Sometimes in wrestling, it isn't about whether your best guy can score the pin, or if your weakest guy can avoid getting pinned. It's about whether your average guy can beat their average guy in a dogfight.
On Wednesday night at River Hill, coach Brandon Lauer's Hawks lost four decisions by two points or less in falling to South River in the 3A/4A East regional dual meet championship, 34-27.
"It wasn't like we didn't get the match-ups we wanted, it was just a matter of not getting it done," said Lauer, whose team had beaten South River at the LaPlata Duals over Christmas break, 35-33. "They're a very good team and we knew that coming in. We just lost the close matches and that unfortunately cost us the dual meet."
A few miles down Route 32, Glenelg defeated county rival Oakland Mills in the 1A/2A South regional championship, 40-31.
The Gladiators advance to the state dual tournament Saturday at North Point High School in search of their first state dual meet title since 2011. The semifinal round starts at 2 p.m., followed by the championship at 5 p.m.
After advancing to the state dual finals last year and losing to Urbana, River Hill was hoping to join Glenelg this weekend in search of redemption.
"We were trying to get it done with the dual meet (state title) because that eluded us last year," Lauer said. "It doesn't take away from our effort. We wrestled and we battled and sometimes you don't come out on top."
From the outset, it appeared that River Hill (15-1) might have met its match in South River (15-1).
South River, whose mascot is also the Hawk, opened the showdown with consecutive wins by Collin Alley (138, major), Tre Puccinelli (145) and Baruch Talbot (152) to race to a 13-0 lead.
But River Hill had not yet used any of its top wrestlers, and then Casey Guthier (160) swung the momentum back in River Hill's favor when he overcame a 3-0 third-period deficit to defeated South River's Brendan Norris, 5-3. Guthier was nearly pinned with a cradle near the middle of the mat early in the second period, but broke free having only allowed three nearfall points. He then caught Norris in a pinning combination late in the third period, but could not secure the fall before time expired.
Guthier's win was followed by Brian Kirby's 3-2 win over South River's Ryan Walker at 170. But South River immediately got those points back when Jason Raines edged River Hill's Sebastian Ames, 3-2, at 182.
"Casey's decision came against the kid (we) had been pinned by (at the LaPlata Duals), so we were chipping away, chipping away," Lauer said. "But at the end of the day it's the close matches, and we lost the close matches."
Trailing 16-6 with the match almost halfway complete, River Hill finally sent its hammers onto the mat. Undefeated defending county champions Cory Daniel (195) and Logan Kirby (220), both juniors, each scored pins to finally put the Hawks ahead, 18-16, with six bouts remaining.
But South River had already factored those 12 points into its gameplan.
"We kind of knew what was coming at 95 and 220," said coach John Klessinger, whose team defeated previously unbeaten Stephen Decatur in their semifinal match. "Those two kids are very good."
And as quickly as River Hill had taken the lead, South River took it back, when Anthony Rossi — bumping up from the 220-pound weight class — scored a takedown with less than ten seconds remaining on his way to a 4-3 win over River Hill heavyweight Justin Nestor.
Nestor, a first-year wrestler, had recently lost a narrow decision to Glenelg's defending state champion Sean Twigg, and signed a National Letter of Intent to play football for Bowie State earlier in the day.
"I wrestled him at LaPlata ... and beat him in double overtime, so I'm happy I got to at least get it done in regulation," Rossi said. "I'm happy I stepped up at the end ... I needed that match to really give us a lead that we could work with."
Because River Hill's star 106-pounder — undefeated junior Michael Beck — is still sidelined with a knee-injury, and backup Matt Shealy was injured in their semifinal win over Bel Air, South River won by forfeit at 106, further extending its lead to 25-18 with only four bouts remaining.
After recent JV-call-up Alex Potts lost a close decision to South River's Lucas Wells at 113, senior captain Taariq Mohammed kept River Hill mathematically alive with his 7-2 win at 120.
But the Hawks of Edgewater still had two of their best wrestlers — Jordan Orme (126) and Austin Alley (132) — warming up, and Lauer knew that his team's chances weren't good.
"I knew (at that point) it was going to be really bleak," Lauer said. "Taariq did a great job bumping up and getting the job done, but it was just too much in the middle there."
