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If St. Mary's wrestling coach Brad Best had a nickel for every closematch he's watched his prize pupil Phil MacWilliams win, he'd be a very rich man.

Instead, Best will have to be satisfied with the knowledge that thanks to his coaching efforts, MacWilliams yesterday became only the second Maryland Scholastic Association tournament champion in the history of St. Mary's of Annapolis.

Best was a nervous wreck, as he squirmed in his mat-side chair during the tournament at Baltimore's Gilman School.

His facial contortions told the story as the third-year coach watched the 130-pound MacWilliams churn out a 3-1 overtime victory over Mount St. Joseph's Joe Aiosa in their title bout.

"It's like your child's out there," said Best, whose Saints were dethroned by Walbrook as two-time defending MSA B Conference champs this year.

"You have confidence in him, but you're still a little worried because you'd like more control over what he's doing."

During MacWilliams' freshman year, he watched heavyweight Jeff Bunker become the Saints' first MSA champ.

Yesterday, MacWilliams became the first under Best, but not before putting his normally stoic coach through an emotional wringer.

There wasMacWilliams' 8-3 quarterfinal victory, in which he was nearly pinnedin the first period.

"When he got caught on his back in that match, I knew he was smart enough to know how to get out," Best said. "But he was also injured and they had to stop the match for a while. I was thinking 'what a way to end his career.' "

Then there was MacWilliams' 7-5 overtime semifinal skirmish over Calvert Hall's Shawn King, a bout in which MacWilliams trailed, 3-2, at the end of the first period, and, 5-4, late in the third.

Against Aiosa, MacWilliams settled into a rhythmic pace he seemed to enjoy. He trailed, 1-0, in the second period, tied it 1-1 with a third-period escape and won it with an overtime takedown with just over a minute gone in the session.

"The thing about Phil is that when he gets a match, he's always going to come back harder," Best said.

MacWilliams, the No. 2 seed in his weight class, had expected to meet McDonogh's top-seeded Mark Wilson, who entered the tournament with a 14-1 record.

But Wilson was upended, 6-3, in the quarterfinals by Walbrook's Kevin Muldrow, who then was defeated, 6-5, by Aiosa in the semifinals.

A year ago, Phil watched as his older brother, Mac, finished third in the MSA tournament with a 36-6-2 record.

"He was a good example," said MacWilliams, who improved to 26-3 with eight pins and seven victories by technical fall.

Having slimmed down from 135 pounds, where he wrestled several times during the season, MacWilliams now has the hard looks of a young marine.

"This was like the fifth time I've gone into overtime. I love it out there in the clinches," said MacWilliams, whowill wrestle in the National Preps tournament later this month. "Even when it's close, I never feel like I'm going to lose."

A solid student with a 3.7 grade-point average, MacWilliams scored 1110 on hisScholastic Aptitude Test and ranks 25th among 125 students.

He has been accepted to the Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute, but still is waiting to hear from the Air Force Academy.

"I've wrestled since I was 8 years old, and I've dreamed about winning the MSAsever since then," he said. "And I've finally done it."

And Best couldn't be more relieved.

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