MCDONOUGH - The Eastside varsity wrestling squad placed second among 32 teams from seven different counties during the 36th Annual South Metro Invitational on Friday and Saturday at Union Grove High School.
Meanwhile, the Rams (3-9) did well with their young unit by placing 14th overall.
Eastside (15-0, ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA in the Coaches Poll by GASports.com) had six wrestlers to qualify in the semi-finals Saturday with five advancing to the finals.
"I'm really proud of the boys," said Eastside head coach Brandon Blakeman. "They put in a lot of work going into their first year at the South Metro."
Cody Durden (junior, 103 pounds) defeated Rockdale County's Jake Morris, while Ardest Carter (senior, 189 lbs.) defeated Union Grove's Stephen Bodiford in the finals to capture first place.
Trevor Bailey (junior, 135 lbs.) was defeated by Jonathan Pierce (Stockbridge) to take second place honors. David Bender (junior, 152 lbs.) fell to Kenny Kellerman (Whitewater) in the consolation match to take fourth.
Brandon Cole (senior, 130 lbs.) advanced to the semi-finals but fell to Richard Hughes (McIntosh) who went on to the finals.
Sophomore Dalton Temple (171 lbs.) wrestled well during the consolation matches only to fall to Roland Thomas (Lovejoy) heading into the finals.
"The South Metro is well-known," said Blakeman. "To come out with six (who) placed and we (as a team) placing second (in team points), that is just outstanding. The boys are seeing that the work is hard, but it's well worth it in the end."
Perhaps the best match of the night was during the finals of the 119-pound weight class between defending Class AAAA champion Joel Stafford against defending Class AAA champion Evan Warrington (Henry County).
It was a tremendous performance from Stafford (19-1) who traded move for move and slam for slam against Warrington during the entire match. Both wrestlers went all out toward the bitter end, only for Warrington to come up victorious and Stafford finishing with a second place finish.
At the end, 32 coaches voted the match as the best at the invitational.
"That was one of the best matches that you can get," said Blakeman. "You got two state champions going at it. (Joel) may have lost but he did everything that he could have done and (Warrington) did everything that he could have done."
The Eastside wrestling program was ranked No. 1 last season only to let the duel and traditional state title slip through its grasp. However, after this weekend's performance at the State Metro Invitational, Blakeman and the Eagles made quite a statement in trying to bring a team wrestling duel and/or traditional state title to Covington.
"We are serious about our work," said Blakeman. "When it's time to focus and it's time to work, we will be ready and we will show up."
For Newton, junior Cory Ware (119 lbs.) was the school's only medalist, placing fourth in his weight class after falling to Johnny Logan (Union Grove) in the consolation match.
"I didn't think I was going to make it (toward the finals)," said Ware. "I'm glad that I did well."
Newton second-year head coach Chris Andrews was pleased with the way his team performed over the course of two days.
"The South Metro is a great learning experience for our kids," admitted Andrews. "We are very excited for this, and our kids consider this like going to the state (tournament)."
Newton's best performer, Daniel Mendoza (senior, 135 lbs.) performed well by winning key matches against Ibraheem Walker (Mundy's Mill) in the first round and Zack Smith (Sandy Creek). However, he lost to Trevor Bailey (Eastside) heading into the semi-finals.
Senior Joey Joseph (140 lbs.), Hosea Hines (171 lbs.), and freshman Aaron Reynolds (130 lbs.) displayed a lot of heart during much of the Invitational, yet came up short heading into the semi-finals.
"I think that this is only a confidence booster," said Andrews. "The kids are looking really strong, and I am very pleased with what I saw."