Hammond showed yesterday at Atholton why it earned the No. 1 preseason ranking in Class 2A-1A by the Maryland State Wrestling Association.
Against a strong Raiders team, the Bears forged a 43-27 victory by winning all but one weight class from 112 pounds through 160 pounds.
Hammond, ranked No. 6 by The Sun, avenged its two losses to Atholton last season, including one in the regional duals.
By far the happiest member of the Bears after the season opener, however, was 125-pound Zach Halper, who upset Jeff Zillmer in the night's final match, 8-6. Halper, who lost twice to Zillmer last season, scored a reversal with six seconds left for his winning margin.
"This feels great because they really pounded us one time last season," said Halper, who wrestled much stronger on his feet than he did a year ago. "Beating Zillmer does a lot for my confidence and gives me hope that I can win a county championship. We're happy about being No. 1-ranked ... But that doesn't really mean anything until we're county, region and state champs."
The match began with the 130-pound match when defending state champ Vince Taweel earned one of three Hammond pins.
A technical fall at 135 pounds by Jose Maldonado, a hard-fought 7-3 win by Jeff Nuss at 145 pounds over Teddy Johnson, and back-to-back majors by A.J. Smith and Adam Blake vaulted the Bears to a 22-6 lead.
Atholton rallied on three straight pins by Andrew Jacquet at 215 pounds, Mike Krason at heavyweight and Robbie Eloshway at 103 pounds to cut Hammond's lead to 28-27.
But back-to-back pins by Bryce Harley and Ethan Cohen ended Atholton's hopes, and Halper made things worse with his upset of Zillmer.
"This is a decent start," said Hammond coach Pedro Barbosa. "We didn't give up bonus points a couple of times when I thought we would, and my freshman 103-pounder Jacob Sams, amid all the hoopla that Atholton brought, gave his all and showed heart against a kid [Eloshway] way beyond him in experience."
Atholton coach Bruce Lindblad was impressed by Hammond.
"They deserve their ranking," he said.