Over the past nine winters, Springstead mentors Eric Swensen and Sal Basile had a little saying describing the semifinals of any particular wrestling tournament – they referred to it as the "money round".
Simply put, that’s the round where teams can earn separation in the team standings by pushing grapplers into their respective finals bouts.
As Basile and Swensen pointed out time and time again, the semifinal round’s advancement points are critical to any team’s success. In essence, the semis can either make or break any team’s spirit.
Over the years, it’s been one round the Eagles have always savored.
It was no different Saturday, as Springstead passed the grueling two-day, 28-team Class 2A, Region II mat litmus test at St. Cloud, claiming its third straight regional crown.
As expected, the two-time defending state champions from Spring Hill were locked in a tussle with two-time defending state runner-up Lakeland-Lake Gibson.
After back-to-back regional runner-up finishes, the Braves were thirsting for their first-ever regional title.
Head coach Danny Walker’s mat men concluded Friday’s opening round in first place, leading Springstead, 77.5-72.0.
More importantly, the Polk County crew had momentum. All 11 grapplers they walked in with on Friday returned to the mats for the critical Day 2 action – including eight Braves in the tourney semifinals.
By contrast, the Mariner Boulevard mat men weren’t in panic mode after going 21-7 behind a tourney-high 16 pins, but lost two first-year grapplers in the double-elimination IBT (individually bracketed tournament) on Day 1 – senior Will Allen at 285 pounds and junior Travis O’Neil at 195. The duo combined to go 1-4.
Great teams, however, respond to adversity. Great teams also respond to the moment despite the intense pressure inside of the building.
Springstead also realized that it needed some assistance from the other teams in the Osceola County event.
Help arrived early in the semis when Nature Coast senior Sean Nguyen spanked Lake Gibson’s talented sophomore Caleb Smith at 106, 8-0.
On the opposite mat, Springstead sophomore Matt Landgraff, who solved Nguyen last week in the 2A-7 final, 9-7, got the ball rolling for the Eagles with a tactical 2-1 decision over Dunedin’s Brandon Pastore.
When the dust settled on the round, Spring Hill’s mat men responded with seven clutch wins in seven bouts.
Another huge assist arrived courtesy of Hernando junior Jesse Gaudin at 220.
Gaudin, who arrived red hot, had an incisor tooth accidentally bite down into his lip during his critical semifinal match against Lake Gibson’s David Rudd.
Despite two stoppages for blood time and finishing the last minute of the match with a black bandage taping his jaw shut, Gaudin earned a 5-2 decision that enabled Springstead to finish the round ahead by 18½ points.
The Braves kept chipping away during wrestlebacks, but at a huge cost, losing three grapplers in the process.
Another Springstread first-year grappler, junior Austin Stock, was eliminated at 182. Stock succumbed to Central junior Brandon Brown, 11-7. Brown won the rubber match in their five meetings before being agonizingly ousted one win shy of advancing to states.
After 16 hours of this smooth-functioning tourney, and 75 percent or 168 of the original 224-member field being eliminated from the "Region of Doom," the Eagles returned home on top.
Springstead, not only captured its county-record ninth regional title, but became the first Hernando County team in any sport to walk away with a rare regional three-peat, edging the Braves, 196.0-187.5.
With the win, Basile’s crew tied Swensen’s 2010-11 Eagle team and Hall of Famer Bob Levija’s 2000-01 Eagle team with its county-record eighth tournament title of the season.
More importantly, Springstead qualified a meet-best nine grapplers – only the top four in each of the 14 weight classes could advance – to this coming weekend’s 49th annual FHSAA Finals at The Lakeland Center.
Afterward Basile appeared relieved, like a proud papa would be following his wife’s delivery.
"Maybe we should be nicknamed the ‘Comeback Kids,’" remarked Basile, a two-time Eagle state qualifier in 1992-93. "There’s just something about this team and this group of guys. They responded to the call."
On how tough Lake Gibson was, "Danny’s team brought it," recalled Basile. "And they caught a lot of breaks (referring to an unbelievable four forfeit victories). I admire those guys because they do things the right way; the way things are supposed to be done. That’s what makes this (win) that much more special. We certainly did not back into anything. Nothing was handed to us."
On the Eagles’ individual efforts, "Every guy chipped in," indicated Coach Basile. "Some guys didn’t wrestle well in a particular match, but came back to wrestle better."
Springstead pushed a state-best amount of grapplers to states, featuring: seniors Stephen Pavao at 120 (first place) and Joe Russo at 152 (fourth), junior Jordan Rivera at 138 (first) and Corey Humphrey at 220 (second), and sophomores Landgraff (second), Michael McDonald at 113 (first), Andrew Smith at 126 (second), Billy Swift at 160 (third) and Conor Ross at 170 (second).
