A historic week of wrestling for Braden River High School began with a setback.
Brendan Bengtsson, one of two Pirates to qualify for the Class 2A meet, got in a car accident on the way back from a training session. The mishap added to a laundry list of injuries, ailments and oddities that had held him back down the stretch this season.
At the Manatee County championship, Braden River’s 285-pounder battled flu-like symptoms. At the Class 2A-District 8 tournament, his back started to act up. He had to forfeit the championship match at the Class 2A-Region 2 meet because of a shoulder injury.
But at the 2A championship Saturday at Silver Spurs, Bengtsson was one of the last wrestlers on the mat, helping the Pirates make history.
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“Certainly this week was big. Really, really big for us,” Braden River head coach Damon Eikenhorst said. “We brought two and two placed.”
Bengtsson had to settle for second when he was pinned by Fort Myers Riverdale’s Cole Schneider. Chance Sharbono took second, as well, with an overtime loss. Still, it was the first time the Pirates had any wrestler in the championship of the state tournament, the first time they had multiple wrestlers in the semifinals and the first time they had multiple wrestlers place.
Braden River’s wrestling history doesn’t date back far, and success is even newer at the school, which only opened in 2005. Last year, Sharbono ended a seven-year drought of state-tournament qualifiers for the Pirates. This year, he returned with Bengtsson and more history was made, even without a gold medal.
Sharbono lost a heartbreaker, 2-1 in overtime to Sunlake Land O’ Lakes’ Jacob Conrad. The senior fell behind 1-0 in the waning seconds of the second period when Conrad was able to stand, and the bout went to overtime tied at 1 when Conrad picked up his second stall warning with 12 seconds left in regulation.
Sharbono was undone at the buzzer again in overtime. As the final seconds ticked away in the third session, Conrad escaped Sharbono’s grasp and stood up out of a bottom position to score the decisive point.
“Both of them had it. They were that equally matched,” Eikenhorst said. “It came down to us in the end having to ride them out and we didn’t do it.”
It has already been a historic season for wrestling in the county. During the last few weeks alone, Saint Stephen’s has had its first district champion, first region champion and sent its first crop of wrestlers to the state tournament. Last week, Southeast won its first team region title since 1993. Palmetto hoisted the county championship trophy last month, giving the Tigers back-to-back county titles.
Two days at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee capped the year with another rash of history-making accomplishments. Alan Morano became the Falcons’ first state medalist with a fourth-place finish at 120 pounds in Class 1A. Darrien Grant became the Seminoles’ first state finalist since 1993 with his silver medal at 220 in 1A — and teammate Alex Roldan finished fourth in the 138-pound weight class. After carrying its entire roster through to its region meet, Palmetto finished its season with a fifth-place medal by heavyweight Brian Ormsby.
For Southeast, a final bit of drought-ending proved elusive on the day former head coach Bob Thomas was honored as one of the newest members of the Florida chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. Grant pinned his way all the way to the finals, where he matched up with Benjamin Goldin of Orlando Lake Highland Prep. Goldin was the only wrestler to beat Grant this season and in the final match of his career with the Seminoles, Grant fell to a pin.
“Pinned his way through to the finals. You can’t ask for anything more than that,” Noles head coach Nick Balde said. “His only loss is to that one kid.”