By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
Jacob Galindez picked a perfect time to showcase his four years of hard work.
The South Effingham senior finished a postseason sweep with a second to spare, pinning Cambridge’s Hunter Keane at 5:59 of the third period Friday night to capture a Class AAAAAA traditional state championship in the 113-pound division at the Macon Centreplex.
Galindez (42-10) won the region, then Sectionals, before winning all three matches at state by pin.
“At Sectional, at state, before my match, I kept thinking, “this is my year, my last run, this is my match. He can’t take this from me,” ” Galindez said.
The power of positive thinking helped during his first encounter with Keane, then 48-0, at Sectionals a week earlier.
But unfazed, Galindez beat Keane the first time by pin and doubled down at state.
“I’ve been coaching Jacob since eighth grade and he’s done everything I’ve asked the last three years,” SEHS coach Christopher Bringer said. “He’s never missed a practice. He works hard. He has a 3.9 GPA. He’s pretty deserving.”
Galindez said in the title match he fell behind 2-0 after the first period, but knotted the score 4-4 heading into the final two minutes.
He led only 6-5 with about 40 seconds left, but gained control with a head throw and registered the pin with one second left.
Then it was time to get back to the hotel and order pizza.
Galindez is the first SEHS state champion since Austin Blaske won the 285-pound weight class in 2020.
Galindez spent the dual portion of this season wrestling at 120 pounds and had a highlight moment when he scored a pin in the penultimate match of a semifinal region tournament win against Richmond Hill.
“I think it helped (for the traditional portion of the season) because I was going against stronger kids and kids with more technique. I think that gave me a little edge,” he said.
A year ago, Galindez lost to Effingham County’s Conner Nevin at state and finished fifth.
“Overall, winning a state championship is a great feeling, particularly as a senior,” Galindez said. “But even if I went down 0-2 at state, the last four years, nothing would have changed. It was an amazing time of my life with great coaches and a great wrestling family.”
It was an outstanding three days for county wrestling. Effingham County and SEHS combined to send 10 wrestlers to state and all 10 won at least two matches to earn a spot on the winners’ podium.
ECHS wrestlers were tantalizingly close to taking home state titles as Sectional champions Mal Santiago and Mia Bernacki, both juniors, advanced to the finals in their respective weight classes. Senior Nigel Wright (66-7) placed third-place finish with an injury – getting poked in the eye twice in the semis – accounting for his lone blemish.
At 106, Santiago (56-3), competing with a broken finger and a toe injury, won two decisions before falling to defending state champion Rylan Ibold of Buford.
Bernacki (20-10) won three matches, including her second decision victory over defending champ Amariah Marenco, but came up just short in the title match, 6-5.
At 120, Nevin (56-10), a junior, won twice and claimed fourth.
“I was blunt with (the returning wrestlers) about the work they’re going to have to put in to take that next step,” ECHS coach Nico Guggino said. “Your name is out there now (after doing well at state), so you’re always going to get people’s best shots.”
For South Effingham, Jacob Stellhorn (44-16) won three times and gave Ibold, the eventual 106 champ, a tough match in the semis before falling 4-2.
Anton Blanchard (47-15) won three times en route to a fourth-place finish at 126.
Enrique Santana (55-8) had three victories en route to a fifth-place pairing at 152. Fifth-place matches weren’t held.
Brandon “Moose” Bringer (53-9) and Jaylen Hosking (39-17) both won twice and advanced to the fifth-place match as well in the 132-pound and 145-pound weight classes respectively.
“It was the best two days of wrestling I’ve seen our kids do,” Bringer said.
As a team, SEHS was fifth. ECHS was 14th.