It's been a long time coming, but that may just make it even better.  On Saturday, the Lockport Township High School wrestling program did what every coach dreams of, and every member of a team hopes to do - win a state championship.

Lockport won the title by pushing their record to a perfect 29-0 on the season.  The Porters defeated a tough Marmion team 33-22 in the quarterfinal round to start the morning Saturday, before a dominating 50-9 win over Lincoln-Way West in the semifinals that afternoon.  That set the stage for the showdown Saturday night with an absolutely star-studded Montini lineup - one that Porter wrestlers knew their roles, and did their jobs against.  As a result, Lockport ended the night with a 33-20 victory over Montini, and the first ever team state championship in Lockport wrestling history.

Let's break the day down.  Yep, it's going to be a long one.  But hey, I'm including headers so you can scroll more easily!

Quarterfinals: Lockport 33, Marmion Academy 22

The opening dual Saturday morning had the potential to be a close one, and it actually ended up being Lockport's closest dual of the season, at an 11-point margin of victory.  The dual started at 132, which didn't give either team a big advantage.  Abdullah Assaf opened the dual with a 5-3 decision over Sean McKenna, but Marmion took a 4-3 advantage after 138, when three-time state placewinner Anthony Cheloni earned a major decision over Brandon Ramos.  The two teams would split the next two matches as well.  Baylor Fernandes earned a 3-1 decision over Jake Polka at 145, and at 152, Zach Reese dropped a narrow 2-1 decision to Brad Gross, who had just taken 3rd at the weight last weekend.  Both of those matches were rematches, won by the same people as earlier in the season.

The crowd in Bloomington did not get a rematch of the individual final at 160 pounds, as Marmion sent Brant DeMoss out to the mat to take on Trevell Timmons instead of 2nd place finisher Nate Jimenez.  Timmons won by technical fall, and Chandler Proszek added a 9-5 decision of his own for the Porters at 170, giving them a 14-7 lead.

Marmion scored their only consecutive victories of the dual between 182 and 220 poundsAt 182, Nick Dado dropped an 8-6 decision to Peter Ferraro, the 5th place finisher at 170 pounds this season, in a much closer match than Ferraro's 9-2 victory over Dado at Cheesehead.  At 195, to the surprise of many in the crowd (including myself, and basically anyone else who had not seen the weigh-in sheet), 160 pound runner-up Nate Jimenez took the mat for Marmion, having weighed in at the 182 pound weight class for this tournament (weighing just past the 172 pound mark he needed to be above).  Marmion's bold strategy to send the 2nd place finisher at 160 up to wrestle the 4th place finisher at 182 paid off, however, as Jimenez earned a 2-1 victory.  At 220, Yousif Salah was taking it to his opponent, Tyler Surges, but was called for an illegal slam that the referees did not even agree on (unbiased perspective: the wrestler definitely landed on his head, but Yousif brought him down in as controlled a way as possible - he cannot control when a wrestler changes position themselves in midair, which is what looked to have happened, and caused the confusion).  Salah was a bit more tentative after this, but still came out looking to score.  He picked up a takedown, and while taking Surges to his back, Surges leg was freed up, and Salah was essentially stepped over as a result, losing by fall at 1:51.  Marmion held a 19-14 lead at this point.

Following the string of Marmion victories, Lockport's wrestlers knew they needed to bounce back, and they did just that - winning four straight bouts.  Ronald Tucker came out and picked up another fall on the season at 285 to give the Porters a 20-19 lead that they would not again give up.  At 106, Matt Ramos squared off against Marmion's Michael Jaffe, whom Ramos had beaten by a major decision last weekend.  It was clear that Jaffe's job, if winning wasn't in line, was to limit bonus points (a solid strategy, one that we used as well), and as a result, there was a lot of wrestling on the edge.  But, Matt stayed on the attack, found an opportunity, and took it, pinning Jaffe in 5:27 and taking away any wind that may have remained in Marmion's sails.

