And like any entertaining event, the suspense carried out all the way until the final moments of the final match of the two-day competition late Saturday afternoon, pitting a pair of heavyweights from Starr’s Mill and Calhoun in the championship bout.
All Mt. Zion coach Michael Cleek needed to wrap up the second-place spot was for Calhoun’s Cameron East not to get pinned by Alex Ashley, which was looking good through the better part of three periods until Ashley put East on his back in the closing seconds of the match.
The pin gave Starr’s Mill the second-place finish with 159.5 points, while Mt. Zion took third with 159 points and Villa Rica was right on its tail at 158.5 to claim fourth place in the 16-team field. Calhoun cruised to the team title at 248.5.
Tournament host Bowdon tied with Heard County for sixth place at 144.5 points, while Central (84) came in 11th and Temple (23) took 15th.
And for Red Devil coach and tournament host Craig McWhorter, the competitive nature of the Invitational made all the work of running it more than worth it.
“We’ve been talking about it all week, and there’s just a lot of good competition and good teams coming in. I think coach [Nathan] Horsley did a great job running the tournament. We had a real smooth tournament. A lot of quality kids and quality coaches that you don’t have any problems. Everything just seems to run smooth. So it went real good,” McWhorter said.
Every local team had at least one placer, with Villa Rica’s Tristan Ware being selected as the tournament’s ‘Most Outstanding Wrestler’ for the lightweight division after posting a 3-0, first-place effort at 132 pounds. The sophomore earned a 7-4 decision over Conner Andreasen of Jackson County in the finals.
Wildcat coach Kyle Seeley, who had eight individual placers, enjoyed a tremendous weekend in bringing home the fourth-place trophy. And even though his squad was just a point away from second, Seeley said his focus wasn’t on what his team didn’t accomplish, more so all the positive steps it took forward this weekend.
“You can look at that, at the ‘what-ifs,’ and you can look at it disheartening — at times. I mean, you can sit there and say, ‘Well, if this kid would have won, if this kid does this or whatever.’ But what it comes down to is that we reached a goal, we did better than we did last year and we improved,” Seeley said. “We can hang our hat on that this weekend going into next week and get ready for [area].”
Along with Ware taking first, Josh Ivey also captured an individual title at 113 pounds for Villa Rica, while Daniel Holland (152) and Maurice McGuire (170) took third, Sam Preston (120) and Demetris Flemister (195) came in fourth and Michael Hurley (106) and Austin Roper (126) finished sixth.
Seeley said Saturday gives his team some strong momentum moving toward next week’s Area 5-AAAAA Tournament at Allatoona.
“We had a lot of senior leadership out here. Josh Ivey, Daniel Holland and Demetris Flemister, those are three seniors that led us [Saturday]. Also, Tristan Ware at 132, wins ‘Most Outstanding Wrestler’ for the lightweight division. It was a very, very good day,” Seeley said.
For Mt. Zion, Hunter Smith (113) and Fernando Valles (145) recorded the top finishes with second-place efforts, while Javier Martinez (132) and Ashton Robinson (106) came in third, Tryston Cash (160) and David Ramirez (170) placed fifth and Eugene “Buddha” McClure (220) was sixth.
Cleek was encouraged by what he saw from his team heading into next weekend’s Area 3-A Tournament, which the Eagles will host.
“Incredibly tough tournament. Calhoun is always a tough team. They were the front-runner to begin with. But to have second, third and fourth place separated literally by one point, I’m just really proud of my kids. I said [Friday] night that we’re going to battle back through and fight hard, and they did. It was a total team effort,” Cleek said.
Bowdon placed eight wrestlers on Saturday, including all four of its seniors — Connor Wigginton, Saeje Brown, Stephen Strausser and Hunter Lewis. The Red Devils honored the quartet with a Senior Day presentation prior to the start of the medal round.
“Three of them left here with their last [home] match a win and then the other was in the finals. I’m real proud of our seniors. I think all of them had a great day,” McWhorter said. “I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Wigginton (195) recorded a runner-up finish on Saturday, while Brown (220) took third and Lewis (182) and Strausser (hvy.) both came in fifth. Along with the Bowdon seniors, Trevor McCray (106) and Avery McWhorter (126) both took second, with Hunter Jones (113) coming in fourth and Ben Vance placing fifth (138).
For Central, it was senior Jarrett Thomas leading the way, capturing an individual crown at 152 pounds to highlight one of four Lion placers.
“Jarrett did a really good job of handling the competition that was out there. He had a couple of close matches with some kids that wrestled really tough. But we expected him to come to this tournament and win it, and he wrestled very well,” Central coach Marcus Marenda said.
And while the Lions may have limped into Bowdon short-handed due to illness and injuries, the second-year Central coach was proud of the fight his grapplers displayed through the weekend, as Avery Ward (120) and Levi Huckeba (160) finished in third place and Timothy Duffey (126) came in fourth.
“We brought seven kids and had five kids score for us and we had three kids take third or fourth ... so we’re very happy to have four placers and all of them in the top four,” Marenda said.
First-year Temple coach Wallace Hall got a strong effort from Tiger newcomer Taylor Martin at 195 pounds, as he took fifth after just joining the program recently.
“He’s been one of our leaders. A late addition. Just a good-character kid. He works hard and practices hard. He’s just getting much better with experience,” Hall said.
Heard County’s top finishers were Hank Barnes (182) and Cody Stephens (195) in third, while Ta Freeland (160), Matthew Brown (170) and Taron Person (hvy.) all took fourth, James Sprayberry (126) and Tori Rogers (145) came in fifth and Jordan Timmons (120) and Andrew Cannon (152) rounded out the Braves’ placers in sixth.
And after a solid weekend of action, the focus now shifts toward the teams’ respective area tournaments next weekend.
“We’re going to rest a little bit on Monday and Tuesday and doctor some bruises here and there. Then we’re going to try to see who our matchups are going to possibly be. We’re going to start focusing on certain kids. We already know some of them when we got to see them at the area duals, so the season all comes down to next week. You’ve got to win to stay alive. Hopefully, we’ll go in there with a good attitude and have a real good week next week,” McWhorter said.