By MATMEN, Saturday, 7:40 p.m.
KISSIMMEE — Going back to the drawing board is a lonely place to go on the third Saturday night in January.
But while it’s the result of many good things happening over time, and thus a better place to be than not getting the chance at all to come up short, it’s also become a familiar, frustrating place for Fleming Island to return to on the third Saturday night in January.
The Golden Eagles made their fourth FHSAA state duals final with a 51-18 victory over Merritt Island in the morning’s 2A semis at Osceola HS. But Lake Gibson, a four-time 2A duals champion and 2x defending champ going in, had the answers once again in the title dual against Fleming Island (18-1 in duals), taking a 37-19 dual win that had moments where it felt justthatclose for the taking.
The Braves opened with a 6-2 win, with Tristan Vann (2nd-195) grabbing that start, but the Golden Eagles erased that and ran out to a 16-3 gap on three straight bonus-point wins, with pins from Ethan Hoffstetter (2nd-285) and Matthew Newman (2nd-106), plus a 10-1 major from Jhoel Robinson (1st-220).
But Lake Gibson would then find way, after way, after frustrating way, to not only break its way back into the dual, but seize control of it, starting with a six-match, 25-0 win streak between 113 and 152.
Gaetano Tedesco (2nd-132)’s fall was the biggest point-grabber for Lake Gibson, but the Braves took pieces out of Fleming’s momentum behind Christian Fretwell (1st-120)’s 11-2 major and decisions from Elijah Lowe (5th-113, match score 8-2), Colt Brown (3rd-126, 7-5 in sudden victory), Ny’Travious Walker (6th-138, 12-7 match score), Hayden Whidden (1st-145, 7-2 count) and Gianni Maldonado (1st-152, 8-7 decision).
The Eagles’ Christopher Chop (10th-160) broke the run with a 1-0 win when Fleming Island needed a win most, and that made it 28-19 LGHS with two weights to go.
But the Braves showed why they’ve built a program capable of five dual titles, and three in a row, closing out the day with Jace Brownlow (6th-170)’s sudden-victory fall and Tito Solorzano (1st-182)’s 7-3 win.
No one in Region 1 has occupied the space Fleming has — with four finals losses (2018 and 2019 against South Dade, 2022 and this year to Lake Gibson, plus semifinal losses to Dade in 2020 and Riverdale in 2021) — but now it’s IBT time for Fleming, starting next weekend with the Colby Singletary Memorial Invitational at Palmetto Ridge.
Fleming Island 51, Merritt Island 18: The Golden Eagles never trailed in the morning against the Region 4 champs, thanks to a 15-6 start and an 18-0 run in the middle of the dual which largely put it away.
Pins from Joshua Sandoval (4th-182) and Robinson (220), plus a 5-1 win from Hoffstetter, helped overcome Seven Tornga’s pin at 195 to give the Golden Eagles a 15-6 lead.
Landon Quiroga (6th-106) would grab a 5-2 win to cut that lead to six, but pins from Shane Duhaylungsod (8th-113), Laird Duhaylungsod (2nd-120) and Jayce Paridon (2nd-126) allowed Fleming a chance to build a 33-9 lead.
The Mustangs would bag decisions from Kyle Mulley (132) and Judge Deyoung (8th-145, competing at 138), plus another one at 152 from Dylan Quiroga (8th-160), but the Golden Eagles finished off the dual on a high note, with pins from Kaden Schaefer (2nd-145), Chop (160) and Ronan Bozeman (4th-170).
Lake Gibson 40, Charlotte 28: In the Braves’ preliminary Saturday morning, they found themselves trailing by a 22-4 count before putting it on the Tarpons behind a six-match run that clinched Lake Gibson’s spot in the final.
After Solorzano opened the day with a 17-5 major at 182, Charlotte would collect pins from Cael Newton (2nd-220) and Nikko Frattarelli (11th-285), a 14-6 major from Nathaniel Box (3rd-195) and decisions from both Matthew Schuler (12th-106, match score 4-1) and Camren French (1st-113, match score 5-1).
The Braves, though, were all staged up for their stars to make it happen, and make it happen they would, with a 31-0 run that saw pins from Fretwell (120), Brown (126), Whidden (145) and Maldonado (dual-clinching pin at 152), plus a 15-7 major from Walker at 138 and a 4-3 win from Gaetano Tedesco at 132.
The semifinal closed out behind Charlotte’s James Baltutis (7th-160) winning by fall and Brownlow (170) taking a 20-5 tech fall.