Lockport scored another win at 113, as Anthony Molton beat Jacob Tinajero by a score of 5-1, and James Pierandozzi came out looking fantastic, earning a dominant 16-7 major decision over Ryan Fleck to seal the dual for the Porters with one match remaining.  In the final bout, Brendan Ramsey dropped a tight 1-0 decision to Marmion's Trevor Chumbley at 126, who finished 4th at the weight last weekend at state.  Marmion added three points to their total, but that just made the score look closer, and Lockport came away with a 33-22 victory.

Semifinals: Lockport 50, Lincoln-Way West 9

Something about Lincoln-Way West seems to really bring out the best in our team.  Following our dual meet victory over the Warriors in the "Singlets on the Stage" dual in mid-December, our coaches felt that it was the best our team had wrestled yet.  After all was said and done on Saturday, they said the same thing about this time out - it may very well have been the single best dual we put together on the season.

As the score indicates, we came out and won in bunches, going 12-2 over the course of the entire dual.  The Porters won the first seven matches before evetually dropping a bout, then won the next five, before giving up a loss in the final match.  For this dual, Lockport bumped their first three wrestlers.  Abdullah Assaf took the mat at 138, winning by fall over Jake Pakula in 2:31.  Brandon Ramos squared off against Joey Schloegel at 145, which was a controlled 4-2 decision for Ramos.  Baylor Fernandes bumped to 152, where he scored a fall over Noah Price.

At 160, Trevell Timons earned a 19-6 major decision over Josh Bohne, coming just short of a technical fall he was working hard to earn.  Nick Dado took the mat at 170, picking up a 7-1 decision over fellow state qualifier Kyle Quinn, falling a takedown short of earning the major decision he wanted as well.  Payton Fernandes came out and scored another close victory over Trevor Schmidt on the season, this one by a 3-2 score, while Yousif Salah got another victory over Robert Noga at 220, winning by 3-0 decision.  The Porters held a 32-0 lead at this point.

Lincoln-Way West's first dual came at 220 pounds, when 3rd place finisher Jake Dudeck took the mat to square off against Dan Stojsavljevic.  Dudeck eventually won by fall in 1:23, but Stojsavljevic did fend off Dudeck's first shot attempt, and was notably happy about that.  Stojsavljevic noted that "he [Dudeck] didn't like that.  I think it made him angry.  That didn't go well."  Way to find those silver linings, Dan.

The Porters then went on another big win streak, only one of which was considered a toss-up.  The 285-120 pound bouts were all rematches that Lockport has never lost, and those streaks continued.  Ronald Tucker picked up a 9-1 major decision over Nick Skentzos at 285, while Matt Ramos beat Garrett Geigner by a 12-2 major decision at 106. At 113, Anthony Molton earned another fall on the season, defeating Payton Geigner in 3:32, and James Pierandozzi took Chris Kennedy apart at 120 en route to a very impressive 21-6 technical fall at 120.

At 126, Matt Kronsbein took the mat for the Porters, squaring off against Lincoln-Way West's Tommy Buell.  Buell, who beat Kronsbein in the dual meet back in December, lost twice to Brendan Ramsey at this year's sectional tournament, including the match to go to state, and was likely anticipating a rematch that he did not get.  Kronsbein, however, certainly wanted his rematch, and he made the most of it, picking up a 9-6 win over Buell, including a pair of nearfall points.  The dual closed with a loss at 132, when Garrett Golob dropped a 4-3 decision to Nate Dluzak.  Golob was clearly frustrated on his feet, unable to score, or set up any scoring opportunities.  Last time they met, however, Golob lost by a major decision, so there's a silver lining on that one for the future.  When the dust settled, Lockport had dominated the dual, 50-9, and secured a place in the state finals for the first time in the program's history.

Championship Final: Lockport 33, Montini 20

This dual looked like it would be interesting, on paper, and it certainly did not disappoint.  One analysis of each team said something to the effect that Lockport is a very good team throughout the whole lineup, whereas Montini has an absolutely phenomenal group of lower weights, but there's a huge drop-off at the upper weights, and that seems to be a fair assessment.  A bit oversimplified, but fair.

