February 3, 2013

Area Wrestling: Titles elude others, but moving on

CHATSWORTH — Murray County’s wrestling team won’t take a big group to next weekend’s Class 2A West sectional tournament at Lamar County High, but Indians coach Chris Thornbury likes his trio’s chances to do what’s necessary there to move on.

They earned his confidence in that regard on Saturday.

On a day when highlights weren’t easy to find for the host Indians in the Area 3-2A traditional tournament at Kenneth Ross Gymnasium, Domingo Bautista (113 pounds), Kevin Chavez (170) and Clay Thornbury (182) gave their coach hope that he has a dependable core as Murray County wrestling continues the rebuilding process.

Bautista and Thornbury were the school’s only finalists at the two-day tournament — both finished second — while Chavez took fourth. The top four area finishers in each of the 14 weight classes move on to this week’s sectionals, where the top four placers will earn a spot at the following week’s state tournament in Macon.

Coach Thornbury, who noted that he started this season without any returning sectional qualifiers, doesn’t see any reason why his wrestlers can’t be in the Macon-bound group if they wrestle as they’re capable.

“You’ve got to be your best on the most important two days,” he said in reference to the state tournament. “So the key is to qualify next week, and then you’re in the show.”

In the Area 3-2A team standings, the Indians finished far back in the field, taking 10th out of 11 schools.

The race for first really wasn’t one, though. With seven finalists, including a quartet of champs, Lovett racked up 271 points to distance itself from runner-up Calhoun (203) and everyone else. Chattooga (141), Westminster (127.5), Model (118), Armuchee (107.5), Coosa (103), Peperell (98), Wesleyan (91), Murray County (87) and Dade County (32) rounded out the field.

As for individual efforts, Clay Thornbury — a junior who is headed to sectionals for the first time — made the best run at a title for Murray County despite having perhaps the toughest draw in the finals. He faced Lovett senior Corey Erdoes, a three-time state medalist who claimed his fourth area championship by pinning Thornbury in the third period.

Thornbury trailed 3-1 when Erdoes took him down to set up the pin. The match was scoreless after the first period, but Erdoes earned a quick escape in the second period and added two points when Thornbury was twice penalized for backing up as his opponent pursued a takedown.

Thornbury’s lone point came when he escaped in the third period, and he said he wasn’t more aggressive early because he was trying to figure out an opponent he had never faced before. Erdoes, who won all three of his tourney matches by pin, was selected by Area 3-2A coaches as the tournament’s most outstanding heavyweight wrestler.

“I was disappointed I got second, but it’s alright,” said Thornbury, who’s now 35-4. “I’m going to fight back the next two weeks and finish as high as I can.”

Said coach Thornbury, Clay’s father, “I’m proud of Clay. Do I think he wrestled his very, very best? No, but you know that’s not always in your control — that has a lot to do with the other kid. Hats off to him. I hope we get to wrestle him again one day. Maybe next week, who knows.”

After pinning his first two opponents in the tournament, Bautista couldn’t keep pace with Armuchee’s Braylen Scoggins in the finals, losing by technical fall, 20-5. But he’ll try to be better this week at sectionals, a lesson he has already learned on a larger scale.

Although he qualified for sectionals and state as a freshman, Bautista didn’t make it out of area last season as a sophomore, when he said he wasn’t in peak condition for the most important time of year and finished fifth.

“Last year I didn’t really do great,” said Bautista, who’s now 25-5. “So I was like, I’ve got to get back to where I was and get ready for state and try to place this year and then go for a championship. I thought about how bad last year made me feel, and that just didn’t feel right.”

Chavez lost by pin in Saturday morning’s semifinals, but refocused and won his next match to guarantee himself a sectionals invite, taking down his opponent inside the final half minute to win. Clay Thornbury said he was particularly pleased that Chavez — another first-time sectional qualifier — is advancing to sectionals because the two are drilling partners.

“I’m real proud of Kevin,” coach Thornbury said. “Clay’s had a good year, but the reason why is because of Kevin Chavez, because he gets in there and works hard every day.”

