After Friday’s opening round of the second annual Bulldog Brawl in Osceola County, many area coaches believed the state’s two-time defending Class 2A state champions from Springstead had met their maker.
Consider their predicament. Springstead entered Saturday’s critical second day of action down 17 points to last year’s Class 1A 10th-place team at states, Crawfordville-Wakulla, 107-90.
Class 3A-2 Bunnell-Flagler Palm Coast stood second with 96 points.
Both Wakulla and Flagler benefitted by bringing 14 grapplers to this two-day, 23-team IBT (individually bracketed tournament) event.
By comparison, the Eagles’ were in a bind.
The Spring Hill mat men entered with 12 members. The Mariner Boulevard squad did not bring a 285-pounder and its 195-pounder, junior Travis O’Neil, was left at home falling victim to a flu bug that has ravaged the team last week.
Compounding matters, three Eagles posted a combined 0-6 in the double-elimination event and returned to Osceola County on Saturday reduced to spectators in the stands.
Great teams, however, find a way to dig deep and get things accomplished.
After a pep talk from first-year skipper Sal Basile on Friday night, a new day brought a different approach – and old results.
Unlike Friday’s 16-8 performance (67 performance), on Saturday Springstead turned up the heat behind its remaining nine grapplers.
In the anatomy of the subsequent comeback, those nine captured 21-of-23 (91 percent) bouts – as all nine placed sixth or better – featuring a meet-best five champions across six finals bouts.
Interestingly, last year’s six St. Cloud Invitational finalists – Josh Herrera, Sean Redman, Cody Ross, Conor Ross, Thomas Gupton and John Dreggors – all reached the 2A FHSAA Finals.
In the process, Springstead nipped Wakulla at the wire by 9½ points, 228.5-219.0, to claim its first St. Cloud Invitational title (Springstead finished runner-up to 18-time state champion Parkersburg South, WV last winter) and garner its fourth tournament crown in five meets this season.
It wasn’t like the War Eagles of Wakulla crumbled down the stretch of a tourney run in a microwave fashion: there were no breaks offering continuous wrestling all day on Saturday.
Like Springstead, Wakulla also collected nine placers, winning eight of nine consolation finals and finals matches, featuring three champions.
"Last night I had a sit down with guys," recalled Coach Basile. "We started off OK, but didn’t finish well. Overall, (Friday) was a bad day, it’s tough to recover from five zeros (no points at 132, 152, 195, 220 or 285 pounds). But Saturday, I told them was another day and another chance.
"On Saturday, I couldn’t have asked for anything better from our guys," described Basile, whose team finished 37-10 overall with 17 pins. "The nine guys we had coming back, all placed. I can’t complain about that."
In evaluating the individual performances, Basile had an assortment of MVP-type efforts to sort through.
"There were so many standouts," acknowledged Basile. "But Mikey (Michael McDonald) had the huge match (twisting second-seeded Joe McGinley of St. Cloud at 113 into a 21-5 technical fall) in front of his home fans."
"I’m not one to throw out excuses, but Mikey wasn’t right last week against McGinley (losing in the final in 15 seconds, 5-4)," he recalled. "I’m not sure if he cut too fast or what. I knew he was capable of this type of performance. I think you got a glimpse of the future. This is what he’s capable of doing every week."
For his efforts, McDonald was voted by the tournament coaches as the meet’s Outstanding Wrestler.
Eagles: 5 gold medalists
Unlike last season when Springstead rolled up four gold medals, five Eagles in six finals bouts reached the top of the podium featuring: senior Joe Russo at 145, junior Jordan Rivera at 138, sophomores Matt Landgraff at 106, McDonald at 113 and Conor Ross at 170.
Russo, who won three IBTs last winter, claimed his first of the season.
The top-seeded Russo finished 4-0 with one pin.
To reach the finals, Russo mangled Matias Wajner of Palmetto Ridge into an 11-2 major decision.
In the finals, he nipped Heritage senior and 2012 state qualifier Casey Malloy in triple overtime, 2-1.
"I wish I could have won that last match in a more acceptable way," lamented the 18-year-old Russo, who improved to 16-2. "I let my nerves get the best of me. I made it as basic as possible. I wish I would have handled it differently."
