By SHANNON HEATON
Northeast Florida Matmen
PALM COAST — This has not been the senior season that Roland Samec had hoped for.
It started with football injuries that kept him off the mats completely until last month. That was hard enough. Last weekend and Wednesday night — after, by his high standards, a disappointing fourth-place finish at Clay Rotary and then taking the Blue Devils’ only loss on Senior Night — had the potential to make things far worse.
Each day, however, is a new creation, and Samec re-created himself — as his teammates did as well, rallying from an 11-point deficit to lift #3 Clay over #2 Flagler Palm Coast Thursday night, 38-30, in the regular-season finale for both teams.
“My teammates, my coaches,” Samec said, asked where the strength to rise above came from. “I punched a brick wall (after the losses), I tossed my headgear, I was ready to throw in the towel. My guys — (seniors) Dale (Browning), Derek (Miller), JB (Jeremy Beaulieu) — they made me strong.
“Coach Reape, he pulled me out of two classes today, making sure I was going to be all right. That’s why he’s going to the Hall of Fame.”
It may have been a Hall of Fame motivational work, but the way things were going midway through the deal, FPC (19-4) was just about on the verge of making that work go for naught, by putting the dual away early.
The Bulldogs spotted Clay (22-8) an 8-0 lead after Derek Miller’s 22-7 tech fall in 5:47 and a solid 12-6 decision for Julian Summa at 138, but then started going to work the best way they know how — via the big move.
From 145 through 182, FPC had three falls and nearly accomplished a fourth at a couple of moments, as Evyn Insalaco got his cradle locked for a pin just under the wire at 5:59 at 145, Kaz Maia had a few nearfall moments before taking a 17-4 major at 152 and Eric Vigo had a second-period fall at 160.
After a brief break in momentum, in which Clay’s Caleb Steinmetz gutted out a 4-3 decision at 170, FPC got back to its pinning ways at 182, with Steve Canidate needing just 1:41 to give the Bulldogs a 22-11 lead halfway through the dual.
Clay, clearly, was in need of a lift at that point. The momentum shifted slightly upon Kaleb Collins’ 6-1 decision at 195, significantly after Beaulieu’s second-period at 220 and (almost) irrevocably after Samec’s pin, also in the second period, at 285.
By the time Louie Gagliardo had picked up what was a back-to-back-to-back fall for the Blue Devils, it was FPC that found itself trailing by double-digits, 32-22.
“That was a huge amount of points coming from those guys,” Clay coach Jim Reape said. “It was really the deciding point of the match, knowing we had Dale (Browning) at the back in reserve.”
The Bulldogs got most of the deficit back behind a decision from Avery Holder at 113 and tech fall from Michael DeAugustino at 120, but it was Clay senior Browning that closed it out, with a second period fall good for his 145th career win — 150 should come at regions in two weeks — and 102nd career fall.
“Honestly, no one really ever wants to say they want to finish a dual. It’s never a great feeling when a dual comes down to the last match like this one did, but it’s great to end with a pin and finish it out,” Browning said.
Now, both teams — both with good things to show from the night — rest up and begin preparation for districts a week from Saturday — Clay in 1A-District 3 at Yulee, and FPC hosting 3A-District 1.
“Tonight they were more solid,” FPC coach Tom Bartolotta said of the Blue Devils. “I thought we could win seven weights, and we didn’t. But they have a good dual team and we have a good dual team. Now we’ve just got to go catch Fleming Island at districts and regionals.”