With Palmetto Ridge’s quest for a third straight team district title in doubt, the Bears turned to one of their three freshman starters.
Trailing 33-32 to a talented and hungry Barron Collier team, Palmetto Ridge needed a victory from Landon Taylor in the 152-pound bout against Curtis Poulson to secure the Class 2A-District 12 crown. Taylor surrendered an early takedown but quickly recovered, coming extremely close to recording a first-period pin on his way to a 10-7 win and 35-33 Bears team victory.
“(Right before the match), I was just thinking I had to do it for my brothers, for my team, for my family,” Taylor said. “It’s life or death out there. If you don’t leave the mat with your hand rose, then you’re just the first loser.”
Palmetto Ridge coach Blaine Ison had some simple instructions for Taylor before he took the mat, and the coach was impressed with the poise he’s shown, not only Saturday afternoon but the entire season.
“I just told him to be smart, stay calm and it’ll come,” Ison said. “There’s a lot of hype going on in this match and you’ve got a young kid — a freshman — in his first real big dual meet. You can’t get caught up with the emotions of the crowd and your teammates, you have to go in there with a clear head. It says a lot about his poise and character that he was able to block it out and get the job done, and you can say the same about our other two freshmen starters who really stepped up today.”
The Bears’ other talented freshmen — 106-pounder Tyler Washburn and 132-pounder Roman Garcia — each recorded pins. Combined with Taylor’s victory in the clinching match, the Palmetto Ridge freshmen delivered 15 of the team’s 35 points.
The match started with four consecutive Barron Collier victories in the 160-pound through 195-pound weight classes. Palmetto Ridge got its first victory via a forfeit to 220-pound standout Trillyon Fils-Aime, but a pin by Barron’s Nick Clayton over the Bears’ David Henry pushed the Cougar advantage to 24-6.
Palmetto Ridge seized the momentum thanks to a dominant string of performances in the lower weight classes.
Washburn delivered a pin against Lukas Giles at 106, and then two-time state qualifier Cullen Guerrero received a forfeit at 113.
Brennan Van Hoecke pinned Roy Chiong at 120, and after a Barron decision win by Ethan Byrd, Garcia put the Bears up for the first time in the match with his pin over Brandon Irigoyen.
AJ Ayala extended the lead to 32-27 with a decision at 138, but Justin Ugarte registered a pin at 145 to give the Cougars a one-point lead and set up Taylor’s heroics.
“I was very proud of my guys today,” Barron Collier coach Anthony Partello said. “We knew our strategy coming in. First round and second round (against East Lee County and Naples) we didn’t give up a single match, which was awesome.
"We were really motivated in the finals," Partello said. "We had faced Palmetto Ridge earlier in the season and lost by five.
"To me, this isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about improving and I felt all my kids improved from the first time we saw them. We really stepped up and it just shows what hard work in the wrestling room can do.”
Ison said the dual tournament is a valuable way for his young wrestlers to experience the big-time pressure and spirited environment they’ll eventually see during the postseason individual tournaments.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that have stepped up in the lineup this year, so getting them a taste of a little bit of the big stage moving forward, that’s awesome,” Ison said. “We want to be tested, to be put in these situations, especially earlier in the year because when you get to that big stage – especially as a freshman at a state tournament and the nerves and the pressure that go along with that – this is a little taste of what that’s like.”
Class 2A-District 12 Dual tournament
Naples 48, Lely 30
Barron Collier 81, East Lee County 0
Palmetto Ridge 45, Golden Gate 27
Immokalee 30, Estero 29
Palmetto Ridge 75, Immokalee 0
Barron Collier 74, Naples 0
Palmetto Ridge 35, Barron Collier 33