Rivera opened the meet with a statement – a 16-second pin over Tampa Bay Christian’s Brad Bolesta for his 100th career win.
The top-seeded Rivera followed up with a 69-second pin over Timber Creek’s Aaron Underwood.
In the semis, Rivera posted an 11-3 major decision over Davis Ison of Lowndes (Ga.) before claiming a gold medal by blanking third-seeded Zach Ford of Flagler, 9-0.
On the weekend’s efforts, "Getting my 100th was nice, but it’s not something I’m going to dwell on," said the 17-year-old Rivera. "I look at it more as all my hard work is paying off."
On how the team responded, "Sal (Basile) called us out and challenged us on Friday," said Rivera, who stretched his winning streak to 17 matches in a row to improve to 23-2. "We didn’t have a good day yesterday. For where we want to be, we needed a day like this."
On the key to his success, "I went about challenging myself," said Rivera, who enters next week’s stout A.J. Jones Memorial Tournament at Kissimmee-Osceola standing 104-17 lifetime with 54 pins. "Sal said we needed the points in the semis and finals and I tried to score as much as I could."
Landgraff remained hot with a 4-0 run featuring two pins.
Landgraff, who opened his weekend with a 73-second pin over Parker Feddersen of Heritage, concluded the tourney with a pin in 2:48 over second-seeded Adren Mitchell of Flagler.
Landgraff’s 12th pin of the season extended his current win streak to a career-best 14 in a row.
"I came in here as the No. 1 seed and did what I’m supposed to do. I’m here to win," declared the 15-year-old Landgraff.
On his ascent, "I’m doing everything the coaches are telling me to do," noted Landgraff, who improved to 22-2 this winter. "If I continue listening there’s no reason I can’t go to states and place again."
Describing Springstead’s efforts, "We suffered some upsets early," pointed out Landgraff. "But today was like a whole new day. Mikey beating the top two seeds was awesome. Seeing how Stephen (Pavao), Stock and Andrew (Smith) wrestled fired everyone else up – that’s how we got it done."
McDonald roared through his loaded bracket as the number four seed.
He opened the meet folding his first three opponents: Pine Ridge’s Khayleb Willis (1:36), Palmetto Ridge’s Pierre Borgela (44 ticks), and top-seeded and 2012 state placer Zach Malik of Wakulla (4:50).
Perhaps the most satisfying was his breakthrough technical fall over McGinley. Before Saturday’s finals, McGinley had beaten McDonald three times in three previous matches including a 2:00 pin last year at St. Cloud.
"Every time he beat me, I just worked that much harder to get better," noted the 16-year-old McDonald. "With every loss it kept building and building inside of me. It feels good to win and especially to beat him in his own house."
On the difference a week made, "Last week I felt (physically) terrible," noted McDonald, whose won seven matches in a row since last week’s loss to McGinley. "Coach just told me to do the best I could.
"This weekend, I felt great," said McDonald, who improved to 22-1, featuring 16 pins. "Coach told me before I went out there to make sure my first shot counted. That first takedown meant so much. A win like this helps motivate me for the rest of the season."
The top-seeded Ross breezed through his bracket.
After an opening-round forfeit nod, Ross began his 4-0 trek with a 19-second pin over Timber Creek’s Ruben Velasquez.
In the semis, Ross never trailed in registering a 10-1 major decision over Okeechobee senior Allen Leitner.
In the finals, Citrus junior Casey Bearden never mounted any offense as Ross won a tactical decision, 3-0.
The win over Bearden was Ross’ 15th a row this winter, improving to a county-best 23-1 won-lost slate.
"I didn’t dominate this tournament like I wish I could have," noted the 15-year-old Ross, coughing through the interview. "I’m been sick most of the week. I couldn’t practice Monday or Tuesday. I’m probably at 70 percent right now."
On the Eagles’ efforts, "I got to give big props to Mikey for beating McGinley," pointed out Ross. "Today, he separated himself from him in the most anticipated match of the tournament.
"Today we all wrestled better," added Ross. "We all stepped up. Guys like Stock, Andrew (Smith) and Stephen (Pavao) really brought it back today."
Sophomore Billy Swift (18-5 overall) settled on silver going 3-1 at 160.
