By SHANNON HEATON
North Florida Matmen
KISSIMMEE — One year ago, with the rotating draw employed by the FHSAA, some folks in South Florida might have thought their group, and not little Wakulla from wherever they’re from up north, had the second-best team in Florida 1A.
Maybe many folks.
And the traditional tournament suggested that — in that format — they might have been right, as South Florida teams went 2-5 behind Lake Highland Prep last March.
This year, the homegrown team from the tiny town on the Forgotten Coast took on South Florida’s best 1A team, head on, and won.
Sure, the 38-32 win over Somerset Academy in Saturday morning’s semifinal meant a rematch with three-time 1A dual champs Lake Highland Prep in the final, and sure, the War Eagles took their lumps in a 67-3 defeat.
But having proven — at least in duals — that last year wasn’t just a trick of the rotating bracket — was honor enough for Wakulla.
“That was the thing about this year; they can’t argue the road we took,” War Eagles coach William Pafford said. “We knew they’d won a national title over the summer at Disney Duals, but I liked the matchups and our kids went out and wrestled.
“We beat them. We took out Region 4.”
In the semi, the War Eagles only trailed after the first dual — and the way that Chase Roberts (152) came out, with a nearfall and nine-point first period, they could have led throughout — starting with back-to-back-to-back pins from Cole Baggett (160), Jayvon Brown (170) and Jackson Osteen (182) for an early 18-3 lead.
Somerset chipped into that lead with their massive upperweight horses, top-ranked Daniel Miranda (195, third-period fall) and Nick Benton (220, 13-0 major), but Jayven Hearns (285) righted the momentum with an 8-2 win.
Somerset’s Elvis Solis had a 10-1 major to make it 21-17, but back-to-back max points from George Hernandez (forfeit at 113) and Raymond Hatchman (first-period fall at 120) made it a 33-17 dual with four weights left.
The south Floridians made things very interesting, with pins from Chase Gillis (126) and Darian Diaz (138), plus a 4-1 decision from Bas Diaz at 132. But that just set the plate for Wilson to slam the door.
Wilson held the upper hand from jump, collecting a 15-0 tech fall.
“I was watching all of the matches and I figured it could come down to me or close to it. I knew I had to warm up hard and be ready,” Wilson said. “Everybody said we didn’t deserve (the runnerup trophy) after last year.
“But we showed them.”
In the other semi, after LHP’s Chloe Ogden bumped up two weights and still nearly took a decision at 152, the Highlanders crushed McKeel Academy, 76-3, with 13 bonus-point wins. Dominic Isola (160), Bailey Flanagan (170), Hunter Brinkman (182), Easton Tobia (195), Francisco Tobar (220), Eligh Rivera (106), Matthew Lawrence (120), Preston Walls (126), Chris Rivera (138) and Justin Rivera (145) had pins, while Elijah Rivera had an 18-4 major at 113. McKeel’s David Sineath edged Ogden, 8-7, behind a third-period reversal.
“We said we were going to make them fight for all the points they got against us,” Wilson said. “We did about as good as any team in Florida could.”
Jayven Hearns (285) had the War Eagles’ lone win against the Highlanders, using a technical-violation point and escape to power through to a 2-1 decision.
As for the others, Lake Highland Prep continued to show why it’s a nationally-ranked club. Hunter Brinkman (182), Matt Kaplan (220), Eligh Rivera (106), David McClelland (120), Preston Walls (126), Danny Nini (132), Chris Rivera (138) and Noah Castillo (152) all had pins; McClelland and Castillo were only needed in the final.
Justin Rivera won by tech fall at 145 and Dominic Isola (160) and Elijah Rivera (113) had majors. Bailey Flanagan (170) and Easton Tobia (195) took decisions.
“You wrestle Lake Highland and it’s kinda like Carver-Hawkeye Arena (the University of Iowa’s home arena), with the noise and the intimidation. We scrapped, we did good, I was happy, but there’s a lot of work to do,” Pafford said.
“Tonight, this is why wrestling is like life. Some kids might want to shut down when they’re getting beat. The reality is, five years ago, that was Clay for us. You can’t stop. You have to keep going.”
Complete dual results from the day can be found HERE.
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