It was closer than close.
It was so tight, in fact, that one more takedown, one more reversal might have made the difference between winning a state championship and walking home with second place.
When the dust settled yesterday at Western Maryland College, it was Kent County on top with 128 points, winning one of the closest 2A-1A state wrestling tournaments ever by finishing ahead of Hammond and Northern Garrett, who tied for second with 127.5.
"I don't ever like to lose, but we came a long way in this tournament and in this year," said Hammond coach Pedro Barbosa. "What we did this weekend is good enough to win a lot of state championships, but it just wasn't good enough to win this one. I'm real proud of my guys."
The battle for first place was expected to be between Kent County, the state dual meet champ, and Northern Garrett, the defending state champion.
But Hammond nearly won, getting individual titles from Ryan Mackin (135 pounds) and Jimmy Davis (125), and third-place finishes from Russell Tebeleff (119), Joey Killo (145) and Scott Wallace (171). "I think this just shows that we're never down," said Mackin. "Every year, we're not supposed to do as well as we do, and every year we're right there."
But this year, Kent County was just a sliver better, getting individual wins from Mikey Blake (140), who beat Northern Garrett's Jeremiah Guard by 21-7, and Brian Fox (119), who upset defending state champion Pete Stein.
"I've been waiting 30 years for this," said Kent County coach Dan Zottarelli. "It was just a complete team effort. My kids just weren't willing to let this one get away."
Hammond led an impressive day for Howard County, which captured five individual titles in 2A-1A and one in the 4A-3A as Wilde Lake's Matt Ennis won at 119.
Atholton's Adam Roth (145) had perhaps the most impressive win of the group, pinning Phil Parrow of Joppatowne in only 1:50. Roth punctuated the win by leaping into the arms of Raiders coach Bruce Lindblad, and weeping tears of accomplishment and joy.
"I worked my butt off for four years for this moment right here," Roth said. "I stayed up last night just thinking about what I had to accomplish today and all the times I killed myself in practice. It's a great feeling. My smile won't go away."
"I think he was more than determined today," Lindblad said. "He came out to take care of his business. I'm real proud of Adam. I was just worried he was going to hurt my back when he jumped up on me."
Atholton's Bryan Radik (130) joined Roth in the winner's circle, beating Steve Stone of Williamsport, 4-2, for his first state title. Steve Conrad won the first state title for North Harford since Glen Allen in 1983, defeating Jeff Plasse of Oakland Mills, 9-8, at 103 pounds. Conrad beat two top seeds in Artie Kaehler of Kent County and Doug Ramsey of Atholton to reach the final.
"Steve's aggressiveness was very key," said North Harford coach Dean Petty. "I figured he could come in and place, but he took it to the next level and went after some guys. It's big for our program."
Robert Scott of Oakland Mills defended his heavyweight title despite banging his head against the knee of Williamsport's Ryan McDonald. Scott shook off some tense moments to register two late takedowns for a 13-8 win.
"This title was definitely tougher than my first," Scott said. "I really feel like I did something because a lot of cats were gunning for me."
Davis snagged perhaps the biggest win of the day however, beating defending state champion Mike Weber of Northern Garrett, 9-3, to give the Bears one last shot at a title before they came up short when Kent County's Kaehler came back to take third place at 103, beating Ramsey by 6-4 to lock up the victory.
"Obviously, we weren't really expected to be one of the teams that came out and contended for this thing, so I'm pleased," Barbosa said. "I'm a young guy and I'm going to be around for a long time at Hammond so hopefully we'll continue to be successful and bring home the trophy next year."