LAKELAND — Before his 135-pound quarterfinal match Friday, Northside Christian's Cliff Barker watched four of five teammates post victories at the Class A state wrestling meet. That was the only motivation he needed.
Barker went out and posted a 6-5 decision in his quarterfinal, and the Mustangs capped a successful first day at the Lakeland Center with five athletes still alive for a possible individual title and the team in line for a possible crown as well.
Aaron Hartman (103 pounds), Brian Travis (112), Dalton Dennis (125), Anthony Melillo (130) and Barker all went 2-0 on the opening day, and Northside Christian collected 45 points for third place — 8.5 points behind first-place Live Oak Suwanee and just three behind Gulf.
"I know we only have six wrestlers, and we need them all to pull out a team championship," Barker said. "I had to do my part."
Dryden Dennis at 119 was the only Northside wrestler to lose Friday, but he is still 2-1 and alive in wrestlebacks.
Overall, Pinellas County sent 31 wrestlers to Lakeland and 19 of them won their first matches. However, county wrestlers went 7-12 in the winners' bracket quarterfinals, leaving the five Northside Christian wrestlers, Thomas Gorman (160) of Admiral Farragut and Luis Agramonte (285) of Dunedin as the only hopes remaining for individual titles.
Gorman, who competed at the New York state tournament last year, didn't appear to be challenged by his first Florida state tournament. He won his opening match with a 17-2 technical fall and won his second match by pin.
"It's just wrestling. It's just a mat. It's the same circle no matter what the state," Gorman said.
In the Class 2A heavyweight bracket, Agramonte was frustrated to win his first match by forfeit, but in his second victory he avenged a loss to Tallahassee's Trey Braun, who beat him 1-0 in the first round of the state tournament last year.
"I knew this was going to be the guy who either prevented me from winning my state final or pushed me to get there," Agramonte said. "I knew I had to beat this guy."