In the process, Springstead extended its county record to 183 state qualifiers since 1982.
For the second straight winter Landgraff (46-7) was denied a regional title losing in the finals to Nguyen (41-2), 8-2.
Smith (37-17) shocked heavily-favored two-time state qualifier and Sunlake senior John Ortiz in the quarterfinals, 8-5, before earning his first state berth with a 21-second pin over Lake Region senior Vincent Mott.
In the finals, Smith narrowly lost to defending 2012 state champion and Dunedin senior Clarence Arrington, 4-2.
"Second place isn’t what I came here for," said the 15-year-old Smith. "To me, it’s all or nothing."
Ross (44-4) twisted his first three opponents into three pinfalls before getting upset in the finals by Lake Gibson senior Dorian Spradlin, 3-2.
Ross, who finished as a regional runner-up for the second straight winter, had solved Spradlin in his two other meetings: 3-2 and 7-2. Going in, Ross had captured 5-of-6 IBT finals bouts.
Swift (38-15) notched the most regional wins (five) – including four straight victories to end the tourney – after being upset in his quarterfinal match against Dunedin junior Anthony Dampier, 8-6.
"I didn’t do what I needed to do in that first match (against Dampier)," lamented the 16-year-old Swift. "I should have been in the finals – that was my goal. I made a dumb decision in that match and it cost me. Getting third here just makes me hungrier at states."
Like Swift, Russo (41-8) was upset in his quarterfinal bout against the eventual regional champ, Winter Haven junior Emilio Cruz, 10-6.
A loss away from elimination, however, Russo bowed his neck with three straight pins.
Though he notched a team-high four pins, Russo fell in a lackluster consolation match to Edgewater junior Jordan Mainer, 5-3.
Of the nine qualifiers, Rivera became the 15th Eagle to earn his second regional title. The three-time state qualifier and two-time state placer went 4-0 with three pins at Osceola County.
Rivera opened the meet on Friday by folding Zephyrhills senior Anthony Masters (45 ticks) and Lake Region sophomore Mark Novakowski (96 seconds).
In Saturday’s semifinals, Rivera put on a takedown clinic with five against Dunedin senior Alex Lebhar en route to a 10-6 victory.
In the finals, Rivera led 8-0 after two minutes before planting Harmony junior Jeremy Beesley in 3:11. The win was Rivera’s sixth in six IBT finals this winter.
On which regional title was tougher, "It’s always harder to repeat," noted the 17-year-old Rivera. "I came in here to send a message. I thought I dominated every match I wrestled in.
"My coaches believe I’m the best 138-pounder in the state and so do I," remarked Rivera, who climbed to 41-4 on the season and 121-19 lifetime.
McDonald adds to resume
Like Rivera, McDonald roared through his bracket for his initial regional crown – after finishing runner-up at St. Cloud in 2012.
In a cat-and-mouse finals match, St. Cloud senior Joe McGinley refused to tangle with McDonald. McDonald posted a 5-2 tactical win to even the lifetime series between the two at 3-all.
More importantly, the two-time state qualifier McDonald (45-3, with a county-high 32 pins) has captured each of the last three meetings.
"I feel a whole lot better this year than I did last year," identified the 16-year-old McDonald after the match. "This (win) sets me up better for a state title next week. "
Like Rivera and McDonald, Pavao not only went 4-0 at St. Cloud, but chipped in three pins.
In the finals, Lake Gibson sophomore Sa’derian Perry erected an early 4-0 cushion before growing conservative. Pavao chipped away trailing 4-2 after four minutes before rallying for momentum swinging 6-4 decision.
The come-from-behind win was not only the two-time state qualifier Pavao’s 12th across his last 13 matches, but served as his 100th career victory.
With the nod, Pavao became the 22nd Eagle grappler in 32 seasons to reach the coveted 100-win fraternity.
"Today was special," beamed the 17-year-old Pavao. "The 100th win is nice, but the regional title means more. All along I’ve just tried to help our team win our third straight state championship."
NCT takes third
Though Springstead earned the headliner status, Hernando County grapplers put on a show. In all, 12 of the meet’s 28 finalists (43 percent) were from Hernando County.
Nature Coast’s young squad finished third with 108.5 points, and tied Springstead and Lake Gibson with a meet-best three individual champions.
Through seven years, the Sharks had etched two regional champs: Nguyen in 2012 and Scott Cronin in 2010.
In its eighth state series, Nature Coast will be represented in Lakeland by two-time regional champ Nguyen, senior Brandon Vovan (37-5) at 170 and senior Dylan Savoury (32-8) at 182.
