E.A. Sports Today

Speed driven

Oxford’s Pitts motivated by last-second loss in last year’s state finals

Oxford's Speed Pitts (white), wearing a mask to protect a broken nose, puts Madison County's Austin Foote in a tough spot during their 145-pound final Monday.

Oxford’s Speed Pitts (white), wearing a mask to protect a broken nose, puts Madison County’s Austin Foote in a tough spot during their 145-pound final Monday.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

ALEXANDRIA – Every wrestler who stepped onto the mat in Monday’s Valley Cub Invitational has the dream of becoming a state champion, but you probably weren’t going to find many as driven to that goal as Speed Pitts.

The pain of a last-second loss in last year’s state title bout still burns white hot within every fiber of the Oxford junior’s being. It’s the force that has kept him going through a series of trials that might have held a less-focused athlete down.

Pitts returned to the mat for the first time this season Monday and swept three bouts on his way to winning the 145-pround weight class. He beat Austin Foote of tournament team champion Madison County 6-3 in the final.

“Last year when I got second in the state finals it was like somebody was ripping my heart out,” Pitts said. “Coach (Matt) Tanner told me you need to carry your second place medal in your back pocket all the time and look at it. I don’t do that because I threw it away.

“This year I wake up every day to get better. It’s just basically been not getting back to the same spot every day, getting better, so I don’t have to go through that pain I went through last year.”

Pitts has lived with that pain since losing to the 145-pound title bout to Lincoln’s Jamario Howard on a takedown with two seconds left in their match. But even the road back to Monday’s victory was filled with detours.

He transferred from Wellborn after the school year and then, unrelated to the move, had to regain his eligibility academically and that kept him off the mat while his teammates were honing their skills for a potential state title run.

Then, Monday, he sustained a broken nose in his semifinal bout, forcing him to wrestle the final with a protective mask that left him looking like something out of WWE. But even that semifinal bout showed the fire of his desire – he was beating Tyler Glass of Moody 9-0 when he pinned him; he beat Glass in last year’s state semis 3-1.

That may be the biggest difference in the journey he says has made him “five times the better wrestler” than he was a year ago. Last year, he said, he was more worried about losing than winning. This year, he goes to the mat with “nothing but winning” on his mind.

“Any time you lose a championship match that sticks with you until you’re next opportunity — if you get that next opportunity,” Tanner said. “It’s going to eat at you until hopefully you get that opportunity again.

“He’s one of the hardest working-kids in the room. The boy knew he couldn’t wrestle and some kids would just say ‘I can’t wrestle right now I’m just going to wait,’ but he worked every day like he’s about to wrestle the next day. He’s just been counting down the days.

“When I told him he was going to wrestle in this tournament his eyes just lit up. It’s like the best Christmas present I think that boy could’ve gotten just because he’s been waiting so long.”

Pitts wasn’t the only wrestler who went into their championship bouts loaded with motivation.

Weaver sophomore Nick Souder claimed the day’s first title when he pinned Alexandria eighth-grader Fletcher Swindall for the 106 crown in what some were calling one of the day’s many previews of the state title match.

Souder went to the mat driven once again to avenge his only loss of the season, a setback at the hands of Swindall in the semifinals of Weaver’s Gene Taylor Memorial Classic.

“Every time I step on the mat with that kid I want to beat him; that way, I don’t lose to him again,” Souder said. “It drives me a whole lot, more than what it did the first time because I don’t want to get beat by him again and have to go through that again.”

It was the fourth time they’ve met this season. Souder won the first meeting in a dual match, Swindall got him back when Souder made a late-match mistake in the Taylor Memorial, then Souder exacted his first piece of revenge last week at Moody.

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