- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
That’s how La Plata head coach John Pankhurst described the wrestling bout of the night Tuesday that fueled his Warriors to a critical 34-33 victory over the visiting Northern Patriots.
In a match that both La Plata and Northern needed for their Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title chances and, even more importantly, to keep hope alive for clinching a berth into the Class 4A-3A South Region duals tournament on Feb. 6 to jumpstart the postseason, Warriors junior Vinny Frederico sent the gym into bedlam with his dramatic pin that served as the difference maker between the evenly matched teams.
The La Plata first-year wrestler was locked up in a 7-all bout at 152 pounds with Northern’s Michael Sadler during the third period amid a pivotal toss-up tussle that was full of physically, intense action and had both head coaches in all-out, animated form on their feet.
With momentum on Sadler’s side, having come back from a 5-2 deficit at the end of the opening period, and both wrestlers eying each other on their feet, Frederico somehow picked up his foe and then slammed him to the mat.
Frederico quickly covered up a surprised Sadler, who was defenseless on his back, and enacted a firm pin with 1 minute 10 seconds left in the memorable bout, providing La Plata with a 25-18 lead.
“I thought it was going to be kind of easy [before my bout], but when I went out there, I realized I had to kick it up a notch,” said Frederico, who tends to think of himself as the better wrestler before he steps on the mat each time as a means to mentally pump himself up. “[Sadler] got the upper hand [during the second and third periods], but I came out on top. I don’t think I could’ve picked a better time because it just felt great to get that pin.
“He was really tired, I could see that. So I just thought if I keep taking shots, I was bound to get one. I just happened to get that takedown and slammed him and put him on his back.”
He added about being the difference maker in the match, “Not really, no [I didn’t think it would come down to my bout]. I’m kind of glad it was me. It was a huge [for our team].”
Three bouts later, La Plata senior Dakota Wilhelm, ranked 12th in the state at 182, clinched the win over Northern with a pin — ironically in the same time of 4:50 as Frederico’s — against Jake Horn, cushioning the Warriors to a 34-21 advantage with only two weight classes left.
Though Northern boasted pins in those final two bouts, it was not enough.
“Frederico is the man, he is the man tonight,” Pankhurst praised. “I wasn’t really sure of Vinny’s matchup. I haven’t really seen [Northern’s] couple of kids in the middle there. I was kind of leaning on [our 145-pounder Justin] Irwin a little bit more [going into the match].”
Though the La Plata coach remains encouraged about Irwin’s progress, La Plata dropped that bout at 145 by an 8-2 decision to Northern’s Jackson Drum. The Warriors’ lead was down to 19-18 when Frederico locked up with Sadler in their epic showdown.
“That’s Vin-sanity, he’s Vin-sanity,” Pankhurst added about how Frederico was able to instantly end the bout with Sadler that was very much up in the air in the third. “He did that when we rolled him out for the first time at Iron Horse [Duals the first weekend of this month]. In his first match [there], he got down big and he came back and threw the kid and came back and won, like, 12-9.
“He’s a little guy and he’s elusive. He’s powerful. The thing is this is his first year wrestling, and he has a lot of natural ability. He’s just starting to get some experience also.”
Going down to the end
Before the match, the La Plata coach had accurately projected the outcome in favor of his team by a point. Pankhurst nearly nailed the exact final score, predicting either 36-35 or 33-32.
Northern head coach Matt Smith was also nearly on the money and expected even a tighter match, working it out beforehand to a 33-all outcome with a tiebreaker coming into effect.
Both coaches proved their acumen by properly evaluating their lineups against each other prior to the action, though neither could have predicted the means to the end.
La Plata 132-pounder David Pipes got his team going by capturing a 13-1 major decision to begin a series of important clashes between both lineup’s second-tier talents. Then Nick Higgs (138) followed suit for La Plata with another key 2-0 victorious decision.
At 170 with La Plata clinging to a 25-21 lead, Eric Maule tallied another pivotal win for La Plata by pulling off the winning escape move with 1:35 left in his bout with Jackson Horn for a 3-2 triumph. That pushed La Plata further ahead 28-21 with three bouts remaining, setting the stage for Wilhelm to seal the win one weight class later.
“It was an awful lot [on the line]: regional dual points, SMAC championship ... just pride. We haven’t beaten them in forever,” Smith said, the frustration written all over his face. “Hat’s off to La Plata. Every scramble, every time we thought we were getting some momentum, they came out on top. Every time I thought we had something going, we just stopped and gave up. Hat’s off to La Plata. They did everything they needed to do to win tonight.”
About Frederico’s emotional pin of Sadler at 152, the Northern frontman added, “It was absolutely a toss-up [bout]. And every single toss-up moment, they came out on top and that’s why they won. I thought [Sadler] had a chance [to beat Frederico]. We were even at a point of just a [losing] decision [by Sadler would’ve allowed us to beat La Plata]. [Frederico] just wanted it more. It was pretty simple.
“Their whole team wanted it more than ours did tonight.”
Even in the marquee clash at 160 when Northern’s No. 3 state-ranked wrestler in senior Eric Hoffman pulled off a 3-0 victory over junior Anthony Cable, ranked ninth in the state, La Plata still came away feeling good about that bout.
Cable kept Hoffman from prevailing via a bonus-points win, which is a norm for the Northern star — expected to capture the 4A-3A state title.
And the lack of a bonus-points win for Hoffman loomed huge in the one-point outcome.
“I don’t know if I feel like I won [by losing just 3-0] because I definitely feel like I have a chance [at beating Hoffman],” Cable said. “We’re both tough wrestlers, we’ve been wrestling with each other since junior leagues so I know what he does. I just need to work on some things and I feel like it can be an even closer match [with Hoffman].
“I feel awesome that the team won, though. That was the biggest part of my night — the team winning.”