In what may be his most important victory thus far at Crystal Lake South, Eric Barone showed remarkable staying power as he pulled a cunning move in OT to defeat No. 3 Fernie Silva of Hononegah to capture a sectional championship at 145 pounds Saturday afternoon at Barrington.
The other half of South's dynamic duo, Nick Gil, won a sectional title as well, while teammates Brian Pence (195) and Garrett Dziedzic each came back through wrestlebacks to earn a spot at the Class 3A state tournament, which begins in earnest this Thursday in Champaign.
Cary-Grove will send three downstate, Huntley one, with the one-two punch of Christian Brunner and Jeremy Marshall from Dundee-Crown joining their Fox Valley Conference rivals heading south.
Barone (38-4) put the finishing touches on a superb tournament, when he somehow found a way to register a takedown near the edge to break a 1-1 deadlock, much to the chagrin of Silva's coaching staff, which immediately met officials at the table to discuss the close call.
"You get a little worried when coaches and officials are off talking about a call like that, which would decide who's champion, but you also know that calls are never, ever overturned, so I guess I just had to wait it out, before celebrating my biggest win since coming here," said Gil, the junior who roared through a star-studded division with a major decision on Friday, and fall in his semifinal to set up a rematch with the dangerous sophomore Silva.
"He beat me (7-5) with a late takedown at the Dvorak way back in December, so I was anxious to have another chance at him this weekend, and although I said to you earlier that this match might have a chance to have a lot of points, I think both of us where a little careful and conservative, and it showed in the low score," Gil said.
"Eric and I were standing near the press area, and I saw on someone's screen a half-written story about how Fernie had beaten (him) to win the title here so I pointed toward it and it really fired up Eric just before his final," joked South head coach Ross Ryan, who was all smiles after his top man (Gil) held off Tulga Zuunbayan (5-3) of Wheeling in the 138-pound final, and after watching Dziedzic earlier advance along with his big three following an emotional 5-1 victory over FVC rival Cody Ferencz (33-5) of Jacobs in his state qualifying match.
"I couldn't believe I was going to wrestle Cody for the fifth time this season, and second time (here) but he is a great wrestler and opponent, and I obviously knew I had to get past him in order to get downstate," said the junior, who is now 32-12 after falling in his third-place match to Andrew Mehrholz (46-4) of Deerfield.
In a key first-rounder Friday afternoon, Ferencz would defeat Dziedzic to doom the 120-pounder to wrestlebacks, where he would win his two matches with ease to set up yet another with the Jacobs sophomore sensation.
This loss would start a string of heartbreaking defeats for the club, which went from one piece of bad news to another, beginning with a Chris Dranka (28-8) 12-10 loss in OT to Noah Drabek (Grant) in his state qualifier, and ending when senior Matt Mamola (34-5) lost to FVC champ Luis Hernandez (34-1, McHenry) 3-0, also in his qualifying match.
Huntley went one-for-three in qualifying bouts, with Ricky Vigil (32-9) cementing his place downstate at 126 pounds with a fourth-place finish.
The Red Raiders' sophomore sealed his first state appearance with a 3-2 decision over Parker Stratton of DeKalb after getting sent into wrestlebacks following a 1-0 loss to Logan Hanselmann (Cary-Grove), who would later drop a 2-1 decision in the finals against Alec McKenna (39-3) of New Trier.
"My goal right from the start of the year was to get downstate, but it wasn't until I won regionals last weekend that I really believed I was capable of getting there from a group as good as there was there," said Vigil.
Freshman Josh Stenger (106) and junior Brandon Meyer (138, 33-9) just missed out in joining their Champaign-bound teammate.
Hanselmann (126, 28-7) is on his way to a second-straight trip downstate, while Michael Cullen (26-4) will be after his third consecutive state medal, this time at 120 pounds after a 3-2 loss in a battle with No. 2 rated Steve Polakowski (39-1) of Libertyville.
The Trojans' junior broke quickly out of the blocks on Friday with a fall at 2:50, then landed in the finals after a stellar performance during an 8-1 win over No. 4 Keegan Powers (Hononegah) before a valiant fight back from a 3-0 deficit against Polakowski just fell short.
"It was a great match, and one that I was looking forward to, and I am sure Steve was also," said Cullen, who won here last year at 113 pounds.
Perhaps the biggest and best story coming out of the Cary-Grove camp was that of Cullen's younger brother, John, who orchestrated a nice comeback through wrestlebacks to earn a third-place finish at 132 to join Michael, as well as Hanselmann, albeit the hard way.
"I knew I could make it down there this season, but I didn't think it would be so hard to do today," said an exhausted Cullen, who won his state qualifier with an ultimate tiebreaking 3-2 decision over Sam Riportella of Mundelein, then later, by the same score over Jackson Montgomery (DeKalb, 30-10) to grab third-place honors, while moving his record on the year to a sparkling 32-10.
"There's a lot of guys in the room who weren't here this weekend who had plenty to do with our guys getting downstate because of their work, and support, which really makes this a team effort to get these three guys to the tournament," said a proud Cary-Grove head coach Ryan Ludwig.
Dundee-Crown head coach Robert Skillman was beaming from ear-to-ear after Brunner (40-4) and Marshall walked away with second-place rings, and a trip to Champaign after the duo impressed all weekend long at 182 and 285 respectively.
The sophomore Brunner breezed into the finals, only to meet No. 2 Colton Emmerich (43-1) of Deerfield, and after a skittish opening period, the FVC and regional champ worked his way back into contention, drawing even at 3-3 before a reversal from the Warriors' star with 8 seconds from time proved the difference.
"Boy oh boy, has Christian really closed the gap on (Emmerich) since their last meeting," said D-C assistant, Matt Wahl, who early on watched a 11-2 win end in favor of Emmerich.
"Christian has made great strides all season long, and we firmly believe he will continued to surprise the field next weekend in Champaign," said Skillman.
Marshall pinned his way into the final, however once there, he ran into No. 5 Chris McDermand (37-3) of Libertyville, who would defeat the Chargers' senior 5-0 to win it all at 285 pounds.
"I cannot be more proud of the way Jeremy competed this weekend, as well as the last two when he won at the FVC tourney, and then regionals," said Skillman.
"With a little luck, we'll meet up again with McDermand, only this time, it will be in the medal round."