Thursday May 26th, 2016 6:57PM

STATE CHAMPS: Two breakthroughs, one more domination -- three wrestling titles

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
MACON -- Commerce wrestling coach Kendall Love knew his team was prepared for the state duals.

After all, the Tigers -- and every other program in northeast Georgia -- face state-level competition every week.

"It really helps us, who we wrestle against week-in, week-out," Love said. "There's great competition around here. Northeast Georgia wrestling is really coming on."

It showed on Saturday.

Commerce joined Jefferson and Buford on the medal podium as state champions, while Banks County finished second and Lumpkin County and North Forsyth each finished fourth in their respective classifications at the three-day tournament held at the Macon Centreplex.

For the Tigers and Wolves it was a case of breaking through -- as Commerce and Buford claimed their first ever duals crowns. Jefferson, meanwhile, maintained its dominance in Class AA, storming to its 13th straight duals title.

"We had knocked on the door for this so many times, so to finally get the title is a rewarding feeling -- especially for our seniors," said Love, whose Commerce program romped past Athens Christian 48-18 courtesy six pins in the Class A finale. "I think we can build on this. They say getting the first one is sometimes the hardest."

Just getting to Macon had been hard enough for Buford, but after notching their first appearance at the state duals tournament the Wolves made it a memorable one indeed, battling into the Class AAA final -- where they got some payback from last weekend's area duals by knocking off defending state champ Banks County 44-23.

"The guys believed they could do this all weekend, but what they really were fired up for was getting another shot at Banks County," Buford coach Rob Carlyle said. "They wanted the area title and didn't get it, but we made some changes that that helped make a difference this time around, and the kids just got after it, really."

One of those changes including moving Ty Reece from 160 pounds to the 170-pound weight class -- a move that netted a pin for Reece in the final. The success was one of five pins for Buford in the championship match -- including Brayden Hartley (132 pounds), Rudy Guillen (145) and Justin Loredo (220), who lost in last week's area duals final only to bounce back with a huge pin in the Class AAA finale.

Buford's early performance left Banks County needing to close strong with pins of its own, but three-time individual state champ Chip Ness helped slammed the door, recording another pin for the Wolves at 195.

"Everybody wrestled well today," Carlyle said. "This was one of our big goals of the season, and we have a lot left. This really takes the program in a new direction. And it's also great to get another title for Buford; I think everyone at the school is excited to see another sport get another trophy."

Commerce wrestling has hoisted a state title before -- but the last came in 1990, before the duals format was even in use -- and after finishing third last season, the Tigers were not to be denied again.

"We weren't tested a whole lot until the finals," Love said after watching his team win its first two matches 72-3 and 70-7. "I knew we'd have our hands full in the final, especially against their middleweights, but the guys that lost made it by minor decisions and the guys who needed to get pins for us did."

The Tigers notched six pins in the defeat of Athens Christian, including at 106 for Dalton Flint, Trent Reddish (160), Dontavious Mosley (170), Holden Nunn (195), Morgan Flint (220) and Chance McClure (285).

"The guys have worked hard all year, and the seniors (Nunn, Morgan Flint and McClure) really wanted this," Love said. "This was kind of the only thing we hadn't done as a program."

And with the state's most dominant program just down the road in Class AA, Commerce hopes it can emulate Jefferson's success.

"Now we've got a youth program feeding in, and this can really build something," Love said.

Jefferson maintained its lofty standards as perhaps the most dominant athletic program in the state, clinching its duals title courtesy a 48-15 win over Bremen. The Dragons had fought off Toombs County in a tight semifinal, 47-34, on Friday to set up Saturday's championship showdown. And with another championship in sight, Jefferson was not about to stumble.

The Dragons won 11 of their 14 matches against Bremen, including four pins -- Bam Little (160), Deshawn Lester (195), Jackson Bowen (220) and Michael Paolozzi (285).

The evening also saw the resurgence of Tyler Marinelli -- a two-time defending state traditional champion, who picked up a 3-0 win by beating another defending state champ -- only two weeks back from injury. Mitchell McGee (106, major decision), Price Joiner (113), Ben Kelly (120), Tanner Thurmond (132), Jack Dollar (145) and Zach Rhymer (170) also claimed victories for the Dragons -- who have claimed hardware at every state duals tournament ever held (the GHSA only began the duals format 13 years ago).

It -- combined with Jefferson's 13 straight traditional titles -- is the longest winning streak in any sport in GHSA history.

Meanwhile, in Class AAAA, Lumpkin County fell to Alexander 43-18 in the third-place match after defeating Chestatee 33-26 to get to the consolation final. The Indians faced down the War Eagles after Chestatee fell to eventual champion Gilmer in the semifinal round.

And, in Class AAAAAA, North Forsyth fought back from a semifinal setback to Camden County to finish fourth, falling to Collins Hill 41-24 in the consolation final.
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