It's getting tougher and tougher to keep a clean record these days. Of the county's six undefeated wrestlers who competed for the whole season, five captured weight-class titles in Saturday's finals of the Class 4A, Region II tournament.
Easy? Guess again. Four of the five victories were by a total of nine points. The only exception to the pattern of closeness was Largo wrestler Peter McDonough's pin of Sarasota 275-pounder Chuck Thompson _ his 23rd of the year, improving his record to 27-0. One winning streak was broken Saturday, as Seminole's Rick Roth pinned Northeast's Tony Swain in the 220-pound finals. That dropped the PCC and District 8 champion's record to 24-1 on the season.
Dixie Hollins' defending state champion, Henry Middleton (27-0-1), got a 3-2 win over Brandon's Doug Badia in the 112 final Saturday. Countryside's Keith Davis (28-0-1) defeated Sarasota's Justin Miller 4-0 at 125, and teammate Kelly Bitsko (29-0) defeated Bloomingdale's Russ Raikes 4-3 in the 140 final. Defending 145 state champ Jim Carazola (27-0) had to come from behind to defeet Manatee's Andy Larson 7-4 in the 145 title match.
Carazola has a 59-match winning streak, dating back to last season. He maintained the streak with a takedown late in his match against Larson.
"I beat him 20-9 in duals," Carazola said, "and I didn't prepare myself. I took him too lightly, and he came after me."
Dixie's Middleton also won with a late takedown, giving up an escape at the buzzer. "This (112) is one of the toughest weight classes in the state," he said.
One less formidable foe: Countryside's Bitsko had a tough enough time with Bloomingdale's Raikes in the 140 final, but his road to the title might have been even tougher had Manatee's John Kelly not been disqualified in the opening match of the tournament.
Kelly, 27-0 and a returing state qualifier, injured Largo's Zack Norsworthy with an illegal salto (body throw), drilling Norsworthy's forehead into the mat. That gave Kelly his first loss of the year. Kelly was disqualified in the semifinals of last year's state tournament.
"I was ready to meet him in the semis," Bitsko said, "but I had a feeling he would try something like that. He's done it and gotten away with it before, but I figured it was a matter of time before it caught up with him."
Norsworthy suffered a sprained neck but came back and wrestled the next round.
"Last year, I got hit by a boat," Norsworthy said. "Before that, I tore my knee up wrestling. And I fractured my collarbone as a freshman. I get hurt a lot."
Struggles for Swain: Speaking of tough roads, Northeast 220-pounder Swain had his two toughest matches of the year in the 4A-II quarterfinals and the semis.
Swain battled to an 11-4 overtime victory over Hillsborough's Jose Martinez in Friday night's last match. Fourteen hours later, he faced Largo's Tony Gentilcore _ the 4A-District 7 champion, who pinned him last year _ and won 8-6. With the score tied in the final period and hobbled by a sprained ankle, Swain countered a takedown attempt by Gentilcore, getting the deciding two points just ahead of the final buzzer.
In the finals, Seminole's Roth built a solid lead before pinning Swain in the second period. Roth went to 17-3-1, earning his first regional title in the process.
"It felt really good," said the senior, who lost to Swain by a point at the Patriot Invitational in December. "But I wish he had been healthy and wrestling his best."
Powerful Patriots: Two Pinellas Park wrestlers made it look easy in what had shaped up as two tough return matches from last week's District 7 meet.
The Patriots' Jim Corey (189) needed a five-point move in the final seconds to top Countryside's Chris Eschweiler in the District 7 finals; on Saturday, he captured third place with an 8-1 win over the same opponent. Ricky Parris, a 130-pounder, avenged a District 7 loss to Clearwater's Dorian Rodriguez by beating Rodriguez 16-9 in the consolation finals.
"I didn't let him have his bread and butter," Parris said. "Whenever I would shoot, he would just spin behind. I kept him from doing that this time."
Cougars set pace: Countryside led the county with six 4A state qualifiers: Kyle Bradley (103), Davis, Chris Rankin (135), Bitsko, Carazola and Eschweiler (189). Pinellas Park had five: Parris, Mike Hassett (171), Corey, Von Manuel (220) and Matt Gaskins (275). From Dixie Hollins, Middleton, Mike Hearn (140), Rich Snyder (152) and Dave Mazza (160) will go to West Palm Beach. Largo will take McDonough and Gentilcore; joining them will be Clearwater's Rodriguez, Northeast's Swain and Seminole's Roth.
The killer cradle: Sophomore Bill McKinney of Lakewood was rocking and rolling with his cradle Friday and Saturday in the Class 3A, Region III wrestling tournament.
With his patented cradle hold, McKinney racked up three consecutive pins at East Lake High win the regional title in the 130-pound weight division. He emerged from the regional as the only Pinellas County champion. McKinney takes his cradle move to the state tournament Friday and Saturday at West Palm Beach.
"I've never seen anyone perfect the cradle hold like he has done it," Osceola coach Steve Bass said. "He looks like he is going to get pinned, and all of a sudden he whips into the cradle hold and it's over. It's something else to see."
McKinney is 29-2 this season. He has pinned 28 opponents; his other win was by forfeit.
"It's a wrestling gift," Lakewood coach Bill Grant said. "Bill (McKinney) has a move which he is capable of perfecting during any match. You watch and see him. It's unbelievable. One minute he is losing, and, boom, he turns it around and it's over with. Just like that."
On Saturday, McKinney pinned Shannon Dennis of Lemon Bay in 2:37 to win his first championship.
Other Pinellas County qualifiers for the state tournament were Don Bates of Gibbs; Victor Becklund of Tarpon Springs; Isaac Shedrick and Dana Harrington of St. Petersburg; Jason Braun and Steve Colquitt of Osceola; and Ryan Krause, Chris Waite and Tasso Politopoulos of East Lake. The top four wrestlers advanced to the 4A-3A state tournament.
Familiar foes: Over the course of the season, East Lake's Chris Waite and Gibbs' Don Bates have become good buddies.
The two met for a fifth time in the consolation round of the 220-pound weight class Saturday at East Lake. Waite trimmed Bates 2-0 to take third place, and Bates finished fourth; both advanced to the state tournament.
"It's tough out there," said Waite, who is a senior. "We are both extremely competitive and look forward to wrestling each other."
Bates, a junior, lost in overtime to Josh Ogden 7-6 in the semifinals and came from behind to defeat Jeffrey Robinson of St. Petersburg 10-8 in overtime in the wrestlebacks. Waite downed Bates for a fifth straight time.
"We each have similar styles," Bates said. "I'm glad we are both going to the state tournament. I was really rooting for him in his matches."
_ Correspondent Wayne McKnight contributed to this report.