"I’m so proud of these guys," beamed former Central High state qualifier and ninth-year Nature Coast skipper Mike Lastra. "I told the guys not to be satisfied with just being regional qualifiers. Overall, we wrestled hard from the first guy to last guy."
Central’s five-man squad finished a respectable 14th. The Bears remarkably pushed two grapplers to states led by junior Jesus Nieves at 145 (second place) and senior Josh Marquez at 120 (fourth). Both are first-time state qualifiers.
Nieves was quietly effective going 3-0 before tangling with Lake Gibson senior Chase Krutzky in the finals. Krutzky earned his first regional title behind an 84-second pin.
"Chase is in another league," shrugged the 16-year-old Nieves, who improved to a team-best 30-11. "He’s as tough a competition as I have faced this year. I just wish I could have given him a better match.
Hernando’s six-member squad finished 16th overall led by its only state qualifier Gaudin.
Gaudin became the school’s 30th regional champion and first since Daniel Pritz’s three-peat in 2010, by pinning Springstead’s Humphrey in 80 seconds.
Gaudin, who became the school’s 108th state qualifier, finished 4-0 to extend his county-leading win streak to 26 matches in a row.
"It’s a relief to finally win," explained the 17-year-old Gaudin, whose season was erased last winter at the same venue in the final wrestleback round. "My goal was to win this. I accomplished what I set out to do."
At the 1A-II Tournament at Lakeland-Tenoroc, Weeki Wachee junior Dante Padilla became the Hornets’ first state qualifier, taking fourth place at 120.
Final 2A-II Wrestling Tournament Results:
PL SCHOOL PTS.
1. Spring Hill-Springstead (SPG) 196.0
2. Lakeland-Lake Gibson (LKG) 187.5
3. Brooksville-Nature Coast Technical (NCT) 108.5
4. Auburndale (AUB) 87.0
5. Dunedin (DUN) 86.0
6. Harmony (HAR) 84.0
7. Orlando-Edgewater (EDGE) 72.5
8. Sebring (SEB) 68.0
9. St. Cloud (STC) 59.5
9. New Port Richey-River Ridge (RR) 59.5
11. Inverness (CIT) 58.5
12. Land O’Lakes (LOL) 52.5
12. Land O’Lakes-Sunlake (SNL) 52.5
14. Brooksville-Central (CEN) 46.5
14. Winter Haven (WH) 46.5
16. Brooksville-Hernando (HER) 43.0
17. Zephyrhills (ZEP) 38.0
18. Bartow (BART) 37.0
19. Eagle Lake-Lake Region (LR) 35.0
20. Lecanto (LEC) 30.0
21. Orange Park-Deltona (DELT) 26.0
22. New Port Richey-Mitchell (MIT) 22.0
23. Tarpon Springs (TS) 15.5
24. Deltona-Pine Ridge (PINR) 11.0
25. Lakeland-Kathleen (KATH) 10.0
26. Celebration (CELE) 9.00
27. Orlando-Oak Ridge (OAKR) 6.00
28. Orlando-Evans (EVNS) 1.00
106 – Sean Nguyen (NCT) dec. Matt Landgraff (SPG), 8-2.
113 – Michael McDonald (SPG) dec. Joe McGinley (STC), 5-2.
120 – Stephen Pavao (SPG) dec. Sa’Derian Perry (LKG), 6-4.
126 – Clarence Arrington (DUN) dec. Andrew Smith (SPG), 4-2.
132 – Brian Pennington (BART) dec. Kendrich Portorreal (SNL), 8-4.
138 – Jordan Rivera (SPG) pin Jeremy Beesley (HAR), 3:11.
145 – Chase Krutzky (LKG) pin Jesus Nieves (CEN), 1:24.
152 – Emilio Cruz (WH) dec. Alex Destra (LKG), 11-9 (OT).
160 – Brandon Vovan (NCT) dec. Christopher DeJesus (SEB), 7-3.
170 – Dorian Spradlin (LKG) dec. Conor Ross (SPG), 3-2.
182 – Dylan Savoury (NCT) pin Brandon Taylor (CIT), 4:31.
195 – Jason Foster (LKG) dec. Jonah Nightengale (LEC), 5-3.
220 – Jesse Gaudin (HER) pin Corey Humphrey (SPG), 1:20.
285 – Alex Southall (STC) dec. Antonio Thomas (AUB), 2-1.
106 – Caleb Smith (LKG) major dec. Dominic Telesco (LOL), 8-0.
113 – Seth Kelley (LKG) dec. Dakota Arends (RR), 7-2.
120 – Nathan Franklin (SEB) pin Josh Marquez, 1:52.
126 – Zac German (HAR) pin Vincenet Mott (LR), 1:47.
132 – Hunter Dowdy (AUB) pin Marc Allison (DUN), 1:10.