The Indians’ Allen Roberts (285) finished fifth, meaning he’ll be an alternate for sectionals, competing only if one of the top four finishers in front of him is unable to do so.

Although encouraged by his sectionals-bound trio, coach Thornbury was honest about his overall feelings on the weekend — and he hopes that like Bautista, the Indians who aren’t moving on will figure out what to do different.

“At the end of the day, no excuses. We didn’t have a good tournament and we’ve got some guys who were ready for the year to be over,” he said. “You get out of it what you put into it, and unfortunately you can look at it and see what some of our guys put into it.”

There wasn’t much wrong with Lovett’s performance. The Lions qualified a dozen wrestler for sectionals, giving Lions coach Billy Maldonado almost his full lineup for the trip to Lamar County.

“We’re pretty happy, because even the kids that did not qualify for sectionals wrestled pretty well,” he said. “To go through a wrestling season, that’s an accomplishment in itself. The great thing is, the mistakes that we did make, we can correct them now.”

Calhoun coach Dale Hales said he’s hoping for a top-five finish at state this season, and if his 10 sectional qualifiers can equal their area performances this week, he’ll have plenty to work with in Macon.

“We knew coming in that we had to have a really good tournament,” Hales said. “We had three kids that didn’t live up to their seed, which affected us, but we had a couple kids that did better than what we expected.”

Chattooga’s J.J. Blankenship (126) was named most outstanding wrestler for the lightweights.

• In the Area 2-3A tournament at Central Carroll, Coahulla Creek’s Francisco Sanchez (113) was the only local finalist — and for the second year in a row, the only Colt to qualify for sectionals — while four North Murray wrestlers claimed top-four finishes to advance to this week’s Class 3A West sectional tournament at Ringgold.

Colts coach Anthony Thomas said Sanchez, who faced a Sonoraville wrestler in the finals, was taken down late in a close title match. Sanchez’s runner-up finish — he was fourth at the same weight in Area 7-2A a year ago, when he dealt with a thumb injury — came despite having seen little time on the mat this season because of a broken left arm suffered in practice.

“This was the first time he’d been on the mat (to compete) in over a month,” Thomas said.

Sanchez, who had a first-round bye, needed less than 30 seconds to pin his second-round opponent and pinned his semifinals opponent in the second period.

“He ran all the time even when he was hurt, so I don’t think conditioning was a factor — he looked ready to go the whole time,” Thomas said. “And he’s always been pretty aggressive. He was trying to attack kids today, too. He was just going at them with one arm.”

North Murray coach Steve Colley was pleased with the performances by his sectional qualifiers — Alex Gambino (106, fourth), Elias Lechuga (132, third), Ethan Center (160, fourth) and Brandon Adame (285, fourth) — although he said they all “had the opportunity to pin a higher seed” somewhere along the way but were unable.

Still, it’s the most North Murray wrestlers who have ever moved on to sectionals, said Colley, who might have been just encouraged by fifth-place finisher Brett Bishop (120).

“I thought they did really well, and I was really impressed with Brett,” Colley said. “He was unseeded, and I told him I thought he learned how to wrestle today. He said he could start seeing things now.”

Adame survived a “tough” bracket and shook off an opening-round loss to the No. 1 seed to earn a sectionals berth, while Lechuga overcame his sixth seed with a performance that included two one-point wins over a Sonoraville wrestler, Colley said. Gambino had beaten his opponent in the consolation finals 7-5 in a previous match, but lost 4-3 with third place on the line, while Center’s consolation finals opponent was on his back three times but ended up pinning the North Murray wrestler.

“Overall I’m proud,” Colley said. “We’re taking more than we’ve ever taken to sectionals, so we’ll see how it turns out.”

Thomas said four Coahulla Creek wrestlers lost in the consolation semifinals, then all lost their matches for fifth place.

“It was a pretty glum weekend most of the time, other than when Francisco was wrestling,” he said. “It could have been worse. But a lot of the kids were kind of shocked (and had) big eyes walking in there. We definitely could have wrestled better than we did.”

As with Class 2A, only the top four finishers at sectionals will advance to state.

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