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Annapolis wrestling stuns South River to win 4A East regional dual crown

For Annapolis to pull off a feat it hadn’t accomplished in 18 years, the heaviest pressure of the night laid upon the smallest human in the lineup — and he wasn’t happy about it.

So when 106-pound freshman Kevin Van Besien stepped onto the mat, he didn’t think about himself or any disappointments he’d suffered in the past, even earlier that night. He thought of the people who deserved every ounce of strength he had.

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“In my mind, I just kept my seniors," Van Besien said. "That’s who I wrestled for, so their last season can be one of their best.”

No. 3 seed Annapolis will travel to its first 4A state dual appearance since 2002 after upsetting No. 1 South River 33-32, in the 4A East Region Duals.

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“Last time we were there, we made it to the finals," Panthers coach Tom Sfakiyanudis said. "I’m hoping to win it this time. We don’t know the teams that made it yet, so we’re going to have to research like we did with Leonardtown.”

This will be the Panthers’ third trip to state duals, thanks to a major decision performance by Van Besien, who at 14 years old was still four years out from his own birth the last time the Panthers stood on that stage.

Chesapeake wrestling scored a 58-12 victory in the Class 3A South Region dual meet championship on Wednesday night, Feb. 12, to punch its ticket to the state dual meet tournament on Saturday at North Point High School.

Sfakiyanudis, who was coach at that time, remembers it clearly. It was, in fact, a situation eerily similar to that of Wednesday night. As the dust settled on the 2002 regional bout, Chesapeake and Annapolis ended up tied. The Panthers earned the upper hand purely through criteria.

“We knew this would be close tonight. I didn’t know how close it would get. It looked like we might tie, and if it tied, I think they would have won by criteria,” Sfakiyanudis said. “That’s why we knew Kevin had to win by at least major decision for us to seal the victory. It was close. He got that move right at the end. Really, a lot of heart from Kevin.”

The Panthers had learned not to allow its opponent to take advantage of them in their semifinal. Seven pins, capped off by 220-pound Alex Ditto, were more than enough to ship No. 2 Leonardtown back to St. Mary’s County early, 43-33, but they came after many nails were bitten off, after the Raiders’ lighter weights helped punch out a 15-point lead.

After having to spend so much time laying on their stomachs while the two-hour Arundel-South River semifinal played out, the Panthers just sped the process up a bit this time.

Sfakiyanudis felt like receiving the Antonelli brothers from Mount St. Joe recently was a gift. On Wednesday, it was a gift that kept on giving, as Frank Antonelli scooped up pins in the semifinal and, perhaps more vitally, in the final as well.

Antonelli’s fall ignited a run in which Annapolis, save a forfeit to South River senior Isaac Barber, could not be touched by their hosts until it would take a monumental effort — perfection from then on out — for the Seahawks to really recover. By the time South River 160-pounder Sean Adams overpowered Jalen Lamkin through pure, unbridled strength to put the Seahawks back on the board, the hosts trailed by double-digits.

But sophomore Lonnell Owens-Pabon had something to prove.

The sophomore rolled onto the floor like thunder, sticking Dmitri Sfakiyanudis to the ground and emerging with the pin before the first period clock even dipped below one minute.

Junior Sam Hicks put in his word to make sure his teammates’ efforts weren’t wasted, officially reverting the Panthers’ lead to a tie at 23 with his decision.

See individual records for the best Anne Arundel County wrestlers.

But there was still stores of energy in Annapolis yet. Like Owens-Pabon, Kyle Leming (195) marched out onto the mat and quickly walked away with a pin in hand to lead, 29-23.

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“In our last match, we had a lead and then our heavier guys kind of gave it up in the end. This time, they came through," Sfakiyanudis said. "We knew it would be little points. We’re telling guys, go out there and don’t get pinned.

However, South River had just demonstrated it, too, knew how to earn a fall.

James Purnell laid 220-pound Panther Matt Wichmann’s upper body under his own weight and pinned him down until the referee’s whistle blew his way, knotting matters back up at 29.

When Ditto slipped from Seahawks heavyweight Racheil Coney’s grasp, it seemed, for a moment, Annapolis may have had their route to victory.

But in overtime, drenched in sweat, Coney prevailed. He dropped down, shot at Ditto’s legs and overcame the Panther to hand the lead, perilously, back in South River’s hands, 32-29.

A decision, for Annapolis, wouldn’t cut it. That would leave the two teams tied and, ultimately, hand the Seahawks the win.

Friends, coaches, family and teammates drew Van Besien in to give him a pep talk. It’s just another match, they told him. Let your instincts kick in.

“I just tried to do everything coach taught me,” Van Besien said, “and I wrestled my hardest match.”

The 106 pounder threw himself at South River freshman Ben “Big Spoon” Travis, almost dancing around the Seahawk, attacking from every angle to ensure he would secure Annapolis’ tight victory.

“He works hard all the time. We all work hard in the practice room and prepare for those kinds of matches. We’re always working on endurance, preparing for these kinds of situations," Sfakiyanudis said. "He came through, big.”

In the semifinals, South River and Arundel battled until the end.

See scores and stats from around Anne Arundel County on Wednesday, February 12, 2020.

