For Largo's Tony Gentilcore, the post-season is a pretty good deal. Two matches, two wins, and a district championship. Can't beat that.
Gentilcore, rusty, a bit out of shape and inactive for the entire regular season, captured the Class 4A, District 7 wrestling title Saturday, pinning Pinellas Park's Von Manuel in the semis, then beating Seminole's Rick Roth 7-4 in the finals.
"I didn't know what to expect," said the senior 220-pounder. "To tell you the truth, I was scared I'd get pinned in the first period. But I feel I have an advantage in a way. By district and regional time, most guys are worn out and want to get it over with.
Me, I'm just getting started."
Gentilcore's road to the post-season was harder than it sounds, and it doesn't promise to get easier. The districts might have been peachy for a 210-pound senior who can bench press 400 pounds, but the cream - the tougher competition - comes later. And Gentilcore had to learn a few hard lessons before he got a chance to qualify for state for the second straight year.
"I've gotten a little older," sad Gentilcore. "I handle things better now. I'm just glad Coach (Sonny) Blackwelder gave me a second chance."
Gentilcore blew his first chance when he quit the team in late November. He and then-backup (220) Jesse Forte didn't exactly get along, and the personality clash was worsened by the oily pomade Forte wore in his hair at the time (he has since redone his hair). Then, after stewing for a while and thinking it over, he decided he wanted to give wrestling another shot.
"Me and Coach were talking - arguing really," said Gentilcore. "I wanted to come back on the team, but I didn't know how to say it.
And he was mad at me for quitting. So finally, I just said 'Coach, just let me wrestle."' Sitting out was tough, swallowing his pride and getting back on the team tougher still, but the real test came in practice. He and the newly-shorn Forte decided to put everything else aside and just concentrate on wrestling, preparing for a best-of-three challenge match series for the opportunity to go to the districts. Forte, third in the PCC at 220, had the benefit of a full season's worth of conditioning. Gentilcore won the first challenge match 11-2, then Forte beat him 5-4. The last match went into overtime, with Gentilcore
capturing a tense 3-1 win.
"Jesse's tough, no doubt about that," said Gentilcore. "He really made me work. Jesse could beat most of the guys in the county, so I knew if I could beat him, I could beat a lot of other guys. He's going to be a fantastic wrestler next year."
Gentilcore and the rest of the 4A qualifiers advance into the 4A Region 2 tournament Friday and Saturday at Winter Haven High. The 3A-11 qualifiers will go to the 3A Region 3 tournament Friday and Saturday at East Lake High.
Bad luck: As of last week, Countryside's Lee Stonesifer was a hands-down favorite to capture the 135-pound title at the district tournament, as well as to advance to the regionals and states.
But for the second year in a row, the scrappy senior was felled by a tiny bug.
Last year, Stonesifer contracted pneumonia near the end of the season, conquered it, and then suffered a relapse just before the regionals. Stonesifer came down with a virus on Wednesday, and ran a high fever. Coach Dave Frayer was hoping Stonesifer would be able to make it for the tournament, but he didn't make it.
"He came in on Thursday, and his fever had gone down a little," said Frayer. "He was fairly close to weight Friday morning, but then I got a call from his parents, and they said it was up real high again. We were hoping it would break enough for him to wrestle, but it wasn't to be."
Milestone: Osceola achieved its first-ever wrestling team district
championship with a lot of heat, talent, and a bit of luck.
The Warriors wrestled 'flawlessly," up until the consolations of the 3A-11 tournament and had it all but wrapped heading into the finals, said coach Steve Bass. "And we had a few situations come through, too."
Like reserve 140-pounder Nick Spataro, who took second. Spataro won his first match, but seemed headed for a showdown with top-seed Robbie Higdon of Southeast. Then, incredibly, Higdon pinned himself while attempting a move in his second-round match. Spataro wound up advancing into the finals, where he lost to East Lake's Brett McParland.
"We brought 12 wrestlers, and 10 advanced to the regionals," said Bass. "And there were 12 teams in our district (there were six in the 4A-7 and 4A-8 tournaments). I think that makes our win that much more impressive. And I thought we were a year away."
Not only was it the first district wrestling title, it was the first district title of any kind for the Warriors' program, according to activities director Glenn Stamm.
You scratch my back: A little information-trading helped St. Petersburg's Isaac Shedrick eke out a 10-8 decision over PCC champion Tasso Politopoulos (103) of East Lake in the 3A-11 championship.
Politopoulos defeated Shedrick's teammate and workout partner Dana Harrington for the PCC title last month, topping him 13-11 in overtime.
"I told him to watch the throws," said Harrington, who went up to 112 for the districts, while Shedrick dropped to 103. "That was one of the things he was good at when I wrestled him. And sure enough he (Politopoulous) hit him with it."
Don't look over your shoulder: East Lake's Chris Waite has won all four of his matches this year over Gibbs' Don Bates, but it gets more difficult each time, he says. The last win was 2-1 in overtime at the 3A-11 tournament.
'It's a battle every time we wrestle," said Waite. "He's a real good wrestler. Real tough."
In the PCC tournament the two went into overtime, which produced yet another tie. Waite was awarded the win on criteria 4 - he had more reversals than Bates did.
At the districts, Waite abandoned his usual upper-body throws and opted to work takedowns.
"He learns something every time we wrestle," said Waite. "I have to keep changing my style to stay ahead of him."
Full-time work: If Largo's Peter McDonough seemed a little put out during his 4A-7 final match with Pinellas Park's Matt Gaskin, it was because it was only the fourth time this season the senior has gone the distance. McDonough is 23-0, with 19 pins.
McDonough is one of six wrestlers (discounting Gentilcore) still undefeated in the county. Northeast's Tony Swain is 22-0 after defeating Dixie Hollins' Terry Jones 7-0 in the finals of the 4A-8 tournament at Sarasota High. Countryside's Kelly Bitsko (140), Jim Carazola (145) and Keith Davis (125) are also undefeated. Bitsko is 25-0, Carazola is 24-0 and Davis is 22-0-1. Dixie Hollins' Henry Middleton is 24-0-1.
Mucho success: Dixie Hollins may have lost out to defending state champ Sarasota in the 4A-8 tournament, but the Rebels still had something to cheer about. The entire Dixie roster advanced to the regionals: two fourth-place finishers, five thirds, five seconds and two firsts.