LAKELAND -- Jamal Morris still is on track for his fourth consecutive state title. Brother Jamel remains unbeaten this season, as do Kennedy Monday and Anthony Vazquez.
And yet Cardinal Gibbons finds itself with little breathing room in its battle to dethrone Orlando’s Lake Highland Prep for state Class 1A wrestling supremacy.
“Every point’s valuable,” coach Frank Pettineo said Friday night after the Chiefs sent a half-dozen wrestlers to the semifinals to emerge with a 7 1/2-point lead over the two-time defending champions.
Cardinal Gibbons finished with 78 1/2 points after two rounds at the Lakeland Center, with Lake Highland Prep compiling 71. Clay County was a distant third with 44 points.
St. Thomas Aquinas, meantime, saw a couple of one-point quarterfinal upsets dim its chances for a first state crown since 1985. The Raiders stood a distant third in the Class 3A standings, with a 17-point deficit to make up on Kissimmee Osceola for second.
South Dade tops the 3A chart with 70 1/2 points, seeking its first state crown since 2008 now that powerhouse Brandon has relocated to the 2A competition. Since that last title, the Buccaneers have three times been runners-up to Brandon.
“South Dade is having a great tournament right now,” St. Thomas coach Gerry Braun said. “Their guys pulled some out.”
Osceola was next with 62 1/2points, followed by the Raiders with 45 1/2.
“We’re hoping we can inch our way back into contention for one of the trophies,” said Braun, who saw Brian Perez upended by Apopka’s Nick Celella in the 152-pound class and heavyweight Colton Lynn fall in the quarters — just his third loss this season.
Stranahan senior Kenny Boyd kept his unbeaten record intact with a pair of major decisions in reaching the Class 2A semifinals at 152 pounds. Likewise, Cooper City senior Eric Perez (36-1) reached the semis in the 3A 160-pound division.
Somerset Academy placed two wrestlers in the 1A semifinals, with Raekwon Reggler (52-1) cruising through at 182 pounds and Jonathon Astacio advancing at 132.
Cardinal Gibbons began the night session with nine wrestlers in the quarterfinals and got off to a hot start with five wins in their first six matches. That included convincing wins by both of the Morris brothers, Monday and Vazquez.
Alex Lopouchanski picked up a key win with a 7-5 victory over Fernandina Beach’s Joshua Helm, scoring the winning takedown with 33 seconds left. But Austin Nelson was pinned by Cape Coral Mariner’s Alejandro Lopez at 220 pounds, and Matt Knick went out likewise against DeAngelis Harris of Jacksonville Wolfson.
That left the Chiefs with six semifinalists — the same number as Lake Highland Prep.
Cardinal Gibbons also has five men still alive in the wrestlebacks for third place, compared to just two for Lake Highland Prep.
St. Thomas will have three wrestlers in the semifinals — Sal Gurriero at 138 pounds, Jeremy Scott at 160 and John Weiss at 170. But the losses by Perez and Lynn were unexpected setbacks.
Lynn (30-3) suffered a bit of misfortune in drawing Colby Meeks of Orlando’s Dr. Phillips, who also came to Lakeland with just two losses. He easily won his wrestleback in one of the night’s final matches.
“Now he’ll come back and take third for himself and probably the team,” Braun said. “Just lots of upsets. It always happens here.”