After eight years of trying, the Annapolis Panthers wrestling team grabbed the Arundel Invitational Tournament title. But Coach Dave Gehrdes had to juggle his lineup to do it.
"We were trying to get the strongest team possible for this tournament and I had everyone bumped up a weight class from 140 on up," said Gehrdes, whose Panthers are unbeaten in dual-meet matches at 6-0.
"This is one of the best fields we've wrestled in for a small tournament like this," Gehrdes added. "Our 103-pounder (Mike Zambernardi) is out sick. So when we still had 12 guys wrestling in the second round, I thought we had a shot if things fell into place."
The Panthers got titles from Ford Baumgardener (135), Chip Cochran (145) and Pat Flynn (152) as Annapolis outdistanced Montgomery County's second-place Quince Orchard Cougars, 146-139.5.
Annapolis, which finished as the Class 4A/3A state tournament runners-up to Old Mill last year, will play host to the top-ranked Patriots (5-0) tomorrow night at 7:30.
At Arundel, the Panthers looked strong right where the Patriots are: in the middleweights.
"Yes, it does give us more options (against Old Mill). Everyone wrestled well where they were," Gehrdes said. "But most of all I'm just happy to have won this tournament. This is a big mental lift."
Baumgardener used a technical fall and a pair of decisions to improve to 12-0; Cochran (16-1) won by decision over Kenwood's Brian Persinger, 9-5, after a pin and a technical fall; and Flynn (152) -- who is the state's top-ranked wrestler at 145 -- had a forfeit and a pair of third-period pins to improve to 16-0.
Mike Bousman (119) and Jemal Minatee (160) were runners-up for the Panthers.
Bousman (11-4-1) dropped a 7-3 decision to Oakland Mills' defending Howard County champion Kalev Freeman (15-5) and Minatee lost, 24-6, to Quince Orchard's No. 4-ranked Eric Alban.
Mike Owen (112) and Tom Sfakiyanudas (140) finished third, and Ian Robbins (130) and heavyweight Demond Gallaway were fourth.
Host Arundel (91 points) finished a disappointing sixth overall with only one champion -- fifth-ranked heavyweight Pat Beach, who had center stage for his bout with Oakland Mills' top-ranked 215-pound Monte Spencer.
In what was the most exciting bout of the tournament, the 230-pound Beach (16-0) rallied from a 1-0 second-period deficit to take an 8-1 lead in thematch, including six back points. Spencer (17-1) scored an escape and a pair of takedowns in the final period, but Beach held on for a 9-6 victory.
The win came after a tough 2-1 semifinal victory over a265-pound wrestler from Quince Orchard.
"I didn't know how well he'd do here because he hadn't faced the competition that these guys have," said Arundel coach Buddy Hepfer. "But he came out and outsmarted those two. Against Spencer, he wrestled very intelligently."
Arundel's other finalists -- 103-pound freshman Phil Meenan (12-5) and 171-pound sophomore Greg Booth (14-2) -- ran into a pair of experienced veterans from Hyattsville's DeMatha High in the finals and had to settle for runner-up finishes.
Meenan dropped a 16-4 decision to No. 6-ranked, two-time defending tournament champion Mynor Herrera (23-1). Booth was pinned in the second period by No. 5-ranked national prep tournament champion Marcus Foran (22-1).
Buddy Hepfer's son, Greg (140), dropped a 5-4 decision to Sfakiyanudas for fourth place and his third loss in a week to the Annapolis wrestler. Hepfer had been pinned by Sfakiyanudas in their dual meet last Wednesday and lost a 12-4 decision to him in the first round of the tournament.
Hepfer used a pin and a 9-4 decision to earn a third meeting with Sfakiyanudas, who dropped into the consolation round after losing a 5-1 decision to the eventual champion, Damon Newsome of McDonough.
After a 10-0 start, the record of Arundel's Brian Richards (189) fell to 12-5 with his fourth-place finish. Phil Stratton (160) also placed
fourth for Arundel.
The race for the title was a tight one throughout between Annapolis, Quince Orchard and eventual third-place Oakland Mills Scorpions (134.5 points).
After the first round, the Cougars, Panthers and Scorpions were 1-2-3 with just two points separating first and third place. And it was Panthers-Scorpions-Cougars with only two rounds -- the consolation and championship finals -- left to be wrestled.
But after a strong effort by the Cougars -- including five third-place and one fourth-place finish -- Annapolis trailed Quince Orchard, 133.5-132, heading into the championship round. And Oakland Mills (121.5) was still within striking distance of the leaders.
The Scorpions (3-1) then got titles from their three Howard County champions -- No. 4-ranked Dan Bickell (112), Kalev Freeman (119) and Adam Seidman (125) -- to take the lead with 134.5 points.
But after Baumgardener won his title, the Panthers pulled into first place, 136-133.5. The lead became permanent after Oakland Mills' Joe Salinas (140) dropped a 10-3 decision to Newsome, and Cochran and Flynn won their bouts.