After helping his fellow Churchill Bulldogs secure a hard-earned five-point victory over Sherwood’s squad, Andrew Welch sat in the bleachers at Springbrook High School and watched the host team build a 43-point advantage, leading to a 40-point Blue Devil victory over the Warriors.
“We only beat Sherwood by single digits, and sitting in the stands looking at the scoreboard, I saw Springbrook beating them, 49-6, at one point,” said Welch, of an eventual 58-18 victory by the host Blue Devils over the Warriors. “We were getting a little nervous, but our coaches brought us together and told us how matchups work.”
Bulldogs coach Tony Howard, a three-time state champion at Magruder, and Tim Lowe, a two-time state champion at Einstein, assured their wrestlers they were nevertheless confident of taking the Blue Devils. “Our guys saw the score and were a little concerned, but matchups are so unique. Wrestling’s one of those sports where you really can’t watch what’s happening between two other teams,” said Lowe, the Bulldogs’ head coach.
“Coach Howard and myself weren’t concerned. I told them that Sherwood matches up well with us and wrestled us tough, and that we were in for a tough match against Springbrook, but that we have the right matchups as a whole group of 14 wrestlers to get it done.”
Pins by Churchill senior Mac Ballman (170) in 31 seconds and one minute, 40 seconds came at the right time against both the Blue Devils (18-4) and the Warriors (13-5).
The Bulldogs (23-1) trailed the Blue Devils 28-17, when Ballman’s falls ignited a sweep of the last four-bouts for the final score of 39-28, being followed by a 69-second pin from Fio Tranquill (182), one in the third period by Cameron Harris-Gallahue (195) and a major decision by Andrew Welch (220).
Ballman’s headlock for the fall in the penultimate bout against Warriors’ sophomore, Adam Pfeiffer, who was fourth at counties and regions, gave the Bulldogs an insurmountable lead, 36-28, in an eventual 36-31 victory.
“We knew that once we got to the heart of our lineup, we were gonna be rolling,” said Ballman. “We were just kind of waiting until we got there, and then, we just took off.”
A wrestler since sixth grade who had competed for the Bulldogs until last year, Harris-Gallahue had decided not to come out for the team until two weeks ago when junior varsity coach James Taylor convinced him to return.
“Coach said they’re trying to win states and needed me back on team,” said Harris-Gallahue, who is 2-0 having scored a first-period pin against Magruder Jan. 30 while teammate, Ryan Kaplow, got the pin at 220 pounds against the Warriors.
“I liked wrestling when I was younger, but not as I got I older. At the beginning of the season I wasn’t going to do it. I was doing nothing until Coach J.T. came to me and said I could help them out a lot. After the first practice, I had no energy, kind of like right now. But this feels great. I wouldn’t feel this had I not come back.”
A county and regional champion who was fifth at states last year at 170, Welch received a forfeit from the Warriors but earned his 100th career win with a 13-4 decision over the Blue Devils’ Nii Nettey.
“It means a lot,” said Welch, crediting Lowe and Howard. “I’ve been wrestling for a long time. Coming into this program, I was on JV, and these coaches brought me to where I am today, on and off the mat.”
Winning twice for the Bulldogs were Peter DeSalvio with a pin and a decision, and regional runner-up Alec Velikanov (285) with a forfeit and an overtime victory over the Blue Devils’ Amrick Nya.
The Bulldogs received a boost against the Blue Devils when Carlos Villamar (132) who overcame Dassaeve Jean, 4-2, rebounding from an earlier 12-3 loss to the Warriors’ Sam Ewing, who lost 4-3 to Jean on a late takedown.
“I didn’t expect this, but I just listened to my coaches,” said Villamar. “I tried to conserve my energy throughout the match and it worked out well for me.”
Pinning twice for the Blue Devils were Minh-Tri Nguyen (113) and Jean Mehul (145). A champion at the Springbrook tournament, Mehul decked the Bulldogs’ Paint Branch tournament champion Sean Mahan in 1:49.
Also winning twice for the Blue Devils were Pierre Jean (106) with a pin and a forfeit, Sayfore Sieh (120) with a default victory and a decision, William Madden (126) with a pair of major decisions, and Sahid Antar (160) with two decisions.
“The Sherwood match I thought we wrestled tough, but Churchill out-hustled us in a couple of matches,” said Blue Devils’ coach Rob Whittles. “They won a couple of close ones that we needed if we were going to pull it off, but this will help us to get ready for the postseason.”
Double-winners for the Warriors were Chris Sanchez (138) with forfeit and a 5-4 decision over the Bulldogs’ Jack Connolly, and Yusuf Higazi (182) with a pin and a 3-2 victory over previously unbeaten Tranquill.
A DeMatha transfer who was fifth in last year’s private schools state tournament, Sanchez reversed Connolly with 10 seconds remaining for the win.
Connolly won his first county title, finished third at regions and was sixth at states in the same division where he was second, second and fourth at the same tournaments as a sophomore.
A fifth-place regional finisher, Higazi’s one-point escape with nine seconds left secured a 3-2 victory over Tranquill, a senior who dropped to 30-1 on the year while Higazi rose to 30-2.
Higazi, fifth at regions last year, and Tranquill, third at counties and regions last year, both pinned their Blue Devils’ opponent.