Dixie Hollins ends long PCAC drought in wrestling
The four-year headlock that Palm Harbor University held on Pinellas County was broken Saturday.
Dixie Hollins, ranked second in Tampa Bay in the HomeTeam 25 behind only Brandon, broke through with a resounding victory, topping East Lake 280-249.5 in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship. The ’Canes took third with 226.5. It marked the Rebels’ first PCAC title under coach Nick Spataro and Dixie Hollins' first county title since 1979.
"This is a product of our program and of my coaching staff," Spataro said. "I have the best staff in the state and we have been successful because of these guys."
Spataro refers to assistant coaches, Ed Bryant, Taylor Nevitt and Mike Thompson, but Spataro's wrestlers did their part and more. The Rebels led all weekend and as much as Spataro doesn't like to bean count, even he confessed to having totaled up the scenarios leading into the finals to discover that one match in the 106 final would mathematically clinch it.
It certainly helped that the Rebels sent 10 of their 14 wrestlers to the finals; East Lake and PHU had just five. Once PHU's Gabe Naranjo pinned East Lake's Jackson Fessler to kick off the finals, the Rebels had it in the bag.
The biggest swing for Dixie had to be at 138 as freshman Coleman Bryant faced off with 49-4 PHU junior Gavin Mitchiner. Mitchiner came out fast and went up 4-2 through the first period and 7-3 in the second period. With time winding down in the third, Bryant, starting from the down position, reversed out and got Mitchiner to his back. The reversal and subsequent back points put Bryant up 8-7 as he tried to finish with a pin.
"It was a move I learned at camp over the summer," Bryant said. "(After the reversal) I thought I was losing and that I needed a pin, but when I got up and my dad said I'd won. I couldn't believe it."
The next best individual match was at 113 as a short, compact Chris Fragale of PHU took on a longer, taller Liam Ward of Dixie.
"(When going against a taller opponent) I try to keep them away from my legs because if they get in on me they can shoot on me all day," Fragale said.
Ward went up 2-0 in the first period and a second-period escape gave Ward a 3-0 lead into the third. Fragale scored a takedown, then caught Ward in a cradle and pinned him with just 30 seconds left in the match.
"It was a low-leg cradle and I knew as soon as I grabbed the ankle that I was going to finish it," Fragale said.
The 126 final pitted two defending PCAC champs against each other. Dunedin's Stephen Nichols won the 113 title last year and East Lake's Josh McGinnis won the 126 title. McGinnis took control early, taking a 5-2 lead into the second period before stacking an 11-2 lead on Nichols heading into the third. Nichols refused to go to his back but went down 11-4 to McGinnis.
For the Rebels, Drew Harrington drove double-leg takedowns on East Lake’s Garrett Allen to win a 20-5 tech pin in what was probably Harrington's best match of the season. Anthony Didden (170) scored a third-period pin of Bogie’s Sadrick Daniel. Brandon Nevitt scored a second-period pin of Clearwater's Robert Miller. Clifton Thomas improved to 46-0 on the season with a 3-2 win over Countryside's Andrew Brown.
The Eagles were a close second as they hoisted McGinnis, George Hall and Julian Santos to the top of the podium. Santos etched another chapter in his storied rivalry with Dixie heavyweight Jesse Smith with a 4-1, triple-overtime win.
Santos has now squared off three times at large invitationals and five times overall against Smith. While Santos has won narrowly each time, three of the five went to overtime.
The ’Canes won four of their five matches in the finals, including Naranjo, Fragale, Joe Capone and Anthony Didden. Capone won a 9-3 match against Dixie's Zack Addis, and Didden pinned Bogie's Sadrick Daniel in the third period.
"Hats off to Dixie; they've done a great job all year long," PHU coach Brad Sakevich said. "We're a young team and we put our best effort together today."
Dunedin took fourth with 172.5 as senior Brendan Ditro (145) won his first PCAC title 10-2 over Dareis Montgomery of Dixie in the same season he broke the school record for career wins.
St Petersburg crowned its first PCAC champion since 2013 as Ravon Gregory scored a first-period pin of Dunedin’s Thomas Bujalski.
Clearwater's Jensen Rice improved to 36-2 on the year with a last-second, 4-3 win over Dixie's Dalton Busch.