LAKELAND — On the shoulders of an individual championship by 103-pounder Richie Bliss, Springstead finished third as a team in Class 2A at the state wrestling finals Saturday at the Lakeland Center, equaling the program's highest-ever finish.
The Eagles, who sent three wrestlers to the championship finals, finished third for the fifth time in program history — last accomplished in 2001. The finish and 108-point total were the program's best marks under current coach Eric Swensen.
"We wrestled great here, but we squandered some opportunities to do better," Swensen said. "Right now, it's always going to be disappointing to not win them all, but after it's passed, I'll look back and be happy about how we did (this season)."
Bliss, a sophomore who went 49-4, became the 12th state champ in Springstead history, recording a pin against Lake Gibson's Brandon Jorge in 5 minutes, 29 seconds.
Senior Scott Wern's run at 189 pounds came to an end against Brandon's Mike Ettore. Ettore won the championship finals match 8-4, and Brandon went on to win the Class 2A team title for the ninth consecutive season.
Springstead freshman Cody Ross (119) lost in the championship finals but has established himself as legitimate team leader. Ross, who demolished the school record of 35 wins by a freshman with a record of 47-10, fell 6-0 to Brandon's Rossi Bruno, now a two-time state champion.
Nick Soto (125) and Thad Klenovich (160) both placed fourth for Springstead, and Jessey Lorentsen (171) was sixth. Soto lost a semifinal to Manatee's Jacob Gregory, the eventual state champ, then lost to Brandon's Tyler Liberatore, a 2008 state champ.
Of the 32 wrestlers the North Suncoast sent to state this season, 14 placed.
Sunlake's Jarrett Baker had his undefeated season and run at the Class A 189-pound state title end in the semifinals against Jacksonville Episcopal's Billy Kartsonis, dropping major decision 10-2. Feeling under the weather, Baker salvaged a fourth-place finish to his senior season and ended with a 41-2 record.
In 10th place, Gulf (41 points) was the top North Suncoast placer in Class A thanks to a phenomenal performance from Ladarious Jackson (152). Jackson became the first Buccaneer wrestler to reach the finals since Michael Calafiore won the state title in 2007.
Jackson, wrestling in a difficult weight class, came up short, however, getting pinned by Clay's Kyle Mills in 2:23. He finished 50-5 on the season.
"Ladarious is explosive and volatile," Gulf coach Travis DeWalt said. "He has grown and developed so well over the course of this year."
The Buccaneers also got good finishes from Anthony Ayers (fifth at 119) and R.J. O'Connor (sixth at 112). Ayers fell in the semifinals. Meanwhile, O'Connor's result was impressive because he was dropped by pin to Wewahitchka's Jacob Taylor in his first match, but he battled his way back from there.