By SHANNON HEATON
North Florida Matmen
NEPTUNE BEACH — Underestimate Fletcher?
Sure. The Senators only took three starters to Keystone Memorial at the top of the month and weren’t on anyone’s radar at that tournament after winning Battle on the Blacktop to start the season and finishing in the top six at Yulee Duals just before Christmas.
So, OK, underestimate the Senators. But that can be perilous, as Fletcher demonstrated Thursday night at home in the 2A-Region 1 quarters and semis.
The Senators — by the experts’ reckoning — upset two higher-ranked 2A teams in advancing to the 2A state dual tournament for the first time, knocking off 2019 state dual qualifier Matanzas (45-36) in the quarters and coming from behind to defeat District 4 champion Seabreeze, 41-33, in the semifinals.
“I’m OK with being underestimated,” Fletcher coach David Harrison said. “We told our kids that we had a plan to win. We put the plan in place and the kids executed.
‘We’re continuing to try to build a culture for wrestling here. So I’m pretty pleased.”
The Senators will face 3x 2A state dual tournament qualifiers Lincoln in the Region 1 final at Osceola HS on January 24. Fletcher is the only team in north Florida making their first trip to this tournament next week.
“The teams we beat were ranked well ahead of us in the state rankings, and they could finish ahead of us in IBTs down the road, I don’t know,” Harrison said. “But you have to wrestle around their good kids that are highly ranked. That’s what you have to do in duals.
“It’s good strategy, and we got a few more pins than I thought we would.”
Fletcher opened with Matanzas, jumping out to 12-0 and 24-6 leads as Michael Strong (195), Ethan Hollenbach (220), Ana Bradshaw (106) and Ryden Ashmore (113) all won by pins, sandwiching the Pirates’ Robert Elder’s fall at 285.
Matanzas got back to within 24-18 on pins from Ethan Goodman (120) and Shaun Culbreth (126); the teams then traded falls at 132 and 138 (Fletcher’s Gabe Daltro and the Pirates’ George Joanos, respectively, winning).
The Senators then went on a 15-0 mini-run to clinch the dual, going up 45-24 on a 13-10 win from Tyson Petrie at 145 and pins from Joel Rodriguez (152) and Tyler Dalldorf (160). Matanzas finished the dual with pins from Tristian Williams (170) and Quenteen Robinson (182).
In the other quarterfinal, Seabreeze rolled past Robert E. Lee after spotting the Generals a 9-0 lead on a pin from Jeremy Porter (195) and 7-0 shutout decision from Craig Harper at 220.
The Sandcrabs then won seven straight matches with max points to clinch the dual, as Kayla Nguyen (106), Kobe Baert (120), Edward Davison (132) and Devin Stickney (138) all had falls.
Lee’s Jeramiah Stevens stopped the bleeding for a moment with a 12-3 major at 145, but Seabreeze pushed the lead to 54-13 on a pair of decisions from Brock Roberts (152) and Victor Lipsey (160). Two forfeits, one for each team, then closed out that dual.
That set up a matchup of district champs in the semifinal, and it was back-and-forth for a while as the Fletcher-Matanzas dual was for a small stretch.
After the first three weights were somewhat back and forth (Fletcher 7-6, on an 11-2 major from Hollenbah and 8-3 decision from Bradshaw, with Seabreeze’s six on a Nathan Boyd fall at 285), the Sandcrabs seized an initial slice of momentum on back-to-back falls at 113 and 120 from Joe Kent and Baert to go up 18-7.
Fletcher answered with a pin from Daltro (this time at 126) and a 15-0 tech from Kaden Solomon at 132 to tie the dual, only to see Seabreeze re-establish a nine-point lead on Grant Schwartz’s 29-second fall at 138 and Stickney’s overtime win, 4-2, at 145.
The teams traded pins at 152 and 160, with Joel Rodriguez for Fletcher and Victor Lipsey for Seabreeze winning, making it 33-24 Sandcrabs with three weights to go. Fletcher’s Christopher Strong, who hadn’t seen much starting time this year, made things intriguing with a tech at 170, cutting Seabreeze’s lead to four.
With two weights left and one wrestler available, Seabreeze coach Michael Fries had a choice: whether 182 or 195 for Chris Thomas. He sent Thomas out at 182, meaning Fletcher would have a forfeit in hand at 195.
But the Senators’ Stone Rockhill — who was first on the Matmen radar after serving as a spot starter for Duval Charter as a 7th-grader back in 2014-15 — slammed the door on Seabreeze’s dream, with a second-period fall to clinch the dual in Fletcher’s favor.
“We’ve busted our (butts) all offseason. It means a lot to be here, it means a lot for our coaches,” Rockhill said. “We had some nerves, especially in the lower parts of our lineup with our younger guys, but once we reached 145, we knew we had it. That’s where we’re strong.
“We’re going to go in and try our hardest (next week and do what we can do. Otherwise, we’ll come back and bust our (butts) again to go even harder next month,” Rockhill said.
After the smashing success at 2A-District 4, Fries — himself a 4x state finalist back in the day — admitted it was difficult to see sustained momentum Thursday night.
“I didn’t see the fires in everyone’s eyes. I don’t think everybody wanted it, I don’t think everybody had that chip on their shoulder,” Fries said. “We battled and we’re young, it’s a lot of guys’ second year of wrestling. We just need to understand success to the fullest means bringing it every day.”
Complete dual results for the competition at Fletcher — along with five other region-duals locations — can be found HERE.
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