A previous version of this story had the name of the St. Paul's coach incorrect.
McDonogh and St. Paul's are two of the smallest schools in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, but Friday night in the Eagles' gym, there was no doubt about the talent and determination that have made them the No. 1 and No. 2 teams, respectively, heading into the heart of the wrestling season.
With five bouts left, the score was tied, and it wasn't until McDonogh's Jack Clark pinned his opponent in the third period of his 145 pound match with two bouts to go that McDonogh was assured of victory. The Eagles won, 45-27, with the help of 12 forfeit points and unexpected pins from Xavi Ramos (132) and Bobby Twigg (138).
"We were excited about this match," Clark said. "We've been talking about it and working hard all week in preparation. When we were tied at 24, I knew we were getting to the core of our lineup and would get the pins to pull it out."
McDonogh (11-0) got pins from Clark, Ramos, Twigg, freshman Mike Smith (182) and heavyweight Roman Braglio. Braglio's pin caught St. Paul's coach Jay Braunstein off guard.
"Their heavyweight and ours were pushing weight to wrestle," said Braunstein, whose heavyweight, Hunter Lee was injured in his match. "They're both just getting back to the mat. I didn't expect my guy to get pinned. But their heavyweight was very crisp."
Braunstein said Lee landed on his head, but the coach was unsure about the extent of the injury immediately after the match.
St. Paul's (3-1) moved up to the A Conference this season, a move Braunstein said he would have liked to have avoided.
"I didn't want to move up," he said. "St. Paul's is a very small school. We have less than 200 boys, and we're always scrambling to fill all the weight classes. I didn't want to come up, but we'd won the B Conference and earned our way up."
Against McDonogh, the Crusaders looked like they belonged. After falling behind 24-3, in part because of forfeits in the 170- and 195-pound classes, St. Paul's rallied. A McDonogh forfeit gave the Crusaders six points, and then freshman Griffin Welsh pinned his opponent at 113 pounds and Jack Mutchnick pinned his at 120. When Eric Friedman beat his opponent by decision at 126, the score was tied.
"We had a fighting chance," said Friedman a three-time Maryland Independent School champion. "Every match was tough and close. We're going to see them again in the MIAAs and the state championships. We'll be ready the next time. We'll look at our mistakes, improve from here and come out with a new hammer."