As one of only four wrestlers in River Hill's starting line-up with a losing record, Hawks junior Donovan Delore (160) isn't used to having a match rest on his shoulders, let alone a season.
But on Friday night at previously undefeated Glenelg, it was Delore's chance to be a hero for his team.
Delore defeated Glenelg's Troy Walter, 1-0, to give the Hawks (11-0, 24-3 overall) the 32-27 win, the regular season dual meet Howard County title, and home advantage in the upcoming 3A/4A East regional duals. Delore escaped in the second period, and then had to hold Walter for the final two minutes.
"Once that buzzer went off it was just the best feeling," said Delore, who improved to 13-18 with the win. "It just feels great to get a really important win for the team."
River Hill coach Brandon Lauer said that Delore's losing record is not indicative of his ability.
"We move Casey (Guthier) around a lot to try to get specific match ups…so his record may not reflect the quality of wrestler he truly is, and we wrestle a tough schedule," Lauer said. "And I communicated that to him. That record means nothing, what matters is how hard you wrestle. I thought he had good confidence."
Delore said that every time he looked at the clock in the third period, clinging onto his 1-0 lead, he gained a little more confidence.
"I was taking peaks at the clock to see how much time we had left and when it started getting to 20 seconds the adrenaline really started kicking in like 'wow, I need to keep holding on so we can get it'," he said.
Last year, Delore defeated Walter twice in down-to-the-wire matches.
"He had beaten him twice, but it had been close matches, dogfights," Lauer said. "And it was again."
In last year's state dual meet championship match against Urbana, Delore found himself in a similar position. With his team trailing by nine points with two bouts left, Delore needed a win to keep his team alive.
"Last year at state duals against Urbana ... I made sure to let him know that win or lose, he just has to wrestle his match and he can't worry about what the score is," Lauer said.
Delore lost that match last year. And faced with a similar situation on Friday night, Lauer gave his wrestler the same pep talk.
"I came over to him before the match and said the same thing. 'Here we are a year later having the same conversation and what you need to concentrate on is your match'," he said.
Glenelg got pins from Tim Null (106), Ryan Carter (138) and Austin Pagnotta (145) in the loss. The back-to-back pins by Carter and Pagnotta put Glenelg ahead, 27-23, with two bouts remaining.
Pagnotta, a county finalist, and Carter, now four wins away from third place on Glenelg's all-time wins list, have seven years as Gladiator starters between them.
"Three- and four-year starters, that's what you expect from them is to go after it and get those six points," coach Chris Rosas said.
River Hill's pins came from Alex Potts (113), who is normally River Hill's JV 113-pounder, and Casey Guthier (152). Guthier's pin gave River Hill a 29-27 lead, setting up the finale at 160.
The match started off, 3-3, after River Hill's Sebastian Ames (170) and Glenelg's Anthony Pagnotta (182) traded decisions.
Like Delore, Ames — who improved to 10-15 with the win — is one of River Hill's less heralded wrestlers. Ames trailed Glenelg sophomore Matt Baxter, 4-2 after the second period, but scored the go-ahead takedown 20 seconds into the third period, and then scored another takedown with 45 seconds left to secure the 7-5 win.
Pagnotta defeated River Hill's Brian Kirby, a returning county finalist, 4-3, after scoring the go-ahead takedown at the edge of the mat with no time left in the second period.
"He's a very good wrestler, I was just trying to get the win," said Anthony Pagnotta, who will play lacrosse for Towson next year.
The Gladiators then had to weather two of River Hill's best wrestlers — Cory Daniel (195) and Logan Kirby (220). Both are undefeated and returning county champions. But Glenelg managed to allow only major decisions at both weights, as Austin Twigg (195) and Craig Burris (220) stayed off of their backs.
"Craig Burris really stepped up, Austin Twigg really stepped up," Anthony Pagnotta said. "Those two were really big matches."
But after that, it was River Hill that avoided bonus points to an elite wrestler, when heavyweight Justin Nestor yielded just a 3-2 decision to Glenelg's defending state champion, Sean Twigg.
