For just the second time in program history, and for the second time in the last three seasons, the Ridgeland Panthers will head to Macon for the Class 4A State Duals.
The Panthers punched their ticket the next weekend's event at the Macon Coliseum by going 2-1 at Heritage High School on Saturday at the Area 6-AAAA Duals.
Ridgeland opened the day with a comfortable 55-19 victory over Southeast Whitfield before pulling out a 34-32 nail-biter over Northwest Whitfield in the championship semifinals. That match would come down to the final bout with Ethan Morgan scoring a 4-3 decision at 182 pounds to provide the winning points for the Panthers.
In the championship final, Ridgeland would match up against traditional area and state powerhouse Gilmer and the Black-and-White would hold their own with the Bobcats for much of the match.
Starting at 220, Gilmer would win three matches by decision and one by pin, while receiving one forfeit (106) to take a 21-0 lead.
But the Panthers would win five of the next six bouts to tighten up the score considerably. Chris Prescott (126) scored a pin and Aiden Raymer followed up with a 7-5 decision at 132. Jordan Hughley then earned an 11-3 major decision at 138 to bring the Panthers within eight points of the lead.
Gilmer got five more points with a technical fall at 145, but Jacob Mariakis' first-period pin at 152 and Dylan Swanson's 6-4 victory at 160 cut the Bobcats' lead to 26-22 with just three bouts remaining.
However, the Bobcats would prove too much down the stretch. Gilmer would score pins at 170 and 195, sandwiched around a 6-0 decision at 182, to give them the area championship with a 41-22 victory.
"It's wasn't a bad day, but I felt like we didn't wrestle as well in spots as we could," head coach Keith Mariakis said. "One or two things here or there and it's at least a little bit closer anyway. But we're going back to state. That makes twice in the last three years and just the second time we've gone in school history, so it was a good day. It really was. We just have to get back at it this week and have three really good days of practice. Then we'll go down there to Macon and just take it one match at a time."
Northwest came back to get third place with a 38-30 win over Pickens. Had the Dragons won the match, they could have challenged Ridgeland for true second place since the two teams had not previously met on Saturday.
Mariakis said there were some things from Saturday that he felt his team could take with them to state.
"You have to wrestle all six minutes and it matters that everybody wrestles for six minutes," he explained. "You may not win a match, but if you don't give up any bonus points, man, that's huge. Our kids fought hard today not to give up those bonus points, but we also have to fight to get those bonus points too."
LaFayette opened the tournament with a 48-30 loss to Pickens. Then, after a bye in the next round, the Ramblers lost a 49-28 elimination match to Northwest in the consolation semifinals.
The host Generals also lost their first-round match, dropping a 48-25 decision to the Bruins. Heritage rebounded by eliminating Southeast Whitfield, 67-12, but were doubled up by Pickens, 48-24, in their consolation semifinal match.
Gordon Lee third at Trion
The Trojans missed out on qualifying for the Class 1A State Duals after placing third at the Area 4-A Duals at Trion High School on Saturday.
After cruising past North Cobb Christian in their first match on Saturday, 48-18, the numbers game caught up to the Trojans in their 38-33 semifinal loss to Mount Zion.
Starting at 120 pounds, the Trojans took a 21-8 lead after the 160-pound match. But Gordon Lee was forced to forfeit four bouts in a row in the upper weights (170, 182, 195, 220) and the Eagles were able to score a pin at 285 to put the match mathematically out of reach before the Trojans could get back to their lightweight wrestlers.
Ahead 38-21, with only the 106 and 113-pound bouts left, the Eagles chose to forfeit out. Gordon Lee went on to earn third place with a 54-16 win over Mt. Paran Christian.
Hunter Burnette, Bryce James and Nathaniel Hunley all went 1-0 on the day. Avery Geer was 2-1, while Penn Askew, Montgomery Kephart, Jagger Martin, Owen Frost and Austin Crowley were all 1-1.
Sonoraville wins at home
The Phoenix, the prohibitive favorites in the Area 4-AAA tournament, won on their own home mats on Saturday, while Coahulla Creek placed second to earn a trip to the State Duals for the first time.
Ringgold went 1-2 on the day, defeating Haralson County, 53-27, but losing to Calhoun (54-28) and Adairsville (46-33).
Results from LFO had not been provided as of press time.