For three years the Flowery Branch Falcons have been Hall County’s kings of wrestling.
With his team leading the Falcons by one point, but trailing 13-4 in his match against Ryan Raber, West Hall’s Ricardo Mancilla quickly reversed the course of the Hall County championships by flipping Raber on his back and pinning him to give West Hall a 36-29 lead and clinching the win.
West Hall, which entered Day 2 of the tournament tied with Flowery Branch atop the standings, won the match 36-35 to clinch its first Hall County title since 2007.
“I knew the biggest match of the day would be Flowery Branch,” said West Hall junior Logan Herford, who went 7-0 in the tournament. “I’m glad we had them first because that set up the rest of the day.”
In the day’s first match, the Falcons jumped out to a 29-21 lead behind wins from George Kudya, Johnathan Martinez, Ben Horton, Nicholas Lankford, Caleb Murphy and Zach Cannon. But the Spartans rallied back with pins by Tanner Yates and Herford and an 11-6 win by Christian Sepulveda to take a 30-29 lead.
Needing a win, Raber quickly took control of his match with Mancilla and built a 13-4 lead in the third period. But with his back on the mat, and his team’s backs to the wall, Mancilla pulled off a reversal and overpowered Raber. Although it took nearly 30 seconds to get both shoulders on the ground, Mancilla never gave up trying and when the ref slapped the mat to announce the pin, the West Hall coaches, wrestlers and fans went wild.
“The whole time our hearts were pounding,” said Yates, who along with Mancilla and Sepulveda also finished 7-0. “We knew we had to beat them to win the Hall County championship.”
With the win under their belts, the Spartans still needed to win their next three matches in order to secure the title. That nearly didn’t happen in the following match with North Hall when they found themselves tied 33-33 with one match to go.
But like Mancilla did against the Falcons, Chris Price came up with a huge win for West Hall that gave it a 36-33 win and secured the title.
“Chris has hurt ribs and we weren’t sure he was going to be able to go,” West Hall coach Eric Radich said. “But he looked at me and said he was ready, and he came up with a big win.
“If we beat North Hall we still win it, but it feels better to beat everybody and leave no doubt.”
After two close matches to start the day, the Spartans cruised in their final two, beating East Hall 84-0 and Johnson 71-12.
“It’s amazing,” Yates said of winning the championship. “We came in knowing it would be a battle with every team. It’s the best feeling and this was the best we’ve wrestled all year.”
Yates and Herford also gave credit to a lot their teammates who came up with “surprise wins,” especially against Flowery Branch, a team that had owned this tournament for the past three years but finished second with a 6-1 record.
“It feels good to take it away from the kids who won it since their ninth grade year,” Herford said. “Hopefully we can keep winning and it’ll become the West Hall Show.”
According to Radich, that is just what a tournament win like this can do for a wrestling program.
“If you want to build a program you want to be the best,” he said.
Chestatee, which finished 5-2 took third place in the tournament by beating North Hall and Riverside Military Academy on Saturday. The Trojans finished fourth with a 4-3 mark, getting wins over Johnson and East Hall on Saturday to go along with wins over Gainesville and Riverside on Friday.
Gainesville finished fifth in the tournament, while Riverside, Johnson and East Hall ended in sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.