadn't been doing well in the finals up to that point and we needed Hall to step up," Marzo said. "Hall looked me in the eye and said he wouldn't let us down."
Nevitt does what he usually does in the 182 final, methodically cutting down his opponent. Nevitt bested Spencer Jacoby of Osceola 9-3 for his third district title. The second part of the Dixie wheelhouse saw 195-pounder Thomas score a second-period pin of Clearwater's Robert Miller. It marked Thomas' second district title and improved his record to 49-0.
River Ridge broke through for its only district title as Brian Batey topped Dunedin's Jakub Stetz 11-3 to win his first district title at 220.
Early in the meet, it looked like the team title might just come down to the sixth installment of the Julian Santos-Jesse Smith rivalry but East Lake had a comfortable lead. Even though Santos had won the past five meetings, they had been by the slightest of margins and nearly all of them overtime matches.
Friday’s 285 final was no different: Scoreless through one period, 1-0 through two, 1-1 through the third and into overtime. Smith finally scored the winning escape in the third overtime to topple Santos as the Rebel wrestlers mobbed him.