ELLIJAY — Once Lester Paucay locked in his grip, he knew the title was his.
The Southeast Whitfield senior was one of three Raiders who won a championship Saturday at the Area 7-4A traditional tournament at Gilmer High. Three other Southeast wrestlers finished in the top four, good enough to advance to next weekend’s Class 4A West Sectional at Pickens High, and the Raiders finished third as team, the best showing among local schools.
Also winning area titles were Dalton’s Sidney Wheeler and Northwest Whit-field’s Alex Reynolds. Dalton also had one other sectionals qualifier, while Northwest had four others.
Southeast scored 147 team points, trailing Gilmer (232.5) and LaFayette (160). Cass (140.5), Heritage-Catoosa (109), Northwest (91), Cedartown (72), Dalton (54), Ridgeland (50), Pickens (37) and River Ridge (25) rounded out the field.
Paucay’s 152-pound championship match against Gilmer’s Jamie Lopez was tied 2-2 in the third period when Paucay’s first attempt to grip for a cradle — his favorite move — didn’t work. With approximately 20 seconds left, he finally formed a grip underneath Lopez and flipped him to his back. While he didn’t get the pin, he was awarded three near-fall points and held the cradle until time expired.
“With it being in the area finals, I didn’t think he’d let go of it,” Southeast coach Michael Herndon said. “I was watching the clock and he was looking right at me. I was counting down every five seconds. He knew if he only had 15 seconds, then he was going to hang on.”
Paucay finished fourth at 138 in last season’s Area 7-3A traditional tournament. Not having to drop weight helped this time, he said.
“This year I didn’t cut as much weight,” he said.
“Last year I lost a lot of muscle when cutting weight. It’s a lot better. I’m a lot stronger and healthier.”
Jesus Dominguez (120) and Carlos Fraire (220) joined Paucay as Southeast’s champions one year after no Raider finished first. Dominguez beat Dalton’s Dylan Carlile 4-2 in the finals, while Fraire beat LaFayette’s Barron Taylor 3-0 for the title.
“To go from (no champs) to three this year, we’re pretty happy,” Herndon said. “We’d like to have some matches back, but we’re pretty happy overall.
“For Jesus, him not placing last year, he worked hard.”
Gilmer’s Jared Sweat (170) pinned Southeast’s Austin Allen in the second period, and the Bobcats’ J.P. Pritchett (285) beat Jose Martir 3-1, giving the Raiders’ two runner-up finishers.
Southeast freshman Chris Rosas (106) finished fourth after losing to the Bruins’ Blake Hayes in the third-place match. Each lost in the championship semifinals but won once in the wrestlebacks to secure a spot in sectionals.
Northwest’s Alex Reynolds (145) won 5-2 against Cass’ Tyler Larson in the finals, with the junior advancing past area after falling short the past two years. As a sophomore, he finished fifth in Area 7-4A.
“Tyler is really good,” Reynolds said. “I wrestled him once my sophomore year and I beat him, so I knew it would be a good match.”
Bruins coach Allen Tucker said Reynolds competed despite being hindered by a lateral muscle injury entering the tournament.
“He wasn’t 100 percent,” Tucker said. “Hopefully we don’t have to wrestle him that much this week and we can just keep him in wrestling shape.
“I think the turning point for Alex was going up to McCallie and placing (fourth). Everybody knows if you’ve placed there, then you’ve got a good chance to place in area. Alex has only lost to two kids in Georgia, and neither one is in our classification. ... He’s gotten mentally tougher. His freshman and sophomore year, his aches and pains would’ve stopped him.”
Joining Reynolds and Hayes at sectionals are teammates Austin Taylor (160, fourth), Jordan Pittman (170, fourth) and A.J. Orozco (182, third). Taylor lost in Friday’s second round but won twice Saturday before losing 11-7 to Ridgeland’s Cody Davis in the third-place match. Pittman lost in the same rounds, but won three matches to advance beyond area. Orozco lost by pin in Saturday’s semifinals to eventual champion Sidney Wheeler, but the senior rebounded to beat Pickens’ John Holbert and LaFayette’s Chase Davidson.
Orozco is a senior but is a first-year high school wrestler.
“I’m telling you, A.J. may shock some folks,” Tucker said. “He’s a thrower.”
Dalton’s Wheeler pinned Heritage’s Michael Moore in the second period for an area title. Moore beat Wheeler in a dual at Heritage, coach Michael Keefe said, and the Cats junior avenged the loss.
“Sidney’s gotten a lot better over the year with his shots and all around,” Keefe said. “Last year he had to depend on simply brawling into the third period and fighting back.”
Wheeler said he didn’t foresee winning by pin, but he did offer a prediction about his road to a second consecutive state title.
“I’ll have to beat him again to win state,” Wheeler said.
The tournament was called because of expected inclement weather before some of the fifth-place matches took place.
For Dalton, Jose Garcia (132) finished sixth, while Werner Braun (195) didn’t get a chance to wrestle for fifth place.
Southeast’s Omar Ruiz (113) finished fifth, and Aaron Thomas (126) finished sixth. Tyler Brown (138) and Andrew Miranda (182) didn’t wrestle their fifth-place matches.
Northwest’s Dalton Ayers (152) also didn’t get a chance to wrestle for fifth, but Tucker said he would have lost by injury default.
The top eight finishers at sectionals will advance to state the following week.
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