UPPER MARLBORO — South Carroll wrestling wanted to make a statement. It wasn’t about wins or titles — it was about history.
Programs rise and fall, new champions are crowned every year, but what the South Carroll wrestling team accomplished this weekend at the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Class 2A/1A state wrestling tournament at The Show Place Arena will be remembered long after this group of Cavaliers hangs up the headgear.
“Definitely in the history books,” South Carroll’s newly crowned 182-pound state champion Rylan Moose said. “Definitely one of the best public school teams ever.”
No. 2 South Carroll had eight wrestlers make the finals out of the 14 weight classes, with four winning state championships.
Michael Pizzuto (145 pounds) and AJ Rodrigues (160) joined an exclusive list of three-time Maryland state champions. Freshman JoJo Gigliotti (120) and Moose, a senior, won their first titles. Joining them as champions from the Baltimore area were Hereford’s Owen Bell (126), Owings Mills’ Amondre Wooden (152) and Manchester Valley’s Jake Boog (170).
Only 56 wrestlers in history have won three Maryland public school state championships before this season. Pizzuto and Rodrigues never had the chance to be four-time champions because the pandemic canceled the 2021 tournament.
“To go out, my high school career, every state tournament I’ve wrestled in, to win and go down in history as one of the few people to win three times, I could never ask for anything different. I love it,” Rodrigues said.
Pizzuto credits the team’s upgraded schedule that included dual meets against private school powers Mount Saint Joseph and Gilman.
“I’ve chased every best kid I can all season,” said Pizzuto, who finished the season 46-3. “I might have taken a few losses, but I’m wrestling nationally ranked kids every single week and it’s proving we’re the best team in the state because of it.”
That’s a mantra that kept coming up with the Cavaliers, a desire to prove they are the best.
“We’re proving that we’re the best,” Rodrigues said. “Not everyone has won ... but it’s impressive to do as a team.”
Gigliotti (48-2) was the first champion, holding off a late charge from Boonsboro’s Tanner Halling to win a 3-2 decision.
“It means the world,” he said. “A lot of time in the room, working with Michael Pizzuto, that guy’s the man. He’s the reason I’m here. We’re just trying to be the best.”
Pizzuto claimed the second title, pinning Russell Fary of Sparrows Point in the second period.
“I faked shot, snapped. His leg was sitting right by his head so I cradled him up and ended the match,” he said.
Rodrigues (47-2) cruised to a 20-5 technical fall over Joe Clark of Oakland Mills, and Moose (48-2) pinned Mason Testerman of Rising Sun 10 seconds into the third period.
“This is my first state title ever. Not even in youth league did I win one,” Moose said. “My first one ever, senior year, last match, last high school match ever. ... He did a switch and he turned, and as soon as he turned I split his legs and I grabbed the claw variation. Once I had him in a reverse half, I knew it was over.”
South Carroll had four other state runners-up. Grayson Barnhill and Evan Owen lost the 106 and 113 finals, respectively.
Gage Owen was featured in perhaps the marquee match of the night, a battle against Northern Garrett’s Jacob Brenneman at 138. It was a perfect matchup: Owen entered 47-0, Brenneman 41-0. The match lived up to the hype, as they each traded takedowns and escapes. A takedown late in the second period gave Owen a 5-4 lead. He tried to hold Brenneman down the whole third period, but allowed a two-point reversal in the final minute and couldn’t manage a tying escape in a 6-5 loss.
South Carroll’s fourth runner-up was also a heartbreaker. Manny Rodrigues (195) clashed with Williamsport’s Adin Hastings, and the match was tied at 1 late in the third period. Rodrigues went for the winning shot with time running down, but his control was ruled to happen just after the clock hit zero.
Instead, Hastings earned the winning takedown in sudden victory for a 3-1 win.
For whom the Bell tolls
Hereford’s Owen Bell was on a mission. His tournament run, just like his season, was flawless. Two pinfalls carried him through the early rounds before he scored a technical fall in his semifinal and then closed out his title run with a dominant 8-0 major decision over Middletown’s Alex DeVriendt.
“I think about all the teammates that help me throughout the whole season,” Bell said. “Even though they don’t make it to the state tournament or something, one of my teammates is still coming around and he was warming me up before my match.
“I was just really focused coming into this. I knew I wanted it really bad, I was confident.”
He finished his year 42-0, but to him it was never about chasing perfection. It was doing whatever he could do to earn state gold.
“Perfect season. To be honest, I wasn’t really going for that, that wasn’t my specific goal,” Bell said. “I was constantly trying to find the best competition for myself, so that wasn’t really my goal, I’m just happy to be a state champ.”
One final shot
Amondre Wooden came close to a state title as a freshman, finishing third, but hasn’t been able to get a shot a redemption since. The pandemic and academic issues kept him from getting another shot. But in his senior year, he got his chance — and he made the most of it.
Wooden (41-1) won a 9-4 decision over Stephen Decatur’s Gavin Solito to finally earn his state championship.
“I was very, very calm, settled, paced myself,” Wooden said. “I wasn’t going to get as tired. There’s just a lot of emotions in this.”
Wooden had one of the marquee semifinal matches against Manchester Valley’s Travis Green, who was 50-0 at the time. Wooden and Green were tied at 4 in the third period after Green evened it on a reversal, but Wooden got an escape for what became the winning point.
“Travis Green is a very good competitor,” Wooden said. “The way I beat him was setting up a good shot, setting up defense-wise. He’s a good wrestler and that was a good match, a very good match.”
Twice as nice
Manchester Valley’s Jake Boog closed his high school career as a two-time champion. While Boog’s first title came in a drama-filled match, this time he controlled it all. He led Smithburg’s James Brashears 7-0 in the third period before picking up a pin.
“I tried to stay on my attacks, but be smart, though,” Boog said. “I found a way to push him on his back.”
Finishing his senior year 50-2, Boog called the close of his high school career “sad but awesome.” He also had a message for those coming through the Mavericks program behind him.
“I proved that is possible, so I’m expecting more, because I’ll be back to help.”