Motivation abounded for Howard heading into yesterday's county showdown with front-running Centennial. Upset a year ago by Centennial, the host Lions were looking for revenge.
However, Centennial's dominance in the middle weight classes provided too large a cushion for Howard's wrestlers in the upper weights to overcome. Centennial senior and defending state champion Joon Kim sealed yesterday's 43-24 triumph over Howard with a third-period pin of senior Kenny Neal (5:44) in the 189-pound class.
Senior Lance Rhodes (130), senior Seo Wu Choi (130), junior David Rodgow (135) and junior Tony Carmadella (140) all notched critical wins to propel the Eagles to a comfortable 24-12 lead.
"Anywhere we go, on paper, everyone considers us a win [on their schedule]," said Centennial coach Todd DeCrispino, who in his seventh year has the Eagles (6-1, 3-0) atop the league standings.
"I still think we're overlooked. We're not mentioned in the same breath as Hammond, Howard and Oakland Mills. We're not at the top of the list."
Howard (6-4, 3-2) certainly did not look past Centennial, but Lions coach Joe Thomas is still searching for consistency from senior Jeremy Brizzi (130) and Rob Knorr (135).
"If we can't stay off our backs from 130 to 140 [weight classes], then we can't beat the good teams," Thomas said.
"Pins neutralize our top four wrestlers and damages the whole complexion of our match."
Aside from Kim, ranked second in the state, the upper weight classes held true to form as Howard senior Frank Tortella, ranked fifth in Maryland at 171, scored a pin (1:20) over Centennial senior Richard Anacker, and Howard junior Brian Neal preserved his No. 4 ranking in the heavyweight division with a pin of junior Aaron Perkins (5:26).
Centennial's bench grew confident of victory when, for the second time this season, senior Matt Augustin defeated Howard all-county senior Matt Hartwell at 145, 13-4. Five near-fall points in the third period spurred Augustin's second win over the defending county champion and gave the Eagles a 28-12 advantage.
"I started to become relieved at that point, but when the last match is over that's when I'm 100 percent relieved because I want all our wrestlers to perform well," DeCrispino said.
Howard senior Chris Poling's pin of senior Jason Jones (3:24) began the Lions' last-ditch comeback effort. Howard closed to 31-24 after Tortella's victory, but needed to upset Kim to have a chance.
"Centennial better start getting respect because he [DeCrispino] has done a darn good job building that program," Thomas said.