UPPER MARLBORO — Churchill’s Jack Connolly believed himself destined to win the Class 4A-3A state championship on Monday, and the 138-pound senior did so in dramatic fashion, avenging a pair of setbacks in his final two of four bouts at the Show Place Arena.
Coming off runner-up and third-place finishes over consecutive weekends at the county and regional tournaments, Connolly won his first-round bout by 11-3 major decision over Perry Hall senior Chase Andrews, scored consecutive quarterfinal and semifinal pins in 4:52 and 57 seconds over seniors Jacob Blyukher of Centennial and Nick Gonzalez (32-5) of Clarksburg, and avenged a pair of one-point losses with his come-from-behind, 6-4 overtime championship victory over previously unbeaten junior Chris Sanchez (24-1) of Sherwood.
Andrews was a Baltimore County runner-up who lost the previous Saturday’s Class 4A-3A North Regional championship bout 9-0 to Sanchez, and Blyukher’s teammate is junior Jason Kraisser (39-0), who won his third straight state title on Monday.
Connolly is 1-1 this year against Gonzalez, having lost his regional semifinal 6-2 after being tied at 2-2 late in the third period, and 1-2 against Sanchez, falling 5-4 in a dual meet on a reversal with six seconds left, and 3-2 on a takedown with seven seconds remaining in their county title match.
“I just grew sick of losing, so I gave it every bit of my effort, and it paid off,” said Connolly, who was second at counties and regions and fourth at states as a sophomore, and first at counties, third at regions and fifth at states last year. “I felt like I was being slightly overlooked this whole season. So, all season long, I wanted to prove people wrong, and I think that after states, I finally did.”
Connolly went 3-3 with three pins last year at states, his losses coming by 4-3 in the quarterfinals opposite two-time state champion Brian Stuart of North Hagerstown, 11-4 to eventual fourth-place finisher Wyatt McCoy of Oakdale, and 8-7 in overtime in his fifth-place bout with Poolesville junior Colin Savage.
Connolly, Sanchez, Gonzalez, Savage and Quince Orchard’s Alejandro Lopez (40-4) competed in the county’s, if not the state’s, deepest and most talented weight class.
Sanchez, fifth at private schools states at DeMatha last year, is a county and regional champion who blanked Lopez 1-0 in the state semifinals.
Lopez, third at counties, regions and states last year, defeated Gonzalez 1-0 in Class 4A-3A West Region finals to rebound from a disappointing fifth-place finish at counties, and handled him 15-5 for third place at states.
Gonzalez, first at counties and regions and third at states a year ago, placed third at counties after falling to Sanchez 14-0 in the semifinals, and second at regions following the semifinal win over Connolly and the 1-0 championship loss to Lopez, who also defeated Gonzalez 4-2 during the regular season.
Connolly has split bouts with Lopez, being pinned in a dual meet prior to winning their rematch 2-1 in the county quarterfinals. Connolly reached the county finals following a 12-1 semifinal rout of regional champion Savage.
Another loss by Connolly this year was a 4-2 setback in the Paint Branch Tournament finals against Camren Ritchey, a fourth-place finisher at 2A-1A states who beat Savage 5-4 in overtime at Class 2A-1A West Regional finals. Ritchey was a runner-up in Class 2A-1A states on Monday, where Savage was third.
“Earlier in the season, when I faced these highly-ranked wrestlers, I was able to keep it close, but couldn’t finish,” said Connolly, whose head coach Tim Lowe won two state titles at Einstein while assistant Tony Howard won three at Magruder. “I worked with my coaches a lot on not giving up points in the third period. I felt like my match with Sanchez was just like the other ones I had with him – absolutely insane.”
Connolly set the one with an early takedown and a 2-0 lead, but Sanchez rallied for the next four points, scoring a third-period tilt for two nearfall points, a 4-2 lead with 90 seconds left in the match.
But it was 4-3 after the referee penalized Sanchez for illegal positioning with about 43 seconds remaining, and Connolly beat the regulation-ending buzzer with an escape to tie the bout at 4-4, sending the match into overtime, where the Bulldogs’ double-leg takedown secured the unlikely victory.
“Sanchez is a phenomenal wrestler and he was a great opponent to wrestle this season. All of our matches were incredibly close and exciting, and I knew that any of them could go either way. But I also knew that, for this last match, it was going to be my turn,” said Connolly.
“I knew people saw me as a good wrestler, but I wanted to be seen as one of the great ones. So for these last three weeks, I decided that, with it being my last few times ever competing, I might as well leave everything out on the mats and do whatever it takes to win.”
Connolly was joined on the victory podium by Northwest senior Yonas Harris (106), the winner of a similarly dramatic come-from-behind, 7-5 overtime victory over Stephen Decatur sophomore Jagger Clapsadle (28-4).
Finishing second were junior Jacob Bernstein (126) and senior Kemper Stearns (120) of Walter Johnson, and senior Gabe McAndrew (182) of Bethesda-Chevy Chase and senior John-Luc Iglasias (220) of Whitman.
Stearns (36-5) was ahead 7-1 in his semifinal against sophomore state champion Sean Vosburgh of Leonardtown, who defaulted out of the match with an injury. Vosburgh was coming off of a quarterfinal pin of two-time state champion, junior Brent Lorin of Bel Air, who became an eventual third-place finisher.
A county and regional runner-up who was fourth at states last year, Stearns lost his title bout 6-4 to freshman Jamie Rivera (45-1) of C. Milton Wright, but only after nearly pinning him to tie the match at 4-4. Earlier this season, Riveira ended Lorin’s 119-match winning streak at the 3A North regional duals.
Third-place winners were B-CC junior Eli Guttentag (126), Quince Orchard senior Alejandro Lopez (138), Blair senior Ryan Holland (145), Clarksburg junior Drew Brenowitz (182) and Churchill senior Andrew Welch (195), with Gonzalez, Quince Orchard junior Jose Echeona (126), Quince Orchard sophomore Ryan Jones (182) and Paint Branch junior Austin Smith (195) being fourth.
Fifth-place finishers were Northwest junior Siavesh Sarvestani (113), Magruder senior C.J. Cramma (120), Blair senior Bryan Huynh (132), Northwest senior Luke Patterson (170), and Blair senior Rudy Ngougni (220), with both senior Billy Madden (126) and junior Sahid Antar (160) of Springbrook being sixth.