By SHANNON HEATON
Northeast Florida Matmen
GREEN COVE SPRINGS — It’s been a solid three weeks, this 2017, for Northeast #1 Flagler Palm Coast.
First there was the win at Springstead over Lake Gibson and other very good programs at the Corey Hill Memorial Invitational. There was FPC’s shutout home dual win last week against Palatka. And, last weekend, the Bulldogs weren’t pushed very hard in rolling to 10 dual victories at the Flagler Duals.
Thursday night, FPC stayed undefeated in the month of January, turning back #3 Clay behind the strength of its bookends in a 43-28 dual victory that moved the Bulldogs’ record to 13-0 on the year.
“We’ve been doing good this year,” Flagler coach Tom Bartolotta said. “Kids are progressing, doing everything we’re asking them to do, and we wrestled well tonight.”
Clay (20-4) got the early lead at 6-0 on Louis Gagliardo’s 54-second fall at 113, but two weights later — following the Blue Devils’ forfeit to Michael DeAugustino at 120 and Avery Holder’s 9-4 win over Peyton Hughes at 126 — Flagler would hold the lead for almost the rest of the way.
The match between Holder and Hughes went as might be expected between two of the state’s elites, as Holder scored early, Hughes broke back in the second period and held the lead, 4-2, after two periods, but Holder reversed out of the down position in the third, turning Hughes twice for a 9-4 win.
“Avery got in some trouble; the kid (Hughes) wrestled well,” Bartolotta said. “But that’s the thing with Avery, you can wrestle well for two periods, but he will just pile up the points on you in a hurry and you’re done.”
Bonus-point wins for Damion Figuorea (9-1 major at 132) and Michael Martins (fall in 3:11 at 138) pushed the Bulldogs to a 19-6 lead.
Clay made its first pushback at that point, stringing together three wins to tie up the dual at 19. Keath Sawdo took a major, 11-1, at 145, followed by Dylan Taylor’s first appearance in the Blue Devil lineup since the first weekend of December. Taylor won, 6-3, at 152, and Justin Merring — this week’s statewide Wrestler of the Week — won by fall in 4:49 at 160.
But as soon as the Blue Devils caught up, Flagler regained the advantage behind falls from Steve Canidate at 170 and Eddie Bryant at 182, and this time would not let Clay all the way back in.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. After the Bulldogs forfeited to Kaleb Collins at 195, Kurt Jackson added an 8-5 at 220 to run the score up to 31-28. But, Flagler Palm Coast would again close out with two falls, the last coming from Vincent Ebanks (285) and Christian Sheppard (106).
“We knew they were better on paper,” Clay assistant coach Hunter Hill said. “Bonus points made a big difference. Their guys fought off their backs really well and we needed to do a better job.
“We’re definitely beat up, got to get healthy. Preseason, we thought we had all 14 kids set, but it’s just been that kind of season where we’re getting hurt. We’ll ride out with the guys we got.”
Flagler, too, had a couple of missing kids as well for various reasons. The Bulldogs will be back on the mats on Tuesday, this time at home against Astronaut. Clay is off until the #UncivilWar2017 on Wednesday at Fleming Island.