By SHANNON HEATON
Northeast Florida Matmen
GREEN COVE SPRINGS — As far ahead as Northeast #3 Clay is of most teams in the coverage area, there are times and situations where an opponent can overwhelm even the Blue Devils.
That time was Saturday afternoon and that opponent was Lake Highland Prep, nationally-ranked 4th by InterMat and the consensus #1 team in Florida.
The 61-8 loss that the Highlanders gave Clay was a loss that the Blue Devils would give many teams around here, as just two Clay wrestlers came away with wins during that dual, which wrapped up the 1A Dual Championships two-day event, which brought together several Class 1A state-ranked teams, plus 2A’s Middleburg, a late addition when another team was forced to drop out.
“We want to get well and get back to competing. We’ll shake it off and be ready for Thursday (when the Blue Devils host #1 Flagler Palm Coast),” Clay coach Jim Reape said. “You get that ranking and and you see that pattern on the singlet, some guys get a little scared.
“Obviously, they’re in elite condition and super-well trained. When you wrestle a team like that, you can’t have any illusions about your weaknesses, because they exploit them.”
In that dual, Louis Gagliardo (106) and Justin Merring (152) both won by major decision over LHP opponents, both earning 8-0 shutouts. At 126, Peyton Hughes took 2016 Highlander state champion Noah Castillo to the ultimate tiebreaker, but couldn’t get out from the bottom position in a 5-4, triple-overtime loss that was the signature match of the weekend.
Clay finished 6-1 over the course of the weekend, with wins on Friday over Middleburg (51-26), Suwannee (58-16) and Somerset Academy (39-33). On Saturday, the Blue Devils took double-digit wins over Florida High (45-24), Key West (57-18) and Raines (71-9) before closing out the tournament with Lake Highland Prep.
Gagliardo and Merring both were 7-0 on the course of the weekend. Gagliardo had two pins, a tech and two majors while seeing time at both 106 and 113, while Merring had six pins before his major against LHP.
Keath Sawdo (145) and Kaleb Collins (195) were both 6-1. Sawdo had three pins and two decisions, while Collins had a pin and two decisions. Hughes had four pins and a decision en route to a 5-1 weekend. In more part-time roles, Cody Taylor (138) was 5-0 with two pins, a major and decision, but only wrestled one contested match on Saturday. Kurt Jackson (220/285) was 3-1, with a pin and a major.
The Blue Devils were the only Northeast team in the top half of the field, which saw Somerset Academy go 5-2 and Florida High 4-3.
Next up was Suwannee, which went 1-2 on Friday (winning 49-24 over Middleburg and 2-2 on Saturday, with wins over Raines (72-12) and Key West (54-22), with a tight loss against District 2 rival Florida High, falling 35-32.
“We got a reality check,” Suwannee coach Logan Register said. “We’ve got to get more aggressive, got to start taking shots, can’t just hang on the head. I can’t stress it more about being aggressive.
“We’ll be fine. We’ll go back Monday, work on our mistakes and get ready for Naples (the Chase Life Invitational, where the Bulldogs will be this coming weekend).”
Tyler Ogles (113) was the only Suwannee wrestler to pick up six wins over the course of the weekend, racking up five pins along the way. Ogles’ only loss was to Lake Highland, and that by just one scoring move, 7-5.
Brandon Trask (2 pins & 2 decisions at 106), Chase Clark (pin & 2 decisions at 120), Tanner Clark (4 pins & decision at 152) and Billy Jenkins (pin, major and decision at 160) were all 5-2 for the Bulldogs.
Middleburg could only find its way to one win over the course of the weekend, rolling past Raines 66-18, but the Broncos were in a fight Saturday morning in their first dual of the day against Key West, leading 18-6 at one point before the Conchs came back to win, 32-30.
“We loved the competitive level; that’s why we came here. Our guys are young and inexperienced and they need to see guys like this,” Middleburg coach Richie Dusinberre said. “What these young guys got didn’t reflect in the wins and losses, but they stuck themselves out there and they competed.”
Bryan Heflin (competing at 182 and 195) was 5-2 with four pins for Middleburg, as was Robert Barnard (285, four pins & decision).
With just four weights filled, Raines was going to be 0-7 in duals no matter what those four kids did, but all things considered the Vikings had successes to take home.
“We got experience, learned what to prepare for, what to get ready for state weekend,” Raines coach Brian Gilbert said. “These are top guys that our guys need to see. We know where we stand and what we need to work on.”
Jaquan English (132) was 6-1 with two pins, a major and three decisions — and only a loss to nationally-ranked Joey Silva of Lake Highland Prep — while Jamon Goodwine (285) had four pins en route to a 5-2 weekend.
Clay is off until Thursday, when it hosts Flagler Palm Coast. Suwannee will be in Naples’ Palmetto Ridge HS for Chase Life, a two-day IBT. Middleburg is off until this weekend’s St Johns River Conference dual tournament in Matanzas, and Raines is off until this weekend’s Gateway Conference tournament, hosted by Sandalwood.