Wrestling: Northeast topples Dixie Hollins in city meet
In December, after Northeast had the best finish (fourth) of any Pinellas County team at the Southside Duals in Gulfport, coach Robert Wilson said his Vikings could give Dixie Hollins a run at the city meet.
They certainly did Saturday. Through the first few rounds, the Rebels led 155-146. By the time only the consolation finals and championship finals were left, the Rebels led by 16. Heading into the finals, the Vikings clawed back and closed within four.
The city title was going to be decided on the mat. Both Dixie and host Northeast had nine wrestlers in the finals with six head-to-head matchups. On paper, it looked as though Dixie had the edge with undefeated Drew Harrington (126) and Jesse Smith (285) virtual locks for two of the six wins.
Both Dixie and Northeast took opening losses. Gibbs’ Danya Jones (106) pulled off a 6-5 win against Northeast’s Isiah Wilson (106), nearly sending the match to overtime with stalling cautions. Dixie’s Elan Fountain, who weighed as much as 150 pounds last year, wrestled Admiral Farragut’s Caleb Lemmons at 113. Lemmons scored a second-period pin. Dixie’s Hugh Herring (120) fell to AFA’s Dillon Ottinger by first-period pin. Ottinger improved to 18-1 on the season.
Then the head-to-heads began.
Dixie’s Harrington (126) improved to 19-0 and won his fourth straight city title, dismantling Northeast’s Connor McNally. Harrington led 4-0 after the first period and hit a lightning-fast duck under that coach Nick Spataro said “wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever seen but it was pretty darn fast”. Harrington continued to take down and cut McNally, finally tech pinning McNally 19-4 in the third. This gave the Rebels a 7.5-point advantage.
At 132, Dixie’s Chase Niles faced off against Northeast’s Anthony Walker. Walker improved to 16-5, pinning Niles in the second period. It cut the Rebel lead to 3.5.
The marathon match of the night was at 138 as Dixie’s Cullen McFarlane squared off against Boca Ciega’s Tyree Bolden. Tied through two periods, McFarlane scored a take down with 40 seconds left in the third to make it 5-3 but Bolden escaped. McFarlane was hit with a stalling point and it was 5-5 when the buzzer sounded. No change through the first overtime, 6-6 through the second. Finally, in the third, McFarlane outlasted Bolden to win 7-6 and move from fourth in 2016 to first in 2017 at city.
“Bolden is a tough wrestler but Cullen has put a lot of time in this off-season,”Spataro said. “He’s done everything it takes to go from fourth to first.”
It pushed the Rebels out to a 5.5-point lead over the Vikings.
Northeast’s Rafael Perez fell to Northside Christian’s Kamen Wilmington in the 145-pound final by 16-5 major decision. Wilmington improved to 18-1 on the season and hasn’t lost in-state all season. It also squashed another chance for Northeast. Then the Vikings started hitting back.
In the 160-pound final, Tavoris Smith of Northeast battled Dixie’s Brandon Busch and came away with an 11-5 win that cut the team margin to 3.5 and made it 2-1 in head-to-head matches. Northeast’s Shaq Johnson went against Dixie’s Dalton Busch at 170. Up 5-3 into the third period, Johnson scored a take down, got a pair of back points and went on to win it 11-5 and cut the Rebel lead to just 1.5 and make it 3-1 in head-to-heads.
“We were lucky over the break; we got 10 days of practice in and dedicated ourselves, we said, ‘City Champs,’” Northeast’s Wilson said. “Even when we were four points down, I said, ‘We can still do this.’”
Then 195-pounder Cam Bradley of Northeast, lined up against St. Pete’s Bryce D’Angelo. Bradley, with only two months experience wrestling in high school, scored a reverse take down in the second period and turned it into a pin and the first lead (2.5 points) for the the Vikings all day.
“ I knew we needed that match and I was going to do anything to win,” said Bradley, 9-7 on the season. “I just had to fight through it and I was not gonna lose in front of my family and friends.”
The final blow was dealt at 220 when Marcell Scott scored a pin against Dixie’s Alex Lora in the first seven seconds of the match. That made it 194-187.5 Vikes and even a first-period pin by the now 19-0 Jesse Smith only stacked the final tally to 194-191.5 Vikings.
The Rebels were without Liam Ward, two-time defending city champ (knee) and defending city champ Coleman Bryant (hand) but it marks a huge transition into county relevance for Northeast, and it was their first city title since 2007.