Swift reached his initial IBT final by solving third-seeded Brandon Hokensen of Palm Bay-Heritage, 10-3, and second-seeded Justin Boyle of Flagler, 3-2, before losing to top-seeded Joseph Marques of Charlotte, 10-5.
Other Eagle heroes
Three Eagles, who formed the backbone of the comeback, departed Osceola County with well-earned third-place bronze medals featuring: the senior Pavao at 120, sophomore Smith at 126, and junior Stock at 182.
For the second straight weekend Pavao collected five wins behind five pins.
After opening the meet with a 68-second pin over Heritage’s Jimmie Alexander, the top-seeded Pavao fell victim to a 61-second upset via a spadle pin by West Orange’s Tyler Best.
Responding to the upset, Pavao shredded his next four opponents: Edgewater’s Maurice Williams (4:09), St. Cloud’s Devin Winter for the second time in a week (1:49), Flagler’s Jake Kosachiner (4:40) and Wakulla’s Dylan Carney (4:53).
"When he caught my leg, I kind of freaked out," recalled the 17-year-old Pavao about the loss to Best. "After that loss, I just couldn’t think past that spadle."
On whether finishing third was satisfactory, "I’m not OK with third, especially when I came here seeded first," said Pavao, who left Osceola County with a 17-3 slate. "Until I help this team win a third state title, I’m not going to be satisfied."
After going 3-4 and not placing in his first two IBTs, Stock turned heads with an outstanding 5-1 trek resulting in his first medal (bronze) of his prep career.
Stock opened the meet on the right foot by solving Central junior Brandon Brown, 5-3. At Kiwanis, Brown handed Stock a 7-4 setback.
Citrus junior Brandon Taylor, who upset top-seeded Joe Marcano of Tampa Bay Christian in his opener, 7-3, dropped Stock in the second round via a 7-2 decision.
From the lethal loser’s bracket, Stock responded by reeling off four straight wins.
The streak began with a pulsating 6-3 triple overtime nod over Anthony Molieri of Charlotte.
Next, Stock edged Tyler Cameron of Timber Creek, 3-1, before earning a forfeit nod over Flagler junior and 2012 state qualifier Logan Smith.
The consolation final for third was a doozy against Marcano.
Stock led 3-1 until 10 seconds remained when Marcano earned a two-point takedown near the edge of the mat.
But at the buzzer, Stock managed to slip away with a one-point escape to solve Marcano – the recent Kiwanis Invitational champion – via a 4-3 decision.
On this weekend’s success, "I tried to wrestle safe and really learn from my previous mistakes," described the 16-year-old Stock.
On his toughest match, "Definitely the consolation match for third was the toughest," indicated Stock, with sweat pouring off his face. "It was a close match the whole time. It feels really good to win a match like that and I think it’ll really help my confidence."
Central was also at St. Cloud and finished 19th overall. Junior Jesus Nieves was the lone Bear to finish .500 behind a 2-2 slate at 145.
2012 Springstead Individual Results @ St. Cloud Inv.
WGT NAME W L PINS PL
106 Landgraff, Matt 4 0 2 1st
113 McDonald, Michael 4 0 3 1st
120 Pavao, Stephen 5 1 5 3rd
126 Smith, Andrew 4 1 2 3rd
132 Richards, Michael 0 2 0 -
138 Rivera, Jordan 4 0 2 1st
145 Russo, Joe 4 0 1 1st
152 Holdway, Robert 0 2 0 -
160 Swift, Billy 3 1 1 2nd
170 Ross, Conor 4 0 1 1st
182 Stock, Austin 5 1 0 3rd
220 Humphrey, Corey 0 2 0 -
TOTALS 37 10 17
2012 Central Individual Results @ St. Cloud Inv.
WGT NAME W L PINS PL
113 Marquez, Josh 1 2 1 -
132 Goins, Austin 1 2 0 -
145 Nieves, Jesus 2 2 1 -
152 Keister, Adam 0 2 0 -
182 Brown, Brandon 0 2 0 -
195 King, Devin 1 2 0 -
220 Cromwell, Taylor 0 2 0 -
TOTALS 5 14 2
2012 Final 2nd annual Bulldog Brawl at St. Cloud Team Results
PL. TEAM CLASS PTS.