Lockport knew they needed to pickup bonus point victories in the upper weights combined with limiting bonus points as much as possible everywhere else if they wanted to win, and winning a toss-up wouldn't hurt.  Montini needed to do the same, but with the weights flipped - they needed to limit bonus point losses at the higher weights in the lineup, and score as many bonus point wins as they could in the lower weights.

Thankfully, our game plan worked out a bit better, and walked out with a state championship as a result.

Starting at 145, we saw two top-four wrestlers in the state, as Baylor Fernandes took on Montini's Will Lewan, fresh off of winning an individual state championship last weekend at the weight class.  Lewan showed why he is ranked 7th in the nation, and, perhaps due to his familiarity with Fernandes from working together a bit during freestyle last summer, picked up takedown after takedown, rarely allowing any opportunity for Fernandes to create a scramble situation (where Baylor would certainly hold the advantage).  Lewan's ability to score from their feet ended up resulting in a 15-6 major decision on his end, and a 4-0 lead for Montini after the first match.  Montini added another three points with a 4-0 win by Jake Stiles over Zach Reese at 152.  Stiles, who wrestled 138 this season, defeating runner-up Kendall Coleman of Mt. Carmel on Tuesday in the match that swung that dual in Montini's favor, weighed in at 145 Saturday.  Reese battled hard, dealing with an unknown rib injury (likely dislocation or fracture) suffered in his match against Gross in the first dual, but could not muster any offense, and Montini held a 7-0 advantage after two matches.

The Broncos sent Matt Ortiz to the mat at 160 to take on Trevell Timmons, who picked up the first win for the Porters.  To his credit, Ortiz, who finished in 5th place at 152 last weekend, did a great job in keeping the match close and preventing bonus points, as Timmons was only able to score a 7-4 victory, in what had to feel like a small victory for the Broncos.  The same could be said at 170, when Nick Dado came out for Lockport and closed out his high school career with a 12-5 win over Montini's Anthony Geraci.  Dado worked hard for the major decision, but Geraci did just enough to keep it from happening, as Lockport closed the gap to 7-6, trailing by one point.  Chandler Proszek got the nod aganst Montini's best upperweight, Jake Christensen, at 182, but came away on top with a 9-7 decision in a match that was so hard to describe that I still can't figure it out.  It wasn't the most technical of bouts from either side, that's for sure, but Proszek came away with two more points than Christensen and that's all that mattered.  Lockport took the lead for the first time following that match, 9-7, and never looked back.

At 195, Payton Fernandes closed out his high school career by locking up a cradle and pinning Montini's Patrick Peters in just 1:45.  Yousif Salah took on Christian Pirog at 220, and, having watched an earlier dual in which Pirog was almost disqualified for stalling, it was clear to all that the goal for Montini was not to give up a fall, especially after surrendering one at 182.  Lockport's coaches were keenly aware of this, and  encouraged Salah to push the pace, as the wrestlers routinely found themselves wrestling at the edge of the mat.  Salah continued to pressure forward time and time again.  Pirog, finding himself on the edge again and in danger of another stalling call against him, pushed back just enough for Salah to hit an absolutely beautiful lat drop, and Salah picked up another six points for the Porters at the 2:38 mark.  At 285, Ronald Tucker came to the mat, squaring off against Montini's Michael McNicholas, with neither wrestler scoring in the first.  Tucker had choice in the second, chose to go on top, to the surprise of many, and had McNicholas on his back within the first 0:15 of the second period.  McNicholas fought hard, but ultimately, gravity was against him, and Tucker earned the fall in 2:50.  Lockport was up 27-7 heading into the lower weights.

At 106, Matt Ramos went to battle against Dylan Ragusin, in what would likely be considered to be the biggest toss-up of the dual.  Both wrestlers were Double All-Americans at Fargo last summer.  Ramos beat Ragusin twice in one day at Preseason Nationals last fall, but Ragusin picked up a 6-3 win over Ramos at the Cheesehead this season.  Ramos placed 5th at state last weekend, while Ragusin took 2nd - losing to Jacob Lindsey by a score of 7-3.  Ramos had lost to Lindsey by a point in the semifinals, in 3OT at that, and had beaten Lindsey at the Regional.  Clearly, no two wrestlers in this dual matched up better on paper than these two.