138 – Alex Lebhar (DUN) major dec. Devin Glenn (AUB), 13-2.
145 – Dylan Gilhart (HAR) dec. Jacob Ewles (WH), 3-1.
152 – Jordan Mainer (EDGE) dec. Joe Russo (SPG), 5-3.
160 – Bill Swift (SPG) dec. Anthony Dampier (DUN), 3-1.
170 – Casey Bearden (CIT) major dec. Bobby Austin (LOL), 11-2.
182 – Joel Morrison (ZEP) pin Ty Johnson (SEB), 2:23.
195 – Gary Garcia (LOL) dec. Zach Kweller (SNL), 4-2.
220 – Jack Bales (EDGE) pin David Russ (LKG), 2:13.
285 – Nick Longstreet (LR) pin Hayden Krautner (RR), 1:22.
Springstead Individual Results:
WGT NAME W L PINS PL
106 Landgraff, Matt 3 1 2 2nd
113 McDonald, Michael 4 0 3 1st
120 Pavao, Stephen 4 0 3 1st
126 Smith, Andrew 3 1 2 2nd
138 Rivera, Jordan 4 0 3 1st
152 Russo, Joe 4 2 4 4th
160 Swift, Billy 5 1 1 3rd
170 Ross, Conor 3 1 3 2nd
182 Stock, Austin 2 2 0 -
195 O’Neil, Travis 0 2 0 -
220 Humphrey, Corey 3 1 2 2nd
285 Allen, Will 1 2 0 -
TOTALS –12-- 36 13 23 -
NCT Individual Results:
WGT NAME W L PINS PL
106 Nguyen, Sean 4 0 1 1st
120 Espinosa, Mark 2 2 1 -
126 DeFranco, Joey 2 2 1 -
2132 Reeger, Shane 3 1 0 -
138 Jazikoff, Jeramie 1 2 0 -
145 Faulkenberry, Kam 0 2 0 -
152 Rivera, Adrian 3 2 0 -
160 Vovan, Brandon 4 0 3 1st
182 Savoury, Dylan 4 0 2 1st
285 Siciliano, Anthony 3 2 3 -
TOTALS—10-- 26 13 11 -
Central Individual Results:
WGT NAME W L PINS PL
106 Mestres, Austin 1 2 0 -
120 Marquez, Josh 4 2 1 4th
145 Nieves, Jesus 3 1 1 2nd
182 Brown, Brandon 3 1 2 -
220 Cromwell, Taylor 1 2 0 -
TOTALS –5-- 12 8 4 -
2A-II State Qualifiers
RK NAME NO.
1. Springstead 9
2. Lake Gibson 8
3. Dunedin 4
4. Auburndale 3
4. Harmony 3
4. Land O’ Lakes 3
4. Nature Coast Technical 3
4. Sebring 3
9. Edgewater 2
9. St. Cloud 2
9. River Ridge 2
9. Citrus 2
9. Sunlake 2
9. Central 2
9. Winter Haven 2
9. Lake Region 2
17. Hernando 1
17. Lecanto 1
17. Bartow 1
17. Zephyrhills 1
2000-01 Springstead Tournament Championships: (8)
Land O’ Lakes Invitational @ Land O’ Lakes.
Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament @ Brooksville-Hernando.
19th Brooksville-Kiwanis Invitational @ Brooksville-Hernando.
Berkeley Prep Duals Tournament @ Tampa-Berkeley Prep.
11th Springstead Invitational @ Spring Hill-Springstead.
Andrew Jackson Invitational @ Jacksonville-Andrew Jackson.
Class 1A, District 7 Tournament @ Spring Hill-Springstead.
Class 1A, Region II @ Brooksville-Central.
2010-11 Springstead Tournament Championships: (8)
4th Deltona Duals @ Deltona High.
29th Brooksville-Kiwanis Invitational @ Hernando.
9th Gulf Duals Tournament @ New Port Richey.
21st Springstead Invitational @ Spring Hill-Springstead.
25th Flagler Rotary Club Invitational @ Bunnell.
Class 2A, District 7 Tournament @ Springstead.
Class 2A, Region II @ Avon Park’s South Florida Community College.
47th annual Class 2A State Championship @ The Lakeland Center.
2012-13 Springstead Tournament Championships: (8)
6th Deltona Duals @ Deltona High.
31st Kiwanis Inv. @ Brooksville-Hernando.
1st Combs 6-Way Duals @ Spring Hill-Springstead.
2nd Bulldog Brawl @ St. Cloud.
23rd Springstead Invitational @ Spring Hill-Springstead.
27th Flagler Rotary Club Invitational @ Bunnell.
Class 2A, District 7 Tournament @ Spring Hill-Springstead.
Class 2A, Region II Tournament @ St. Cloud.