GREEN COVE SPRINGS - A strong return from 113-pounder Jacob Bucci after a knee injury put some punch in the Clay High wrestling lineup as the Blue Devils put the chase to eventual Clay Rotary …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS - A strong return from 113-pounder Jacob Bucci after a knee injury put some punch in the Clay High wrestling lineup as the Blue Devils put the chase to eventual Clay Rotary champion Somerset, No. 2 last year in Class 1A, to finish as runner-up in the annual event in Green Cove Springs on Saturday.
"Jacob Bucci is a state medalist (third last year 106) and we haven't had him in the lineup for about a month or so and this we his first big test back," said Clay coach Jim Reape, who got 192.5 team points to Somerset's 262.0 for the runnerup finish. "He didn't get to wrestle his finals match because of a medical forfeit to Somerset's Jake Austin (46-3), last year's state runner-up at 106 as a seventh grader."
Bucci, who dropped from being top-ranked in 2A to seventh before returning to the number one spot recently, returned with a fervor with three pins and a 17-0 tech fall before pulling from the meet. Austin is top-ranked at 113 in Class 1A for Somerset.
"I just finished with the knee and I was more interested in my endurance and stamina out there," said Bucci. "I got a little gassed and I was wrestling away from my knee but it felt good to be out there again and we'll just keep icing and heating it."
Also hindering the Clay chase was a medical forfeit at 126 by Rylan Herrera who was nursing a minor injury. Herrera had a much-anticipated semifinal match with Oakleaf's Sebastian Bonachea at 126 who came in with just one loss with Herrera at 33-8.
Last year, Bonachea finished fifth at 126 after losing his second match to eventual champion Maximus Brady of Mariner.
"Sebastian is a steady, strong wrestler and one of the best out of Oakleaf," said coach Mark Detoro, who finished eighth with 107 points but also missed some key athletes in Keon Barrientos and Ghais Cooper.
"They had some family issues, but both will be back in the lineup for districts," said Detoro.
Districts are scheduled for Feb. 12-17.
Bonachea lost in his final to Buchholz's Jedidiah Brown 1-0 in a hard-fought match. Brown was ranked 8th in Class 3A at 27-5; Bonachea third at 132 in Class 2A.
For Detoro, Connor Barnes lost in the 106 final to Middleburg's Gavin Fisher 8-5. Fisher is now 51-2 and ranked sixth in Class 2A with Barnes 11th at 22-8.
For Reape, the forfeits are good for rehabbing for the postseason in a week.
"We have districts coming up soon and it's better to be safe and have them ready for that than risk more injury," said Reape. "Other than that, the team did fine against a pretty good field; 40 teams were here this weekend with 3A-Buchholz (third) bringing a strong team."
Clay had 120 Vonte Burke in the final against Florida's Jasper Croom in a match of ranked athletes; Burke ninth at 25-7, Croom third at 31-4 with Croom catching Burke in the final seconds of the match with a pin. Note: Croom lost to Somerset's Jake Austin in last year's Class 1A semifinal.
At 157, Clay's Landon Martin also lost by pin to Fernandina Beach's unbeaten (44-0) Enzo Gamba.
Jaden Bell was third at 285 with Aaron Stacey fifth at 215 and Will Kelley sixth at 190 after forfeiting his fifth-place match for injury.
For Middleburg coach Coll Robertson, who has traveled his team to far-away destinations in preparation for upcoming districts, the Clay Rotary lineup was as good as he has seen on his road trips.
"All of our good guys are doing as expected; Grady Woodard, Tucker Cody, Gavin Fisher, and we keep getting the younger guys to get better each week," said Robertson, who had three finalists; Fisher, Wyatt Leduc as 150 runnerup to Gavin Nolan of Clearwater Central Catholic and Cody, champion at 215. "We love the competition; went to St. Cloud, saw Somerset here and Key West."
One match that was slightly anticipated was a possible rematch of Cody (49-1) against Matanzas Jordan Mills (41-0) who was responsible for Cody's lone loss of the season.
"We wrestled against each other at 215 and he got me, but now he is back at 190," said Cody. "I learned a little about my mental preparation from that loss and I think it helped me to refocus my tactics."
Robertson concurred that Cody ranked second at 215 in 2A, has improved his practice methods because of the loss to Mills, ranked first at 190 in 2A.
"He learned that he had to work on getting to his opponent's legs and not relying on under hooks and throwing guys," said Robertson, who was missing Grady Woodard who is fourth-ranked at 120 in 2A, sees Cody, Fisher, Woodard and LeDuc as legitimate state medal contenders. "He's got sneaky good shots that have made him a more complete wrestler instead of just being a brute out there."
In fourth, Middleburg scored 132 points with Buchholz at 172 for third and Florida High fifth with 123.5.