Gulf's lead entering the final session of Saturday's Sunshine Athletic Conference tournament was precarious enough that coach Travis DeWalt asked for a little extra from his wrestlers.
The Bucs responded like a bowling ball, knocking down one pin after another in defending their SAC title by edging Ridgewood 216-208.
"It was ridiculous the amount of falls we got _ it was awesome," said DeWalt, whose lineup included five first-year wrestlers. "I told them we needed the falls, and they took it to heart. I was shocked, and very impressed. That's the kind of wrestling I like."
Gulf's three seniors accounted for the only three pins in 14 championship matches, all in the first period. Joey Pospisil (112) and Bryan Ryder (135) won their second SAC crowns, and heavyweight Cameron Neptune earned his first.
The team's eight-point margin of victory was truly a pin cushion; each wrestler's early win earned a two-point bonus. Ridgewood had an SAC-best five champions, but of Shane Higgins (103), Micah Marcano (119), Billy Bullwinkel (125), Matt Bullwinkel (130) and Keith Coghlan (140), none pinned their opponents.
"I knew it would come down to our average kids, and if those kids had a good day, we'd have a good day," said Rams coach Vinnie Lowe, who had repeat winners in the Bullwinkel twins and Coghlan. "It's tough, but am I happy? Sure. I had six kids in the finals and five are champs."
The consensus going in was that Gulf graduated too many from last year's team to hold off Ridgewood, but the younger Bucs stepped up. Of six in the consolation finals, five won, earning a two-point bonus, with T.J. Dickey (125), John Eden (135), Shane Leggett (160) and Jonathan "Bubba" Neptune (171) getting pins and Daniel Montaniz (130) winning by injury default.
"When you look at the wrestlebacks, it wasn't just that they won but how they won," DeWalt said. "Last year, I expected to win. This year, if you'd told me at the beginning of the year that we'd repeat as conference champions, I wouldn't have bet my mortgage on it."
Four of Ridgewood's titles came from top seeds, but Marcano had the biggest upset, beating Gulf's Steve Manzione, the top seed at 119. Trailing 8-4 late in the final period, the third-seeded senior rallied in the final few seconds, then got a two-point takedown in overtime for a 10-8 win.
Third-place Land O'Lakes got a title at 145 pounds from Jeff Ramer and perhaps the most impressive win from junior Scott Mays. The defending 189-pound champion moved up a class this week to face Hudson's Tim Bentley, who entered the finals with a 24-2 record as the top seed at 215. Mays, who weighed 184, 19 fewer than Bentley, never trailed and won 10-6 for his 100th career victory.
Wesley Chapel got wins from Mike Apanovich (152) and Kevin Boyd (160). Rounding out the champions were Zephyrhills' Scott Calhoun (189) and Pasco's Justin Craig (171).