"When you sit down and project you've got to give Sean Twigg credit, he's an awesome wrestler," Lauer said. "They're gonna get six (there) and we're gonna get six with Cory and Logan ... but those two kids at 195 and 220 knew the situation just like Justin did."
Heading into the lightweights, River Hill held a narrow, 11-6 lead. Normally, the transition from upperweights to lowerweights is a strength for the Hawks. But on Friday night, undefeated Michael Beck (106, 29-0) was sidelined with a knee injury.
If not for the injury, fans would have been treated to a match between Beck, a recent Franklin Invitational champion, and Glenelg's Tim Null (27-1), who won the War on the Shore tournament in early December.
When healthy, Beck was ranked No. 4 at 106 pounds by the Maryland State Wrestling Association, and Null is ranked No. 10.
Instead, Null scored a second-period pin over River Hill's talented Matt Shealy, giving his team a 12-11 lead.
But River Hill got the points back immediately when Potts, the JV call-up, scored a third-period pin.
"Throwing him at 113 and bumping Taariq (Mohammed) up, that was a huge decision that we made," Lauer said. "(Potts) went out and tried to wrestle as hard as he could."
The next three matches came down to the wire as Mohammed (120) defeated Glenelg freshman Parker Griffie, 4-3, on a takedown with less than 30 seconds left; Glenelg's Zach Shackelford (126) beat River Hill freshman Sean Guthier, 4-0; and River Hill's Lee Carter (132) scored an escape with 40 seconds left to edge Mike Budock, 1-0.
That gave way to the quick succession of pins which set the stage for the climactic finish.
Glenelg (2007-2008, 2010-2011) and River Hill (2009, 2012-2013) have combined to win each of the last seven Howard County titles.
River Hill, the defending state tournament champion, now has seven total dual meet county titles, compared to Glenelg's four.
Despite the loss, Glenelg (10-1, 11-1) will host the 1A/2A South regional dual tournament, next Wednesday, Feb. 6.
"Our focus now is on the dual meet (state title) ... when you get to that level, that's what it's going to be like," Glenelg coach Chris Rosas said. "This was a good warm up for that. We have a lot of experience but we also have a lot of inexperience and for the most part we haven't been in a real close dual meet where it comes down to the last match."
Both teams won regional dual titles last year.
Along with Beck, River Hill's Patrick Linden (126) was sidelined with an injury for the match, as was Glenelg's Joe Zoller (152).
Prior to the match, the Warhawks and Vipers — two of the best junior league programs in the state and feeders to Glenelg and River Hill — competed in an exhibition match.
River Hill 32, Glenelg 27
170: Sebastian Ames (RH, 10-15) dec. Matt Baxter (G, 13-5), 7-5. [3-0]
182: Anthony Pagnotta (G, 15-2) dec. Brian Kirby (RH, 23-5), 4-3. [3-3]
195: Cory Daniel (RH, 30-0) maj. Austin Twigg (G, 20-7), 15-5. [7-3]
220: Logan Kirby (RH, 24-0) maj. Craig Burris (G, 18-5), 13-4. [11-3]
285: Sean Twigg (G, 26-1) dec. Justin Nestor (RH, 23-7), 3-2. [11-6]
106: Tim Null (G, 27-1) pin Matt Shealy (RH, NA), 2:45. [11-12]
113: Alex Potts (RH, NA) pin Chris Winter (G, 12-9), 4:59. [17-12]
120: Taariq Mohammed (RH, 25-4) dec. Parker Griffie (G, 18-8), 4-3. [20-12]
126: Zach Shackelford (G, 14-8) dec. Sean Guthier (RH, 9-16), 4-0. [20-15]
132: Lee Carter (RH, 26-6) dec. Mike Budock (G, 23-6), 1-0. [23-15]
138: Ryan Carter (G, 23-7) pin Sam Harley (RH, NA), 3:00. [23-21]
145: Austin Pagnotta (G, 23-5) pin Patrick Gover (RH, 7-19), 1:42. [23-27]
152: Casey Guthier (RH, 23-6) pin Chris Dornan (G, NA), :43. [29-27]
160: Donovan Delore (RH, 13-18) dec. Troy Walter (G, 17-10), 1-0. [32-27]