For Barber, a night that could have been one of the peaks of his career, felt like a valley. Two wins would have assured him the sole right to South River wrestling’s individual wins record. His one, in the final, meant he’d tied graduated senior Trenton Puccinelli’s mark at 139 — and it came by forfeit at that.

With the chance to tie the school record for most program wins on the line, Seahawks coach John Klessinger shifted Barber down to face his biggest possible challenge in the whole Wildcats lineup: close friend, Caleb Chavez. Barber launched on Chavez to pick up a quick two, baying like a dog as his Arundel opponent advanced on him. The two remained deadlocked at three apiece throughout the top half of the second period, but midway through the second period, Barber began to slip.

Chavez rattled up a seven-point lead before Barber could post his own. When the final buzzer called, Chavez circled the ring with triumph shining on his features while stormclouds rolled over Barber, who shook his head at himself.

“We were trying to avoid that matchup actually because those guys are going to see each other over the next four weeks,” Arundel coach Dwayne Vogel said. “He was ready for it, so it was nice to see him step up and take that nice victory.”

From there, Arundel’s middle weights brought out their chisels and began to chip into their hosts’ advantage. A comfortable dozen-point margin became nine became six became three.

But then, an injury forfeit gifted the Seahawks a six-point leap, one that South River juniors Hicks and Purnell complimented with the first pins of the match, in the 182 and 195. Those dozen points carved enough of a lead that even two-straight Arundel clapbacks couldn’t undo.

But try telling Amir Conwell his win didn’t matter though, as he released a primal joyful scream when the 220 was all over.

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“I think that’s a good confidence booster for Conwell. He really needed that,” Vogel said. “(Heavyweight Nate) Kloss is a good performer all year against top guys, and we’re going to see that guy again. Lot of work left to do for these guys individually to get a state title.”

No. 3 ANNAPOLIS V. No. 1 SOUTH RIVER

113: Nolan Lunsford (SR) dec. Nick Antonelli (AN), 3-0

120: Frank Antonelli (AN) pin Michael Leonard (SR), 6-3

126: Aiden Heim (AN) pin Matt Gribble (SR) 12-3

132: FFT., Isaac Barber (SR)

138: Tate Scott (AN) dec. Joab Patino (SR), 7-3

145: Nate Ditmars (AN) maj. dec. Patrick Mooney (SR), 10-2

152: Craig Erwin (AN) maj. dec. Michael Byers (SR), 12-4

160: Sean Adams (SR) tech. fall Jalen Lamkin (AN), 17-4

170: Lonnell Owens-Pabon (SR) pin Dmitri Sfakiyanudis (AN)

182: Sam Hicks (SR) dec. Brandon Jackson (AN), 3-2

195: Kyle Leming (AN) pin Sam Smiroldo (SR)

220: James Purnell (SR) pin Matt Wichmann (AN)

285: Racheil Coney (SR) dec. Alex Ditto (AN), 3-1

106: Kevin Van Besien (AN) maj. dec. Ben Travis (SR), 14-5

No. 3 ANNAPOLIS 42, NO. 2 LEONARDTOWN 33

106: Blake Simonds (LN) pin Kevin Van Besien (AN)

113: Matthew Oh (LN) dec. Nick Antonelli (AN), 7-4

120: Sean Vosburgh (LN) pin Kevin Volland (AN)

126: Frank Antonelli (AN) pin Brandon Oh (LN)

132: Aidan Heim (AN) pin Troy Cialona (LN)

138: Brian Bieshelt (LN) pin Tate Scott (AN)

145: Nate Ditmars (AN) dec. Finn Eskeland (LN), 8-6

152: Craig Erwin (AN) pin Travis Chism (LN)

160: Jalen Lamkin (AN) pin Gannon Brooks (LN)

170: Alex Evans (LN) pin Dmitri Sfakiyanudis (AN)

182: Brandon Jackson (AN) pin Aidan Gamble (LN)

195: Kyle Leming (AN) pin Matthew Cox (LN)

220: Alex Ditto (AN) pin Scott Price (LN)

285: FFT.

No. 1 SOUTH RIVER 31, No. 4 ARUNDEL 21

106: Diego Steiner (AR) dec. Ben Travis (SR), 8-7

113: Nolan Lunsford (SR) dec. Angel Borges (AR), 11-4

120: Matt Gribble (SR) pin Sean Quinn (AR)

126: Jamison Ballard (SR) dec. Adam Lake (AR), 3-2

132: Sam Ditmar (SR) dec. v. Tim Ford (AR), 3-2, P4

138: Caleb Chavez (AR) dec Isaac Barber (SR), 10-5

145: Josh Chang (AR) dec. Joab Patino (SR), 8-2

152: Jaydon Bowden (AR) dec. Michael Byers (SR), 3-2

160: Injury FFT., Sean Adams (SR)

170: Valentino Pryor (AR) dec. Lonnell Owens-Pabon (SR), 6-4

182: Sam Hicks (SR) pin Clint Mills (AR)

195: James Purnell (SR) pin Jacob Zotter (AR)

220: Amir Conwell (AR) dec. Kevin Lippincott (SR), 4-3, P4

285: Nate Kloss (AR) dec. Racheil Coney (SR), 3-1

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