You could say Annapolis wrestling’s first-round playoff upset over Old Mill began at 120 pounds, but you’d be wrong.
It certainly mattered that the No. 5 seed Panthers claimed six straight wins from 120 to 160. But the vital push in the later matches of the Class 4A East Region Duals tournament, a grit that crumbled in the previous meeting with the No. 4 seed Patriots, was the true catalyst.
The Panthers cemented their 39-32 region quarterfinal rally with wins and losses: a comeback decision at 195 while only giving up three points at 182 instead of a pin. That’s what Annapolis coach Tom Sfakiyanudis stressed to his wrestlers beforehand: everyone has a job. For some, it’s to pin. For others, it’s to not get pinned.
“It comes down to heart,” Sfakiyanudis said. “To the hard work we put in the room, and knowing what your team needs.”
But 170 was where Annapolis proved what it had. Jack Nicka tore his labrum early in the season and suffered through a resulting tendinitis. This was his first match back and pain still burdened him. To make matters more difficult, he moved up a weight class as Annapolis’ response to Old Mill shifting its wrestlers around.
And Nicka was feeling the odds looming against him.
“But it’s Region Duals,” he said. “I just wanted to wrestle for the team.”
The Patriots’ Noel Norman Williams looked to have locked in his path to at least a decision at 170 when he took an 8-3 lead with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third period.
But Nicka, who’d labored all match to scrounge a point, battled through his fatigue.
“My first priority was to not get pinned,” Nicka said. “I knew I could hit a reversal on him; once I did that, got under his arm and around his head, and turned him. ‘I could pin him here. I got to close it out.’”
“Squeeze” rang through Nicka’s mind when, in the final seconds, he pressed Williams’ back before earning the sweet sound of an official’s hand slapping the mat.
Sfakiyanudis called it “gutsy.”
The coach had felt secure once Jager Franz hit the floor at 120 that the Panthers would be able pad out a lead. But even the 126-pound bout showed him any match was up for the taking.
Teddy Sfakiyanudis pinned Dekhi Church in their last meeting. This time, Church fought with every sinew of his being, pushing to stand while the crowd urged him up. But Sfakiyanudis had his leg curled around Church’s, only slowing him one leg to stand on.
So the second period went scoreless into the third with Church struggling beneath the Panther, looking for escape — a single point. But it would not come. Sfakiyanudis took him down, and his teammates screamed like an exhale, points finally achieved.
The 2-0 decision helped Annapolis take the lead in the next match, when 132-pound Davis Ruhf pinned Montrell Jackson for a 15-11 advantage.
So began the long ascent of the Panthers. For six straight matches, Annapolis collected four pins and two decisions.
Old Mill didn’t come up for air until 160, when senior Bryan Arevalo thumped Finn Stelzig to the mat for a 55-second pin. Before then, Annapolis had already stacked a 30-11 advantage.
But the burden truly rested on the next wrestlers to either change the momentum, or preserve it. One pin wasn’t going to change it. Two pins, or a major decision, was another matter.
With Nicka’s subsequent six points, Annapolis neutralized the effect of the next Old Mill pin at 182. A 36-23 lead with three bouts to go was not secure.
Old Mill coaches pleaded with 195 entry Drayk Bunn for just two more points: make it a major, and they could win. But Christian Fontanella wouldn’t allow it.
“We had a lot of those little swings from the last match,” Tom Sfakiyanudis said.
By 220, screams pelted Xxavien Mackell. The Patriots sophomore nearly pinned Grayden Stramanak twice, but the Panther always escaped. This wasn’t what Old Mill needed: without at least a major decision, the Patriots would lose no matter what they did in the finale.
But in the end, it was Stramanak on top, pressing Mackell to the ground. The Old Mill wrestler had put everything into the first two periods. But he was tapped out.
With the 7-5 Annapolis decision, Old Mill was finished.
With Broadneck next, the Panthers treasure their gritty matches most. Forcing decisions, springing upsets: these are things that could put them in contention with the mighty, senior-heavy Bruins on Thursday.
“If we could wrestle Broadneck like we did tonight,” Tom Sfakiyanudis said, “then we got a shot. We’re definitely the underdogs, but we like that role.”
106: Logan Johnson (OM) tech. fall Carmine Zimmurelli (AN), 16-0; 6-0
113: Robert Maher (OM) pinned Max Krolak (AN), 11-0 Pin 11-0
120: Jager Franz (AN) pinned Omar Khan (OM), 11-6
126: Teddy Sfakiyanudis (AN) dec. Dekhi Church (OM), 2-0; 11-9
132: Davis Ruhf (AN) pinned Montrell Jackson (OM), 15-11
138: Kevin Van Besien (AN) dec. Trey Martini (OM), 9-4; 18-11
145: Ronan Keohan (AN) pinned Aiden Day (OM), 24-11
152: Nik Antonelli (AN) pinned Josiah Mullin (OM), 30-11
160: Bryan Arevalo (OM) pinned Finn Stelzig (AN), 30-17
170: Jack Nicka (AN) pinned Noel Norman Williams (OM), 36-17
182: Logan Cookerly (OM) pinned Davis Purnell (AN), 36-23
195: Drayk Bunn (OM) dec. Christian Fontanella (AN), 7-1; 36-26
220: Grayden Stramanak (AN) dec. Xxavien Mackell (OM), 7-5; 39-26
285: OM win by fft., 39-32