Last weekend's Class 2A-1A Region III wrestling tournament at Glenelg High School may have been a race between two outsiders, as first-place Chopticon (St. Mary's County) beat runner-up Southern (Anne Arundel), 140-131.5 . . . but Howard County didn't exactly go quietly.
Wilde Lake, the county's most improved team by the end of the dual-meet season, fared best by winning two individual titles, finishing third overall, with 100.5 points, and qualifying six wrestlers for this weekend's state tournament at Western Maryland College.
The Wildecats sent four wrestlers to the finals and saw senior Ben Casella (171) and Bobby Farace (135) bring home the gold. Casella, the reigning 160-pound regional champ, overpowered Hammond's Dan Johnson in the third period with two three-point near-falls en route to a7-0 decision. Farace, who was third in last year's regionals at 112,battled Atholton's Tony Zancan for two even periods before pulling away to an 11-4 victory in the title match.
Antoine Harris (112) and Jay Turner (145) weren't as fortunate. Harris, the freshman 112-pounder, faced tough odds against Chopticon's Jeff Daigle, who came in with a 24-1 record and a regional 103-pound title under his belt. Daigle pinned Harris 22 seconds into the second period. Turner met a similar fate against Douglass' (Prince George's) Troy Charney, the defending regional champ at 145, who piled up takedowns and near-falls at will in to a 16-0 victory by technical fall.
The Wildecats' Tony Crawford took third in the 130-pound class, while Nathan Casella finished fourth at 160.
Hammond, last year's regional champion but this year's fourth-place team with 89.5 points, was dealt the toughest break of the tournament when top-seeded 119-pounder Chris Mercurio suffered a rib muscle pull in the semifinals against Glenelg's Andy Arnsmeyer. Coach Bill Smith threw in the towel after the second period.
"He's actually been bothered by it for two weeks, but he didn't tell me about it until today," Smith said. Mercurio then showed guts in the consolation finals by rallying from an 8-2 deficit to tie Chopticon's Jun Davis, 8-8, in the third period, before losing, 12-8. Mercurioexpects to wrestle this weekend.
James Burrell grabbed Hammond's lone championship, making it two titles in two weeks for him. Burrell, who won the 145-pound title at the county meet, took the 140-pound regional crown with a 7-3 decision over Southern's David Ley.
Besides Dan Johnson's second-place finish at 171 and Mercurio's fourth-place finish at 119, the Bears' Ricky Matthews (160) and Pat Brennan (189) also finished third.
Other tournament sightings:
* Let's Hear It for The Home Boys: The host Glenelg Gladiators may have gotten hammered on the scoreboard -- they wound up 10th in the 12-team fieldwith 34 points -- but the Gladiators did what four other teams couldn't manage. They produced a champion in Andy Arnsmeyer. After beatingMercurio by injury default in the semifinal, Arnsmeyer dominated Central's (Prince George's) Troy Townsend, 8-1, to take the 119-pound championship.
* Better Late Than Never: The Atholton Raiders were the only team that failed to produce any finalists in the county tournament. Atholton made up for it Saturday by sending two to the finals. Zancan had to settle for second against Farace in the 135-pound final, but Andy Lewis won the 189-pound title with a 5-3 decision over Juan Irby of Douglass.
* Bridesmaids Making The Most Of It: Mount Hebron failed to send anyone to the finals, but the Vikings won three offour matches in the consolation finals. Scott Cooper got things started with a 2-1 victory over Atholton's Jason Sturm at 103 pounds. Shane Igoe (125) kept it going with a 1-0 victory over Central's Leroy Townsend. Ryan Bavis' (135) first-period pin of Chopticon's David O'Dell capped a good round for the Vikings. Jason Woolcott (130) just missed making it 4-for-4. Wilde Lake's Tony Crawford edged him, 2-1.
* Torn Between Two Teams: Ron McMillan, Atholton's first-year coach and a former longtime assistant to Wilde Lake coach Rich Jackson, was spotted hollering encouragement and suggestions at Wilde Lake's Ben Casella during his 171-pound final. It reminded me of a nice moment during the semifinals at the county tournament a week earlier. McMillan-- seated between two mats used to stage simultaneous matches -- yelled instructions at his wrestler on one mat, while turning to do the same for a Wilde Lake wrestler on the other mat.
Divided loyalty? Nah. McMillan had no trouble making up his mind when Zancan squared off against Wilde Lake's Bobby Farace in the 135-pound final.
* Sorry, No Rematch: When Hammond coach Bill Smith dropped James Burrell from 145 pounds to 140, it deprived us of a rematch between Burrell and Wilde Lake's Jay Turner. The two have hooked up for some controversial meetings this year. Last month, Turner won by default over Burrell, who sent Turner to the hospital with an illegal move that caused a lower back strain. Then, at the county tournament, Burrell took a 7-5 overtime decision on a hotly debated takedown in the match's finalseconds.
Smith's decision was probably for the best, though, since neither Burrell nor Turner stood much of a chance against 145-poundchamp Troy Charney. And Burrell made the most of his chance by winning the 140-pound title. Still, it would have been a treat to see Turner and Burrell go at it in the semifinals.
* The Warm-Up Act Was Better: The finals didn't stack up to the consolation finals in terms of good competition. In the consolations, four matches were decided by one point, while four more were decided by four points or fewer.
The finals, by comparison, were much more lopsided. The round included three pins, a technical fall and five decisions by at least seven points. The yawners in the bleachers outweighed the nail-biters by a long shot.