1. Spring Hill-Springstead (SPG) 2A-7 228.5
2. Crawfordville-Wakulla (WAK) 1A-2 219.0
3. Bunnell-Flagler Palm Coast (FLAG) 3A-2 166.5
4. Palm Bay-Heritage (HERT) 2A-13 124.5
5. Orlando-Edgewater (EDGE) 2A-5 123.0
6. Punta Gorda-Charlotte (CHAR) 2A-11 120.0
7. Naples-Palmetto Ridge (PAMR) 2A-12 118.5
8. Orlando-Timber Creek (TIMB) 3A-4 118.0
9. Winter Garden-West Orange (WORG) 3A-3 112.0
9. Lowndes (LOWN), Ga. - 112.0
11. Miami-Palmetto (MPAL) 3A-16 106.0
12. Inverness-Citrus (CIT) 2A-7 97.0
13. Okeechobee (OK) 2A-14 87.0
14. St. Cloud (STC) 2A-5 84.0
15. Tampa Bay Christian (TBC) 1A-9 81.0
16. Cedartown (CEDT) - 52.0
17. St. Petersburg-Northside Christian (NSC) 1A-10 30.0
18. Orlando-Bishop Moore (OBM) 1A-5 24.0
19. Brooksville-Central (CEN) 2A-7 20.5
20. Ocala-Vanguard (OV) 2A-4 20.0
21. Celebration (CELE) 2A-5 12.0
22. First Academy (FA) - 11.0
23. Deltona-Pine Ridge (PINER) 2A-5 8.0
2012 2nd annual Bulldog Brawl at St. Cloud Finals Results
106 – Matt Landgraff (SPG) pin Adren Mitchell (FLAG), 2:48.
113 – Michael McDonald (SPG) tech. fall Joe McGinley (STC), 21-5.
120 – Ty Lucas (TBC) major dec. David Temple (MPAL), 13-1.
126 – Bill Morgan (WAK) dec. Za-Tique Taylor (STC), 7-2.
132 – Kevon White (WAK) dec. Mike Rivera (TIMB), 5-2.
138 – Jordan Rivera (SPG) major dec. Zach Ford (FLAG), 9-0.
145 – Joe Russo (SPG) dec. Casey Malloy (HERT), 2-1 (3 OT)..
152 – Matt Moody (LOWN) dec. Stevenson Henry (CHAR), 3-1.
160 – Joe Marques (CHAR) dec. Billy Swift (SPG), 10-5.
170 – Conor Ross (SPG) dec. Casey Bearden (CIT), 3-0.
182 – Drew Delong (WAK) dec. Logan Smith (FLAG), 3-2.
195 – Alex Kruklinski (NSC) dec. Jordan Watkins (CEDT), 10-5.
220 – Jack bales (EDGE) tech. fall Nate Ozedemir (WORG), 22-3.
285 – Cornell Gilmore (MPAL) dec. Alex Southall (STC), 3-1.
NOTE – Springstead sophomore Michael McDonald received the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler Award.
2012 2nd annual Bulldog Brawl at St. Cloud Consolation Finals Results
106 – Jared Saffold (TIMB) dec. Cullen Telfer (TBC), 2-1.
113 – Zach Malik (WAK) pin Steve Deborba (TIMB), 0:53.
120 – Stephen Pavao (SPG) pin Dyjuan Carney (WAK), 3:53.
126 – Andrew Smith (SPG) dec. Alex Brooks (MPAL), 6-4.
132 – Isaac Garcia (HERT) dec. Collin LaRocco (FLAG), 3-2.
138 – David Ison (LOWN) dec. Trey Hoff (CHAR), 6-3.
145 – Jacob Nolen (CIT) dec. Matias Wajner (PALMR), 1-0.
152 – Jordan Mainer (EDGE) dec. Theo Curto (PALR), 4-3.
160 – Dylan Jones (PALMR) dec. Justin Boyle (FLAG), 3-0.
170 – Allen Leitner (OK) pin Ashani Brown-Knight (PALMR), 4:00.
182 – Austin Stock (SPG) dec. Joe Marcano (TBC), 4-3.
195 – Austin Ogburn (LOWN) dec. Joe Link (TIMB), 5-3.
220 – Keith Gedden (WAK) dec. Darien Hall (HERT), 3-1.
285 – Chris Griffin (WAK) pin Bucky Dennis (CHAR), 2:15.