Hanging on a wall surrounding the Southeast Whitfield High School gymnasium are plaques honoring the school’s standout individual athletes.
The final two are past wrestlers Justin Brown and Bryan Spence, both state champions.
There is an empty space below the two — plenty of room for Carlos Fraire’s plaque.
Two days after Fraire won the Georgia High School Association’s Class 4A 220-pound state championship in Macon, the senior Raider was still on an emotional high. Last season, he came one point from a state title.
This season, the circumstances were reversed. He was the one-point winner, he escaped in the final seconds and he emerged victorious from an overtime bout.
In the first period of the state finals matchup with Griffin’s Terry Sloan, Fraire strained his MCL in his right knee. The setback could have been enough to stop him by injury default. But not Fraire, not this time.
“I’ve watched the whole match like three or four times since,” said Raiders coach Michael Herndon, whose assistant coaches this season were Allen Jackson and Michael Pharis. “He was in pain and grimacing throughout. He could barely put any weight on it.”
Said Fraire, “If I hadn’t have gone through what I went through last year, then I wouldn’t have finished.”
This time around, his semifinal match with Locust Grove’s Tyler Rapes ended the third period tied 3-3 and went to overtime. Memories of last season’s 3-2 triple-overtime loss in the Class 3A state finals to Allatoona’s Bryson Brindle could have affected Fraire’s psyche. It was the first overtime Fraire had been in since the loss in the semifinal last year.
“There were 22 seconds left when (Brindle) escaped,” Fraire said, noting it was the final overtime and if he would’ve kept the hold until the clock expired, he would’ve won.
With the score tied 1-1 in the third period of this year’s finals, Fraire escaped a hold midway through the period for the eventual winning point. It was the opposite outcome of Brindle escaping Fraire in the third overtime to clinch a state title.
Despite the different endings, Fraire believes he’s the same wrestler, just not on the wrong side of bad luck.
“I just kept everything the same, to tell you the truth,” he said.
Now, Fraire will get his plaque, Herndon said. It will go below Brown, who won Area 7-3A and Class 3A championships in 1997 and 1998 as a 103-pounder. In 1999, he won those same titles as a 112-pounder. Above Brown is Spence, a 145-pound state champion in 1993 and third-place finisher in 1992. He won Area 4-3A titles both seasons.
Fraire, who won the Area 7-4A championship in his weight class this season, finally brings his accomplishments into the same company.
“He had his doubts,” Herndon said, “But after that first day, he realized this was his tournament to win.”
With a 159-29 career record, including a 52-1 mark this season with the lone blemish coming at an Allatoona tournament, Fraire never was disappointed he finished second last season. Even in the moments right after, he only needed a couple minutes before he smiled, Herndon said.
“He came off the mat and we were in the back corner and he was upset,” Herndon said. “But he was upset for maybe a minute or two and his demeanor changed. A smile came across his face. He realized, ‘I came in second in state. I’m only a junior.’”
Fraire knew he had one more chance. Had he not won a state title this season, the he believes it would have been a career unfulfilled even though he never viewed himself as the definite favorite.
“Being my senior year, I wanted to go out on top,” Fraire said. “It would’ve been disappointing. It would’ve felt unfinished, wishing I had another year.”
Herndon and Fraire also remember the reactions following Saturday’s victory. Instead of immediate jubilation, Fraire was busy thinking about the pain in his knee. After a trip to the trainer’s room, and word that his injury wasn’t serious, his thoughts changed.
“He was so injured that it didn’t sink in until after his match when coach Pharis took him to the training room to get ice on his knee,” Herndon said. “It took him about 10 minutes of him laying there before it actually sunk in. When he won it, I don’t know, it was just like any other win.
“But once he got ice on his knee, I guess he realized he wasn’t that badly injured. ... He said, ‘Let’s get back out there and celebrate.’”