Unfortunately for the Porters, Ramos lost, 6-2.  Not much to say about the match - it was a well wrestled match.  Ramos got in on Ragusin's legs a few times but was unable to convert, whereas Ragusin scored from his feet, hit a tilt on top, and escaped from bottom.  Their familiarity with one another clearly made it tough for either wrestler to hit a go-to move, and neither appeared to have any tricks up their sleeves.  Ragusin's win gave Montini 3 points back, but Lockport led, 27-10.

Anthony Molton took the mat at 113 to square off against 2x state champion Joey Melendez, ranked 9th nationally.  Molton and Melendez have seen each other before, with Melendez winning by fall each time (although, the match at Cheesehead was a a low scoring decision prior to the fall by Melendez).  Earlier, I had mentioned that sometimes, the strategy one must employ is that if you can't win the match, you have to at least limit the loss.  While Molton went out and battled, he found himself falling behind, and not in a close match like he had previously been in with Melendez.  And then he went into limitation mode, doing a rather good job of it.  Molton ended up losing by major decision, 18-8, but a kept the tech fall that Melendez was working furiously for at bay.  Lockport led 27-14 with four matches remaining, and certainly not out of the woods yet.

Speaking of Woods (yep, I just did that), Montini's state champion at 126, Real Woods, weighed in for this tournament at 120 - a move that not one person saw coming.  Woods, ranked 7th nationally at 126,  was without a doubt the wildcard move for Montini, and expecting to pickup a fall.  James Pierandozzi was faced with the task of going toe to toe with him, and Pierandozzi didn't shy away in the slightest.  Woods controlled the entire match, but Pierandozzi kept pace with him, visibly frustrating Woods, and keeping the match to an 11-4 win for Montini - only a decision in a bout where one can assume they were not just hoping for, but expecting to get 5 or 6 team points.

With the team score at 27-17 and 3 matches remaining, the 126 pound bout was pivotal.  With all due respect to Montini, the downside of dropping Woods was that it left a relative hole at 126 pounds.  This was exacerbated when Woods was unable to pickup any bonus points.  Brendan Ramsey took the mat for the last time in his high school career, not knowing that a win would effectively seal the dual in Lockport's favor.  Perhaps that was for the best, as Ramsey went out and took it to Devin Hoovel, who, in a losing effort, did his job to minimize bonus points.  Ramsey won, 14-7, and Lockport led, 30-17.  Only two pins and a loss of a team point could lose the dual.

Now, with two weights to go and a 13 point lead, many teams would forfeit the remaining matches, and end up with a 30-29 win.  But that's not how Lockport works - particularly in the state finals when there are two senior standouts closing the dual meet, and thus, their high school careers.  So we wrestled.

At 132, Abdullah Assaf stepped on the mat for the last time in a Lockport singlet to go head to head against 3rd placer Fidel Mayora, whom Assaf had beaten by major decision at the Cheesehead.  Mayora came out and wrestled a much different style in this match.  He was in on Assaf's legs early, and even scored 5 points when he got in deep on a double leg and Assaf tried to counter with a high-flyer, but failed.  Assaf worked his way up and essentially controlled the rest of the bout, hitting about 4 pinch-headlocks on Mayora, yet unable to close the original deficit, eventually falling by a score of 8-6.  Lockport led 30-20, and the dual was entirely wrapped up.  But there was one match to go.

The final match of the season was wrestled by senior Brandon Ramos at 138 pounds.  Ramos was taking on Montini's Kade Fortuna, a freshman who was behind Mayora and Stiles all season.  Ramos had no trouble getting to Fortuna's legs, picking up multiple takedowns in the bout, en route to a 10-4 decision victory, and putting the final mark in the record books for the perfect season.  33-20 with the win, and Lockport was officially state champions for the first time in the history of the program.

Oh, and safe to say that Brandon was pretty excited...

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