And when Orme scored a third-period pin at 126 to clinch the victory, South River was able to forfeit the final bout in preparation for it's first trip to the state duals.
"This is our seventh time (at regional duals) since I've been here in 2000 and this is the first time we've ever won, so it's big for us," Klessinger said.
River Hill, meanwhile, will now try to look on the bright side. With six wrestlers ranked top-20 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association (No. 4 Beck will be back by next weekend's county tournament, according to Lauer), River Hill is capable of winning its second straight state tournament championship.
"Last year we lost the state duals, and then we came back and won the state tournament," Mohammed said. "If we keep wrestling hard, keep training hard, we can win another title with this team."
South River 34, River Hill 27
3A/4A East regional dual championship
138: Collin Alley (SR) maj. Sean Guthier (RH), 12-3. [4-0]
145: Tre Puccinelli (SR) pin Patrick Gover (RH), 1:30. [10-0]
152: Baruch Talbot (SR) dec. Donovan Delore (RH), 4-2. [13-0]
160: Casey Guthier (RH) dec. Brendan Norris (SR), 5-3. [13-3]
170: Brian Kirby (RH) dec. Ryan Walker (SR), 3-2. [13-6]
182: Jason Raines (SR) dec. Sebastian Ames (RH), 3-2. [16-6]
195: Cory Daniel (RH) pin Mahoney (SR), :52. [16-12]
220: Logan Kirby (RH) pin Patrick Russo (SR), 3:40. [16-18]
285: Anthony Rossi (SR) dec. Justin Nestor (RH), 4-3. [19-18]
106: John Owens (SR) wbf. [25-18]
113: Lucas Wells (SR) dec. Alex Potts (RH), 4-2. [28-18]
120: Taariq Mohammed (RH) dec. Joe Coyle (SR), 7-2. [28-21]
126: Jordan Orme (SR) pin Ryan Erskine (RH), 5:19. [34-21]
132: Lee Carter (RH) wbf. [34-27]
Glenelg, which lost for the first time this season last Friday against River Hill, looked strong in its 40-31 regional championship win over Oakland Mills.
The match was briefly tied, 3-3, after Oakland Mills' Robby Happy (220) and Glenelg's defending state champ Sean Twigg (285) each won hardfought matches. But after Tim Null's second-period pin at 106 put Glenelg ahead, 9-3, the Gladiatiors were never in trouble.
Mike Budock (132), Ryan Carter (138), Austin Pagnotta (145) and Anthony Pagnotta (170) also scored pins for the Gladiators, while Zach Hensley (126), Bradley Montecino (152) and Dylan Juskus (182) collected pins for the Scorpions.
Oakland Mills defeated Poolesville, 40-34, and Glenelg defeated Surratsville, 69-6, in the semifinals.
Glenelg has now won five regional dual meet titles in the last six years.
Glenelg 40, Oakland Mills 31
1A/2A South regional dual championship
220: Robby Happy (OM) dec. Craig Burris (G), 3-1. [0-3]
285: Sean Twigg (G) dec. Roy Kadje (OM), 2-0. [3-3]
106: Tim Null (G) pin Julian Capino (OM), 2:44. [9-3]
113: Chris Winter (G) dec. Dakota Thompson (OM), 5-4. [12-3]
120: Parker Griffie (G) maj. Anthony Ahumada (OM), 9-0. [16-3]
126: Zach Hensley (OM) pin Zack Shackelford (G), 1:46. [16-9]
132: Mike Budock (G) pin Aaron Wood (OM), 1:58. [22-9]
138: Ryan Carter (G) pin Matt Claxton (OM), 1:31. [28-9]
145: Austin Pagnotta (G) pin Anderson (OM), 1:51. [34-9]
152: Bradley Montecino (OM) pin Chris Dornan (G), :52. [34-15]
160: Jaron Smith (OM) maj. Troy Walter (G), 17-4. [34-19]
170: Anthony Pagnotta (G) pin Furet (OM), 3:08. [40-19]
182: Dylan Juskus (OM) pin Hyer (G), 1:30. [40-25]
195: Dominick Clarke (OM) maj. Michael Shin (G), 13-3. [40-29]