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LAKELAND — Pinellas County wrestlers, customarily in the shadow of their Hillsborough County counterparts, shined brightly Saturday in Lakeland, with five wrestlers reaching state finals and three taking home individual championships.
No Pinellas teams threatened for team titles, but Palm Harbor University (71.5 points) improved from an eighth-place finish in 2012 to a fifth-place finish Saturday in Class 3A, won once again by powerhouse Brandon (251).
The crowning match for both the county and for Palm Harbor U. came in the 120-pound match between Hurricanes sophomore Jared Prince and Brandon junior James Flint. Flint had won his third state title against Prince in 2012 when they wrestled at 113 pounds.
“Jared lost last year (to Flint), and it’s driven him every day,” PHU coach Brad Sakevic said.
Deadlocked after two periods, Prince scored the first point by escaping from the down position.
“As soon as I got the escape I flashed back to last year,” Prince said. “(Last year) after I got the escape, he got me with the takedown, that was not going to happen again.”
It didn’t. Prince whipped around and scored the only takedown of the match, winning 3-1. It was the first state title in PHU wrestling history.
No less spectacular was Dunedin senior Clarence Arrington (126 pounds) capping his perfect 39-0 season with his second consecutive state championship, beating Adam Lewis of Jesuit 8-3 in the final. Both athletes fought for position upright until Arrington took over in the third period, leaping out of the down position and scoring two takedowns to claim the title.
“It feels great knowing I’ve accomplished the ultimate goal in high school wrestling,” Arrington said.
Arrington became the first Falcon to win back-to-back state titles for the storied program.
“His (Arrington’s) approach from the day he stepped into the room has been the same,” Falcons coach Marc Allison said. “His mind-set has been for one purpose.”
Rounding out the Pinellas champions was Northside Christian’s Alex Kruklinski (195). Kruklinski stormed the Pinellas County wrestling scene, scoring dominant wins at the East Lake Invitational, the St. Petersburg City Championships, as well as the district and region tournament. Kruklinski pinned his first three opponents at the Class A state meet before scoring a dominant 7-4 victory in the final against Dylan Meeks of Central Florida Christian. Kruklinski gave away a point for stalling and had Meeks escape out of two takedowns. Each time, Kruklinski followed it by slamming Meeks to the mat.
“I take calls like that against the kid and not the ref,” Kruklinski said. “I wanted to show that he (Meeks) shouldn’t be standing up.”
It was Northside Christian’s first title under coach Zach Breitenbach and the fourth in school history.
“When Alex first showed up in July, I told him he won’t have the teammates to wrestle with but we were going to do everything we can to make him a state champ,” Breitenbach said. “Seven months, doing it every week, he deserves it.”
Largo senior Derrick Doss, going for an undefeated season at 182 pounds in Class 2A, lost a 2-1 decision to Orange Park’s Corey Van Dorn. Doss scored in the first period but, after a scoreless second, Van Dorn managed an escape to tie it. In the final minute, the referee ruled Van Dorn gained enough of an advantage to earn the winning point. Doss finished 43-1.
PHU’s Aaron Hartman (152) lost his final match to Osceola rival Fox Baldwin 15-1.
Other state placers for Pinellas County were Countryside senior Matt Collora (106 pounds, third), PHU sophomore Connor Prince (126, third), Largo senior Danny Bergstrom (195, third), who was named the Russ Mauger Sportsmanship Award winner.
St. Petersburg senior Thomas Moser (160) fought through a broken nose to claim fourth in 3A. Indian Rocks Christian freshman Conner Allshouse (138) and Clearwater Central Catholic senior Zach Gradich (145) won their Class A fifth-place matches.