Sports

February 8, 2014

Prep wrestling: NW Whitfield sees five qualify for state

On Friday, five local high school wrestlers won twice at their respective sectional tournaments to earn places in this week’s state traditional tournaments.

On Saturday, eight more joined the party.

A total of 13 wrestlers from Murray and Whitfield counties finished in the top half of their respective sectional tournament brackets and prolonged their seasons into the final week of Georgia High School Association competition on the mat.

At the Class 4A West Sectional at Fayette County High School — where a top-eight finish qualified wrestlers for the Class 4A state tournament, which starts Wednesday at the Arena at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth — Northwest Whitfield’s Blake Hayes (113) had already secured a spot in state and finished fourth.

Four other Bruins wrestled in win-or-go-home matches — wrestlers needed to win twice before losing twice to survive sectionals — and came away with victories. Justin Palmer (120), Austin Taylor (152) and Jordan Pittman (170) each finished seventh, while freshman Jordan Lewis (195) finished eighth.

“They handled the pressure and won the match that got them there,” Northwest coach Allen Tucker said.

Bryan Gembe (106) finished ninth and will be an alternate for state, going if someone in front of him is unable to compete because of illness, injury or other reason. Michael Robles (285), who lost in overtime in the match to clinch state, was 10th.

With five wrestlers advancing to state — the most among local schools — the Bruins have hopes of a respectable team finish, too.

“We would have to wrestle well and four or our five would have to place to finish in the top 10,” Tucker said when asked what the Bruins would have to do for a strong team showing in Duluth.

Dalton’s Dylan Carlile (132) finished second, but an all-local final took place in the 182-pound bracket as Cats senior Sidney Wheeler pinned Southeast Whitfield’s Austin Allen in the third period. Wheeler improved to 3-0 this season against Allen.

“It gives you a better draw,” Dalton coach Michael Keefe said of finishing first at sectionals. “That’s huge. For him to wrestle a kid like Austin Allen three times — a kid who is good — it’s good to wrestle a kid like that and keep improving.”

Southeast coach Michael Herndon said Allen made mistakes that led to him being put on his back by Wheeler twice on Saturday, and the second time it proved more costly.

“We’ll try to correct that this week,” Herndon said.

Carlile won in the semifinals against Cass’ Rashad Williams, who beat him three times earlier this season.

Southeast’s Omar Ruiz (120) was also second, losing 5-4 to Gilmer’s Daniel Bautista in the finals, while Tyler Brown (145) finished eighth.

• At the Class 3A West Sectional at Sonoraville High School, where a top-four finish was needed to reach state, Coahulla Creek’s Francisco Sanchez (113) finished third and qualified.

The Colts’ Levi Kinsey (106) and Joseph Long (152) each finished fifth and will be alternates.

North Murray’s Alex Gambino (113) lost in the semifinals to Sanchez then failed to clinch a top-four spot. Teammate Luis Valdez (120) lost both of his matches and also didn’t qualify.

• At the Class 2A West Sectional at Bremen High School, where a top-four finish was needed to reach state, Murray County’s Clay Thornbury (195) finished first and teammate Domingo Bautista (113) finished fourth.

“I think the thing about Clay is how he wrestled today,” Indians coach Chris Thornbury said. “I just looked at it and said, ‘Wow.’”

The Indians’ Daniel Dayton (126) lost both his matches and didn’t qualify.

Morris Innovative senior 285-pounder Jason Marquez, who finished third at area to become the school’s first wrestler to advance to sectionals, was fifth to earn alternate status for state.

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