With eight local wrestlers in the championship round of the state wrestling tournament Saturday evening at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House, the stage was set for a banner evening for Howard County wrestling.
But when the mats were finally rolled up at the end of the tournament, only two local wrestlers — Glenelg's Sean Twigg (285) and River Hill's Cory Daniel (195) — were flying championship flags.
River Hill, the defending 3A/4A state champion, finished second in the team standings behind Urbana (97.5-89) and Glenelg was third in the 1A/2A race with 87 points, just half-a-point behind runner-up Owings Mills but well behind champion Winters Mill (121).
Daniel, a junior, ended a streak of five straight setbacks in the championship finals for Howard County wrestlers by edging previously undefeated Ralph Bernardo of Wootton in overtime, 3-1.
"He was one of those guys that know how to play defense ... he was obviously a little better at it and stronger, knew a few more moves," said Daniel, who improved to 42-0 with the win. "It's definitely a great feeling. I'm only a junior, I really prepared well for it and hopefully I can come back and do it again next year."
Daniel's practice partner, Logan Kirby (220), had a similarly close match against Northwest's previously undefeated Luis Beteta. But Kirby was unable to score the winning takedown before time expired, and lost for the first time this season, 2-1.
"It was a great match ... Bernardo and (Beteta) were both big strong kids and wanted to stall and keep it close. Unfortunately Logan wasn't able to get it," Daniel said. "Hopefully he'll get his next year."
Glenelg senior heavyweight Sean Twigg became a two-time state champion when he defeated Winters Mill junior Jake Utz, 1-0.
"Multiple championships aren't easy to come by and actually he's the third in school history," coach Chris Rosas said. "The spotlight was on him. You're Sean Twigg the returning state champion and you've got a huge target on your back."
Twigg pinned Utz during the 1A/2A state dual meet championship three weeks ago, but said that this time he approached the match differently.
"Then it was I needed to get a pin, here it was I needed to win," said Twigg, who became the first Maryland wrestler to win two heavyweight state titles since Oakland Mills' Robert Scott in 2000. "His coaches obviously prepared him really well: the legs, the power half coming in."
Twigg has committed to wrestle for the University of Maryland next year.
"That makes it that much better," he said.
Twigg was Howard County's only finalist on the 1A/2A side, but Oakland Mills' Zach Hensley (120) and Jaron Smith (160), a sophomore, each won their consolation championships to take third.
River Hill got third place finishes from junior Michael Beck (106) and senior Justin Nestor (285). As a first year wrestler, Nestor's finish was an impressive accomplishment.
"Nestor had an unbelievable day," coach Brandon Lauer said. "It's amazing from where he was Dec. 5 not really knowing anything, even rules, to finishing third in the state is a testament to how hard he works, how coachable his is and the character he has."
But as the top-ranked 106-pounder in the 3A/4A coming into the tournament, the previously undefeated Beck was stunned by a second period pin against Westminster freshman Ryker Eckenbarger in Friday night's quarterfinal round.
But Beck wrestled back through the consolation bracket and eventually scored a first-period pin against Eckenbarger in the consolation championship.
"I was really proud of his effort to be able to refocus and have composure and come back through," Lauer said. "(In the quarterfinals) he countered a bar and sat up on it, they started rolling around and laced their legs and had arms tied up and (Eckenbarger) just fell out on top. It happened so fast and because of that he didn't have time to counter the counter ... bridging and basic elementary things that you're taught early on, good people aren't there a lot."
"Yesterday was a rough day for us," Lauer said. "We knew we wanted to have five placewinners and we thought that would put us in good position to win the championship."