ELLIJAY — Snow showers during the day and the threat of more snow and icy roads during the evening forced tournament organizers to hit the fast forward button on the second day of the Area 7-AAAA tournament at Gilmer High School on Saturday.
Trying to beat the weather and make it safer for teams and fans traveling home, the tournament was run without any breaks between rounds.
However, the somewhat frantic pace did not seem to bother the LaFayette Ramblers, who put five wrestlers in the finals, won two individual titles, and took home a team trophy as the 7-AAAA runners-up.
LaFayette collected 160 points to overtake Southeast Whitfield (147) for the second spot in the team standings. It was a small measure of revenge for the Ramblers, who missed out on a trip to the Class AAAA State Duals last month after losing to the Raiders in the final match.
“It was a really good day for us and second place is not bad at all,” LaFayette head coach Keith Mariakis said. “The kids showed up and really wrestled well. Our kids have been in tough matches all year long so they didn’t get rattled down here and that was the biggest thing. They kept their composure and just wrestled. That’s all you can ask of them.”
As expected, the host Bobcats claimed the area championship with 232.5 points, qualifying 12 wrestlers for next week’s sectionals while winning five individual titles. But thanks to the Ramblers, it was two less individual champions than Gilmer was hoping for.
Caleb Mariakis, wrestling with an injured right arm, scored a takedown in the closing seconds of the second period and gutted out a 4-3 victory over Gilmer’s Daniel Bautista in the 113-pound finals.
Then, in the 132-pound finals, Sam Lemons avenged a loss at the Area Duals by beating Gilmer’s Brady McCollum, 7-6, adding his name to the list state contenders at the weight class.
Three other LaFayette wrestlers finished as runner-up in their respective weight classes. Britton Gilbert (138) lost a 15-6 decision to Gilmer stalwart Johnnie Flakes, Mathew Mathis (160) was pinned in the third period by Cedartown’s Jonas Ritter, and Barron Taylor (220) dropped a 12-6 decision to Southeast’s Carlos Fraire, last year’s Class AAA state runner-up.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know if Caleb could even get out there,” Mariakis added, “but he really sucked it up and did a great job, and for Sam to get beat by that kid a few weeks ago, then come back to win the match today was great. He just relaxed and wrestled a six-minute match. I’m really proud of them and proud of all the guys that got second place and the others that qualified (for sectionals).”
Will Mefford (195) finished third for the Ramblers, while Joe Clayton (152) and Chase Davidson (182) will go to sectionals after fourth-place finishes.
After finishing with just one state alternate a year ago, the Ridgeland Panthers qualified three wrestlers for sectionals. Seniors Cody Davis (160) and Mark McKevitt (170) each placed third, while fellow senior Cody Brooks (126) took fourth.
“We’re sad that a couple more of our seniors didn’t qualify (for sectionals), and we were hoping some of our underclassmen could have qualified so they could come back next year with that experience, but we’ll take it,” Ridgeland head coach Josh Keefe said. “We wrestled below what we’re capable of and we still had (three) qualify. That’s kind of a good thing because it means we haven’t peaked yet. We still have a lot of little things to work on next week, but mostly, it’s mental things.”
Cass (140.5) finished in fourth place, followed by Heritage (109), Northwest Whitfield (91), Cedartown (72), Dalton (54), Ridgeland (50), Pickens (37), and River Ridge (25).
Pickens High School will host the Class AAAA West Sectional tournament next weekend, which includes the top four wrestlers in each weight class from Areas 1, 5, 6, and 7. The top eight in each class will advance to the Class AAAA State tournament, Feb. 14-16 in Macon.