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THE TOP 10 COUNTY SPORTS STORIES OF THE YEAR

No. 3

There was no hint of what a magical night it would be. No indication. Nothing save for a coach's gut feeling. A wrestler's most earnest hopes.

What followed was the greatest night in Pasco County wrestling history, one of the most decorated moments in county athletic history.

On Feb. 26, five Pasco County wrestlers won state titles at The Lakeland Center, and one fell six points shy of a title, finishing second.

"It's one of the greatest days ever," Ridgewood coach Vincent Lowe said afterward.

Indeed, from the first weight class on.

Hudson's Pat Rieli started the night by dominating the 103-pound class in Class A, pinning Miami Monsignor Pace's Wendell Stirrup in 27 seconds to win the title.

It was the first state title in school history, and by night's end, the Cobras would have two.

Teammate Robb Philippus, wrestling at 215, won a hard-fought 5-4 decision over Fort Pierce Westwood's Gerard Avant despite being left in a haze after taking a blow to the head.

Winning the 2A state title at 119 was Ridgewood's Joe Mendoza, who overcame a 4-3 deficit, scoring a takedown with 19 seconds left to defeat Homestead South Dade's Tymer Cooper.

"I still don't believe it," Mendoza said afterward.

Land O'Lakes' Jimmy Gaulden won in overtime at 160 in 2A, scoring a takedown with 1:42 left to defeat Port Charlotte's Paul Gawrych 5-3.

"(It's) unexplainable," he said then. "It's the greatest thing I've done ever in my high school life."

It was the Gators' first state title since 1982; but not the last.

Teammate Adam Nuru won the 2A heavyweight title, scoring a reversal in the third period to break a 3-3 tie and win 6-5 over New Smyrna Beach's Alex Herron.

Pasco's Tye Reedy drew the toughest opponent of the night in Class A at 189, losing to defending state champion James McEarchern of Titusville Astronaut 10-4. Reedy won the silver but fared far better against McEarchern than he did in the regional, when he lost 12-1.

Fate could have been even kinder to Pasco County, but injuries and bad draws knocked other contenders out of the running.

Ridgewood's Russell Giresi, perhaps the finest wrestler in the county last season, had the misfortune to draw defending state champion Josh Sheridan of Fort Myers in the 152 semifinals of 2A.

Giresi fell 6-3 in a battle that should have been taken place in the final.

Land O'Lakes' Jimmy Tuttle finished sixth at 189 in 2A but injured himself in the process, taking himself out of the tournament.

That magnificent night also might have set the stage for more to come. Reedy, now a senior state contender and ranked No. 1 in his class, said as much after he won his silver medal.

"Being here, I've got a taste of it now," he said then.

"Now I want it 10 times harder."

_ JAMAL THALJI

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