GARDINER — On a day in which the Cony wrestling team didn’t have its best stuff, the Rams still found a way to gut out a win at the 44th Gardiner Invitational on Saturday.

The Rams trailed Nokomis entering the consolation and championship finals but pulled out some key victories in the consolation round to post a five-point win over the Warriors.

“It felt like we came out a little bit flat and lost some matches early in the day that we shouldn’t have lost,” Cony coach Shawn Totman said. “I preach to the kids all the time that championships are won by guys who face adversity early in the day and don’t let it defeat them.”

The Rams topped the 15-team field with 139 points to 134 for Nokomis. Morse/Wiscasset placed third, followed by Bonny Eagle and Kennebunk. Mt. Blue/Spruce Mountain made a strong showing with a seventh-place finish and 91 points.

Cony picked two wins in the finals, from Noah Dumas at 112 pounds and Nic Mills at 195. David Wilson (170) and James Boyd (220) posted championship wins for Nokomis.

“Our veteran kids are doing what they’re supposed to do,” Nokomis coach Scott Preble said. “And our new kids are coming along and winning some matches like we hoped they would.”

Mills, who won the Class A state title at 182 pounds last year as a sophomore, pinned Nokomis’ Alex Glidden in the finals.

“Definitely this year coming in I felt a lot more confident about myself and my ability,” Mills said. “It’s not just the state championship title but just knowing they I went that far and made it to the New Englands just kind of made me more confident.”

Mills, who had defeated Glidden earlier in the year, ran his record to 8-0 with six pins. Included in that mark was a win over the defending state champion at 195 from Marshwood at the Westbrook Invitational.

The Rams picked up three keys victories in the consolation finals from Jakob French (138), Jakob Arbour (152) and Mohammed Aljenti (220), which helped put them over the top. So did others who didn’t finish among the top four.

“This win is all about those kids who won a match and maybe didn’t place,” Totman said. “That’s big points when it’s really close in the team score.”

Tucker Nicholas (160) — who earned wrestler of the meet honors — and John Howard (182) won matches for a Mt. Blue/Spruce Mountain program that has bounced back after a couple of down years.

“I couldn’t have been happier,” Mt. Blue coach Justin Nile said. “These kids wrestled extremely well. I had a freshman who took first, a sophomore who took first, two seconds, a third with another freshman. I’m ecstatic.”

Other central Maine winners included ZyAnthony Moss of Maine Central Institute at 132. Placing second were Mt. Blue’s Jagger Bullen (113), Tyler Preble (126) and Josh Brown of Nokomis (132), Mt. Blue’s Hayden Nile, Gardiner’s Roy Applebee (182) and Cony’s Mitch McFarland (285).

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Many current and former wrestling coaches, as wel as officials, showed up to honor former Gardiner coach John Smith, who began the wrestling program at the school 50 years ago. Smith also started the Gardiner Invitational, the state’s longest running high school tournament.

“When I got here in 1965 it took me a couple of years to get interest going,” Smith said. “Finally we got the OK to start in 1967. The funny thing about it was people were concerned if we erected a ring in the gym here that it would scratch the floor. They didn’t understand so it was a learning process for everybody.”

Smith coach the Tigers until 1982 then began a career as a wrestling official that spanned 20 years. Former Cony and Gardiner coach Fran Hanley said a few words on Smith’s behalf and credits his former coach with much of his success in later life.

“He was the best educator I had,” Hanley said. “He was tough on you but if you lasted he gave you a lot of confidence. I went from wrestling here to wrestling at (Maine), getting an electrical engineering degree and a job at CMP. I’m going to retire next year and it’s all because of his direction.”

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