Feb. 12—TIFTON — An astonishing 15 Tift County wrestlers will head to state tournaments this week after an incredible two days of sectionals.
Fourteen wrestlers are assured of hitting the mats at the state tournament at the Macon Coliseum Feb. 15-17, with one more going as a hopeful alternate.
"We're going prepared to do our best," said head coach Shawn Watson.
Damion Moate won the 190-pound sectional title at Houston County High, with three pins in three rounds before defeating Simon Palatchi of Woodward Academy, 7-4 in the finals.
Steven Zheng was runner-up at 144 pounds, with a region rival from Lee County earning first. The Lady Devils had two runners-up Friday, Addison Braswell at 125 pounds and Debraysia Doward at 190. Doward had three consecutive pins before a 2-0 loss to Woodward. Braswell also fell on points in the finale after three pins in a row.
Girls sectionals took place in Mount Airy at Habersham Central High.
Amazingly, every one of the 12 Blue Devils wrestling Saturday placed in the top eight at sectionals, though only the top six are eligible for the state finals. The seventh and eighth place finisher were one win away from advancing to the finals. Five Lady Devils placed in the top eight.
Eleven wrestlers reached the semifinals of their brackets. Four wrestled in sectional finals. Of the seven knocked out in the semis, four won the consolation finals — third place. Those wrestlers were Sadie Davis (115 pounds), Antron Johnson (113), Kenneth "K.J." Wilcox (126) and Javon Bateman (150).
There were five third places among Tift wrestlers with the other, Dawson McMillan, winning four straight matches in the consolation bracket. This included a victory over Houston County's Caleb McGlamry, who had defeated him for the region title a week earlier.
Wilcox and Bateman won major decisions for third place. McMillan was close, with a six-point win.
No one from Tift lost in the consolation finals. Fifth place wrestlers were Samantha Vicars (235), Andres Soto (120), Bryan Melton (165) and Danny Freeman (175). Sixth place went to Austin King (132).
Michael Dixon is a state alternate at 215 pounds after placing seventh.
Though not making state, also placing were Peyton Whiddon (106) at eighth and Zaniya Knight (110), also in eighth. Watson said Whiddon and Dixon wrestled well.
At times Saturday afternoon, Tift had wrestlers on three of the four mats. "We stayed busy," said Watson, adding that his assistant coaches were spread between the matches. Watson almost missed one of the biggest moments of the tournament while stationed at a Freeman match.
Melton trailed by a big 11-4 margin in the third period in a quarterfinals match. Suddenly Melton came up with a takedown and a pin out of nowhere for the victory.
"He can catch you," said Watson, calling Melton dangerous. "He can connect with a cradle from anywhere."
Tift County qualified nine wrestlers for state last year. Moate, McMillan, Freeman, Braswell and Vicars are the returnees from that crew.