No one would have faulted Michael Pizzuto for feeling some nerves as he prepared for his final wrestling match of the season.
The finals of the Class 2A-1A state tournament started at 106 pounds, with Pizzuto and Mountain Ridge senior Jesse Fresh squaring off for the second time in as many weekends. The South Carroll High School freshman edged Fresh by one point in their regional tournament semifinal. Pizzuto banked on facing Fresh one more time if he wanted to meet his winter goals.
The spectators inside Show Place Arena focused on the start of the finals, and Pizzuto went to work. Flushing out any jitters became his priority — the wrestling would take care of itself, he thought, just like it had all season long.
Not until a takedown in overtime, which lifted him to victory in the 106-pound final, did Pizzuto let out a little emotion. He finished off a rookie season with his first career state championships en route to earning Times Wrestler of the Year honors.
Pizzuto outlasted Fresh 3-1 and sprung to his feet, then flashed a “5-0” toward the South Carroll fans to symbolize his 50-0 record.
“I was just super excited,” Pizzuto said about staying undefeated. “It wasn’t really on my mind while I was wrestling, but I knew in the back of my head that if I won, I would be doing something that most people aren’t capable of doing.”
SC coach Matt Thomas said that’s about the most animation Pizzuto displayed all year. Thomas and Pizzuto bonded before the start of the season, and the coach said it didn’t take him long to realize his wrestler’s determination was on the next level.
“If it’s a tight match, he doesn’t lose his head. He never puts himself in a bad position,” Thomas said. “It’s insane for a 14-year-old that weighs 100 pounds to have that much confidence.”
Pizzuto set goals of winning a state title and going 50-0, Thomas said. It took a pair of wins at the Damascus holiday tournament, against Zaden Meyer of Williamsport and Enzo Bell of Bullis Prep, for Pizzuto to visualize his mission.
Pizzuto defeated Meyer, who was ranked No. 2 in the state at 106 at the time, 6-1 in the semifinals before downing Bell 12-4 to take the tournament title.
He went 6-0 against Carroll County opponents during the regular season, and helped South Carroll capture the county championship. The Cavaliers earned a spot in the 2A West Region dual-meet tourney, and Pizzuto won a pair of bouts there to help get SC into the finals (Glenelg won 33-32).
The individual postseason awaited, and Pizzuto left no doubt. But he didn’t show much of anything in the way of anxiety.
“The kid is so level-headed,” Thomas said. “If you didn’t personally know him, you wouldn’t know that he was there. He just keeps his nose down.”
Pizzuto did just that at counties, regions, and states — he beat Manchester Valley’s Travis Green 10-2, a major decision, to win the county tournament title, then edged Williamsport’s Zach Starr 4-3 for the 2A West crown to roll into the final event of the winter.
Pizzuto outscored his first three state tourney opponents by a combined 30-3 to get to the finals, while Fresh needed a 1-0 win over Starr in his semifinal to advance. Pizzuto trailed Fresh 1-0 with less than one minute remaining in regulation before notching an escape and forcing OT.
Pizzuto said his preparation for the finals included seeing some of Fresh’s previous bouts, and he noticed a possible advantage. Plus, starting the overtime on his feet gave Pizzuto a boost, he said.
“I’ve watched him a few times this year and he’s gassed out, so I was feeling pretty good,” Pizzuto said. “But I still knew that he had a chance to beat me no matter what happens. I was trying to get to my offense all match.”
A single-leg takedown with time running out in OT sealed the victory.
“I just wrestled my match every time," Pizzuto said.
Pizzuto got to high school having won more than 200 youth and junior league matches, which gave him quite the base to adjust to varsity wrestling. It also gave him the drive needed to excel at the high school level, Thomas said.
Pizzuto’s work for 2020-21 began the day after states, Thomas said, with the two chatting over the phone about an approach toward being a sophomore. Pizzuto said he plans on lifting throughout the spring and summer so he can be ready for a different weight class.
And Thomas can expect the same attitude and style from his state champion.
“He came to me early in the year and he was like, ‘You’re going to get really frustrated with me,’ ” Thomas said. "I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ He goes, ‘I don’t get worked up during matches. One- and two-point decisions from me, you’re going to see that all the time.’
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“I was super confused at first, like, this is going to be super stressful dealing with this all year. But, the kid doesn’t fold under pressure.”