They didn't parade around the gym with their customary swagger. Theyknew they would be in for a fight, and might actually need a little luck, to remain king of the hill. But from the beginning, one could sense with a county wrestling tournament hanging in the balance, Oakland Mills would find a way to win the big one again.
In looking at the Scorpions' 219-203 victory over Hammond, which gave Oakland Millsits third straight tournament title and 13th in the last 16 years, one could find numerous key moments.
First and foremost, the Scorpions didn't waste great seeding. Of their six top seeds, five -- Mike Maughan (125), Adam Seidman (135), Joe Salinas (140), Marcus Myles (145) and heavyweight Monte Spencer -- won titles. Only Myles was not a repeat champion.
Then there wasthe troop of "unknowns," the first-year wrestlers Oakland Mills coach Dan Ricker has a way of squeezing results from, who gave the Scorpions valuable points in the consolation rounds. People like 119-pounder Jason Marrero and 152-pounder Brian DuVall, whoebounded from disappointing semifinal matches to finish third. Yuri Freeman, all 90 pounds of him, hung tough and grabbed a valuable fourth-place finish in the 103-pound class.
"We felt in our hearts that we worked harder than anybody else in the county," said Maughan. "Oakland Mills wrestlers are always going to rise to the occasion. I don't care who they are, unknowns or not."
Nobody backed up his talk Saturday like Maughan. To win the 125-pound title, he had to beat two wrestlers who had already beaten him.
His tense, 6-5 semifinal decision over Hammond's Erin Woodward -- he pinned Maughan last month -- was the tournament's key match. That started a downturn for Hammond, which held a slim lead going into the semifinals, but would see the advantage slip awayat the end of the round.
Maughan then handled Glenelg's Joe Neville, 8-2, avenging an 8-5 loss to him.
After Maughan provided the turning point, the Scorpions' Adam Seidman delivered the tournament's signature moment. His 13-1 demolition of Hammond's Chris Mercurio in the 135-pound final not only iced the Scorpions victory, it also gavethe packed gym some rare fireworks in an otherwise smooth weekend.
Seidman, typically aggressive, used two takedowns to take a 5-0 lead going into the third period. After Mercurio taunted him, Seidman decked him, turned him on his back, then began screaming as he tried topin Mercurio. A brief shoving match ensued at the end of the period,and Seidman was assessed a penalty point.
"I had him (Mercurio) in a cradle, and he kept elbowing me in the nose," said Seidman, who took his third county title and won the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler Award. "I'm not a person to talk trash, but when somebody gets inmy face, I just say, 'Bring it on.' I had to beat him and beat him bad. Go ask him how many county championships he's won."
The team victory assured, Salinas, Myles and Spencer finished the job in style for Oakland Mills. Myles and Spencer had relatively easy matches. Salinas edged Wilde Lake's Bobby Farace in the best match of the finals,5-4.
"My first one (tournament victory) was sweet, but this is better than the others because it was close," Ricker said. "We didn't have an unbelievable day, we didn't have all great kids. We didn't winby crushing everybody."
Hammond coach Bill Smith, whose Golden Bears had a tremendous weekend -- no second-place team has ever scored 200 points in a county tournament -- accepted the defeat graciously.
The Bears produced two county champions in Chris Williams (130) and Mac Goudy (152), two second-place winners and, in a great show of character, took five third-place awards.
"The kids are hurting, butI'm not too upset," said Smith, whose subdued team received its dual-meet championship award next to a celebrating Scorpions squad. "We had nine kids finish at least third, and that's never happened."
The Bears saw the tournament slip away in the semifinals, and not just at the hands of Oakland Mills wrestlers. Wilde Lake did the Scorpionsa favor at 140, where Bobby Farace edged Hammond's Josh Stokes, 6-4.
The round ended with two tough results. Centennial's Bill Augustin (189) decisioned Pat Brennan, 6-4, and Atholton heavyweight Rodney Baxter whipped Jesse Pitt, 10-3.
When Oakland Mills emerged from the round in the lead with 153 points and a tournament-high six wrestlers in the finals, you knew it was over.
Centennial was the tournament's biggest surprise, scoring 45 more points than last year and vaulting into fifth place after finishing last at the 1991 tournament. Augustin manhandled defending champ Dominic Pierre-Toussaint, 10-0, to win the 189-pound title, and Shamus Gillen (171) and Ken Tortolani (152) each took second.
Oakland Mills will say goodbye to a great senior class. Salinas, Maughan, Myles and Spencer graduate this year. But don't expect the Scorpions to dip too sharply. All they did was win nine junior-varsity titles. The beat goes on.