Dulaney junior knocks off state champ for county wrestling title

Newly minted Baltimore County champion Jacob Asher has never wrestled an opponent as tough as Owings Mills senior Demetrius Johnson.

On paper, Johnson was the overwhelming favorite to beat the Dulaney junior.

The Maryland State Wrestling Association ranked Johnson third in the state at 145 pounds, boasting a perfect 32-0 record and owning a 2011 Class 2A-1A state championship.

To be sure, Asher is no slouch. He's ranked 19th.

But Johnson has won a whopping 140 matches in his career and has 12 tournament titles compared to Asher's one.

"I knew I was the underdog and a lot of people doubted me," Asher said. "A lot of people laughed at me saying, 'He's going to lose.' I didn't think about that. I just went out and wrestled my hardest. I wasn't going to let him score on me."

While Johnson did score, Asher took had just enough grit and moxie to defeat Johnson, 3-2, in the Baltimore County championship final at Franklin High on Feb. 16.

Asher (34-3) didn't start wrestling until arriving at Dulaney, spending his freshman season on the junior varsity compiling a gaudy 28-3 record and earning a county crown.

Not many wrestlers have developed as fast as Asher under long-time coach Desi McNelis.

"It was a huge win because everybody thought Demetrius would win," McNelis said. "And (Johnson) probably thought he would win it easily. It shows what (Asher) could be. I think he can beat anybody in the state. He wrestled the perfect match."

Asher went ahead, 2-0, on an escape with 33 seconds remaining in the first period.

"He gave me an opening, and I noticed the right side of his body was opening," Asher said. "I took that shot and finished."

It didn't take Johnson, who had pinned all three of his opponents in the prior rounds, long before he tied the match, scoring on an escape in the final seconds of the first period and the opening seconds of the middle period.

Asher prevailed with 1:32 left in the final period, scrambling out of bounds for an escape.

"I knew that escape was the key to the match," said Asher, who placed third in the county and region last year at 132 while going 33-11. "I knew if I had escaped, he wouldn't be able to score on me again. I had to defend well right up until the last minute."

McNelis said that, "We knew (Asher) could shut down (Johnson's) takedowns. Asher is really hard to take down. But we needed to score one and we needed to get out. And we got both of them."

Sophomore Sean Hoffman (4th, 152, 32-5), junior Dylan Ruiz (3rd, 120, 32-5), sophomore Dan Matthews (6th, 132, 17-15 and seniors Connor Handzo (6th, 15-17) and senior Pat Hoffman (5th, 38, 31-7) also placed for Dulaney.

Towson High had two finalists, seniors Nathan Nenortas (182, 27-7) and Liam St. John (138, 30-5).

Nenortas pinned Catonsville's Norris Holloway in 1:18 in a quarterfinal and scored a 9-3 decision over Hereford's Joe Miller in a semifinal before falling in the final.

St. John, who recorded a pair of pins and a decision on the way to the final, had a difficult time in the championship, losing to Pikeville's Travon Wright, 12-4.

Despite both Generals being denied, Towson coach Phil Simmonds feels they made huge strides in the meet.

"Both have come a long ways since last year," the coach said. "And I expect them to place at regionals."

Towson junior Danny Pittas (6th, 145, 15-14) also had a standout performance for the Generals.

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