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South Effingham, Effingham County finish 1-2 in Rebel Invitational
Anton Barrett
South Effingham’s Anton Blanchard holds the advantage against an Effingham County opponent in a 135-pound match Saturday. - photo by Gilbert Miller

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD — Team competition has been front and center for the first four weeks of the high school wrestling season, but last weekend the Rebel Invitational spotlighted individual wrestlers.

“Now is a good time to have these because everyone has their kids back (from football),” said ECHS coach Nico Guggino, who hosted 14 teams for the two-day event. “We’ve had so many duals that this is a good change of pace. As kids win, they work their way up the ladder and get better competition.”

South Effingham wrestlers found themselves at the top, capturing first place in seven of the 14 weight classes to claim the highest team point total (344.5).

The Rebels were second (222.0).

“Overall, we came here to win a lot of matches but to get 10 (wrestlers) in the finals (with seven winners) was even more than we expected,” SEHS coach Christopher Bringer said.

Bringer said Ashton Tootle’s performance at 170 has been a pleasant surprise. Despite giving up about 10 pounds in the finals, Tootle pinned highly regarded Jace Presley of Hiram in the second round.

“With Ashton giving up 10 pounds, it was almost like seeing David against Goliath,” Bringer said. “Ashton wins the match because he does the fundamentals better than a lot of kids.”

Recently, Bringer nominated Tootle for a “Hammer” award, promoted by Internet site SEWrestle for outstanding achievements during the previous week at Charlton County’s Blackwater Callout. Tootle was 4-0 in team competition at Charlton County and now has won 23 of his last 27 matches despite battling a knee injury.

The Rebel Invitational highlighted other top local performers. SEHS’ Emilio Santana and ECHS’ Mal Santiago remained undefeated.

Santana, a freshman, won three matches including a second-round pin of Hiram’s Zander Bone in the finals to up his record to 29-0 in the 106-pound weight class.

Santiago decisioned Mustang Jacob Stellhorn 4-0 in the final of the 113-pound weight class to raise his record to 34-0.

SEHS’ Jacob Galindez (23-6) needed just 43 seconds to pin Calvary Day’s Conner Kirby for the 120-pound title.

At 132, Brandon “Moose” Bringer (30-3) topped Landon Harper 17-4 and at 138 Anton Blanchard (29-4) defeated Ian Johnson 14-4 as South wrestlers won head-to-head championship matchups with ECHS by majority decision.

The Mustangs’ Jaylen Hosking (25-5) scored a second-round pin to win at 152 and Enrique Santana (30-2) took just 24 second to record a pin and win the 160 crown.

And at 195, Rebels’ Nigel Wright (30-3) registered a second-round pin over SEHS’ Gavin Anderson in the title match.

“Mal and Nigel are probably wrestling the best on the team,” Guggino said. “They’ve been wrestling aggressively and confidently, maybe that will spread among the team.”

In other notable action, ECHS’ female wrestler Mia Bernacki won three matches (all by pins) against the boys to capture a fifth-place finish at 195.

In the crowded 145-pound weight class, SEHS’ Nick Sessions won six matches to take third.

With Richmond Hill’s St. Nick Invitational postponed, Bringer said the Mustangs would travel to Yulee, Fla., to compete in an 18-team dual meet Friday and Saturday.

SEHS will have its Senior Night on Wednesday with dual matches against Benedictine and Hilton Head.