By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
The team portion of the wrestling season came to an end for Effingham County and South Effingham but not before both made some noise at the Class AAAAAA state dual prelims.
ECHS, the No. 4 seed from Region 2-AAAAAA, defeated Region 3’s top seed Lakeside Evans 42-40 in the first round at Evans on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, across the state at Lee County High School, SEHS, the No. 3 seed from Region 2, dismantled Grovetown 58-16.
The wins positioned the Rebels and Mustangs with chances to advance to the Class AAAAAA Elite Eight at Lassiter High School but both fell short against Valdosta (66-18) and Lee County (56-17) respectively.
“Going in we had three starters out so we were already behind but it was nice to beat a No. 1 (seed),” said ECHS coach Nico Guggino, who has been battling illness and missed his team’s matches.
Freshman Jared Lafontaine’s pin in the 138-pound weight class proved to be a key win in the Rebels’ narrow first-round win over Lakeside, Guggino said.
Mal Santiago (106) and Nigel Wright (182) finished 2-0 on the day. Santiago, Wright and Conner Nevin (120) won their matches by pins against Valdosta.
South Effingham coach Christopher Bringer said he expected to beat higher-seeded Grovetown but was disappointed his squad wasn’t more competitive against Lee County.
Bringer said the heart shown by 170-pounder Brayden Bell was one of the team’s bright spots. Bell, who has battled injuries all season, defeated his Lee County opponent with a pin in overtime.
Bell, who finished third in traditional wrestling last season, was 2-0 on the day along with Jacob Galindez (113).
Bringer also praised the efforts of Nicholas Sessions at 138. Sessions was 1-1 but lost a hard-fought 5-3 decision in his match against Lee County.
The season now transitions to traditional (individual) wrestling and wrestlers will be eying individual state titles. The last three years, the area has produced a state champion. ECHS’ Zebrandon Gant, now wrestling at Newberry College, went 57-0 and won the 195-pound crown in 2018.
The Rebels’ Zekeil Walls claimed the 220-pound title in 2019 and SEHS’ Austin Blaske won at 285 last season.
This year’s Region 2-AAAAAA traditional tournament will be held at Brunswick High on Feb. 5-6. Four wrestlers in each weight class from each region will advance to state.
The Class AAAAAA traditional state tournament will be held Feb. 11-13 at the Macon Centreplex.