'Twas the night before a big match with Aberdeen, and all through the house, barely a creature was stirring -- except Oakland Mills' wrestling coach Dan Ricker, who was as sick as a dog.

"I was shaking all over. Luckily a friend came by and took me to the hospital," said Ricker, who was still wearing a hospital bracelet as well as a heavy coat the night of the match.

"I had a terrible headache," he said. "They only said it was stress-related, but I thought I was going to die."

Ricker wasn't the only handicapped Scorpion last Friday night. Four of his starters missed the match against the Aberdeen Eagles, the state's eighth-ranked team, which was going for Coach Dick Slutzky's 200th career victory.

A blowout looked inevitable. But someone forgot to tell the Scorpions, who lost by a narrow 33-31 margin.

"We gave up two forfeits, so that's 12 points right there. Even a dummy could have figured out we'd have won," said Ricker, adding that few had given the visiting Scorpions a chance even with a full line-up. "I thought we could beat these guys, but no one else thought we could."

Unable to raise his voice above a monotone against the three-time defending Class 2A/1A state champion Eagles, Ricker -- normally a bull-throated yeller -- relayed instructions to his wrestlers through former Oakland Mills state champion Vincent Thomas. Thomas was his acting assistant coach Friday night.

The ailing Scorpions trailed 33-27 after giving up the second forfeit of the night at 189. The first came at 135; Brian Dunbar was out with a broken finger.

A pin by the Scorpions' top-rankedheavyweight Monte Spencer in the last bout of the evening would havetied the match.

Although Spencer held Aaron Wanless on his back for 1 minute, 33 seconds of the third period, he didn't get the pin call. He had to settle for an 8-0 decision, which improved his record to 18-1.

Oakland Mills had trailed, 6-0, after the night's first bout, giving up a 103-pound pin, before sweeping the four bouts for a 21-6 lead.

Jason Merraro (112), who was wrestling in his first varsity match, won a 7-4 decision. Then three county champions -- No. 4-ranked Dan Bickell (119), Kalev Freeman (125) and Adam Seidman (130) -- moved up a weight class and pinned their opponents.

Bickell and Seidman each improved to 18-2 while Freeman raised his record to 17-5.

Aberdeen's top-ranked Matt Slutzky (140) then won a 19-1 technical fall over Joe Salinas and No. 2-ranked Danny Osorio won an 11-6 decision over Oakland Mills' Marcus Myles.

"I was hoping to get pinsin those two matches," said Slutzky, who has a 200-38-1 record. "Buttheir guys wrestled well."

Oakland Mills had led 27-20 after Brian DuVall's (152) first-period pin, but Aberdeen got a major decision from Mike Taylor (160) and a decision from Eric Ratcliffe (171) to tie the score, 27-27.

Tonight at 7 p.m., the Scorpions play host to league rival Hammond, which is coming off a bittersweet season.

Last year, the Bears grabbed an emotional victory in the Class 2A/1A Region III tournament just three days after the death by suicide of teammate Lawaan Williams.

"We ended the Southern tournament on a positive note," said Hammond coach Bill Smith, whose Bears were fifth at Southern Saturday. "We think we have a good chance against Oakland Mills. We need to pull out some of the marginal weight classes."

Ricker is concerned about a possible loss to the Bears.

"Bill Smith was my lacrosse coach in high school, so I know the kids will react well for him," said Ricker, a Glenelg graduate.

In addition, the status of his four injured wrestlers -- Dunbar, 171-pounder Dustin Blackwell (head injury), Mike Maughn (130) and Justin Whethington (189), each with back problems -- remains questionable.

"It looks like we might have everybody back, but I'm still fishing around with a few things," said Ricker. "Dustin's 50-50 right now. He wrestled Monday andgot dizzy. The decision on Dunbar will probably be made after the weigh-ins, but Whethington seems to have the best chance (at wrestling)."

The Bears' 119-pound Chris Mercurio (16-5) is one of four solidwrestlers. He has already won the Frederick Douglass tournament title while finishing second at Lackey and third at Southern.

The others are 135-pounder Omar Williams (11-5), 145-pounder James Burrell (18-3) and 152-pounder Ricky Matthews (15-5).

Williams, second at the Douglass and Southern tournaments, did not place at Lackey after losing a 7-1 first-round decision to Oakland Mills' Dunbar -- the tournament's runner-up.

Burrell was the champion at the Douglass tournament and second at Southern while Matthews was second at Lackey and Douglass and third at Southern.

Burrell and Matthews know what it'slike to grapple with the best. Matthews has lost two close matches to Southern's No. 2-ranked Jason Braithwait and Burrell dropped a tough 2-1 decision Saturday to South River's No. 2-ranked Brian Hunt.

Matthews, who dislocated his jaw in the semifinals of the Southern tournament, may wrestle with a face mask tonight.

Mercurio said he is pumped up for this one.

"We'd like to beat them," said Mercurio,who was third in the county last year. "For the last three years we've been trying to. It would be pretty awesome to win."

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