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Gators headed to state as favorites

Bulloch Academy State Qualifiers

Name                   Weight
Kyle Samuels           106
Billy Tillman           113
Justin Lane                    120
Mitchell Ball           126
Joshua Bohannon           132
Davis Childs           138
Drew Salter           145
Tyce Lovett           152
Jake Hagan           160
Eddie Howard           170
Dylan Stuckey           182
Will Kauber           195
G.C. Kimbrell                220
Connor Fordham           285


    The wrestlers of Bulloch Academy will try to culminate what has already been an impressive and dominating season as they compete in the GISA state meet at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon over the next two days.
    The Gators claimed the team title in 2012 and finished as runners-up in both 2011 and 2013. Bulloch has put up astounding numbers throughout the season and has claimed many of its victories in runaway fashion.
    Now everything comes down to the next two days.
    “I think that we’re a very prepared team,” BA coach Andy Tomlin said. “That’s where we have to be. The time for coaching is over. We have a lot of guys who have been on this stage before and know what they have to do. Now it’s just a matter of going out and performing well.”
    The Gators figure to be favorites as they have placed all 14 of their wrestlers into the state brackets. With so many competing, Bulloch has a vastly improved chance of racking up points – which are awarded depending on each individual’s final placing in their weight class.
    Technically, Bulloch is already a state champion.
    On Jan. 18, the Gators claimed the Class AAA state duals championship. In that format, all wrestlers will take on an opponent from the same school, with each competitor accumulating points toward a final team total that determines which school advances.
    The Gators outscored their three opponents by a combined mark of 196-38, including a 58-14 romp over Robert Toombs in the finals.
    “It’s a little different with wrestling in that you have two state tournaments,” Tomlin said. “Winning duals was great for our program, but it won’t mean as much if we can’t follow that up this weekend. These next two days are what all of our hard work has been leading up to.”
    Leading the way for the Gators are three seniors who have powered Bulloch’s emergence as a perennial power on the mat. Mitchell Ball (126 pounds), Eddie Howard (170) and Connor Fordham will all pass the torch to a talented group of underclassmen after the state meet.
    While Ball is winding down his high school career, he has a chance to make some history on the way out the door.
    Wrestling on the varsity squad while still an eighth-grader, Ball captured an individual state title at the 2010 meet. He followed that up with another title in 2011, having still never lost a match. Ball was finally knocked off his perch in 2012, but claimed another individual crown last season. With one more title, Ball will join a group of four-time winners that – by Tomlin’s count – numbers less than 30 from all levels throughout Georgia high school wrestling history.
    “We’re going to have to say goodbye to one of the best to ever come through here,” Tomlin said. “But Mitchell is just a part of the puzzle. It would be great to see him win a fourth title, but the main focus is on everyone earning points and coming out on top as a team.”
    Bulloch’s main competition looks to be the Westfield School out of Perry. The Hornets are defending state champions and finished second behind the Gators in 2012.
    All wrestlers will weigh in today at 9 a.m. and first round matches will begin at 11 a.m. Quarterfinals will begin later in the afternoon and the first day will conclude with the first two rounds of the consolation brackets.
    Championship semifinals will be sandwiched in between more consolation matches Saturday morning and the championship finals are scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.