Barrington fired the first salvo in its bid to once again win a Mid-Suburban League wrestling championship with a heart-stopping finish in a 34-22 victory over Conant on Friday on the Broncos' home mats.
A big senior night crowd saw a little bit of everything from two of the best teams in the conference to keep the advantage to just a scant 2 to 3 points all evening long until Barrington recorded three falls in the latter stages from its big men to slowly pull away.
Senior Ben Calamari, whose name was not announced during prematch introductions, but was officially on signed weigh-in lists, surprised the Conant staff and heavyweight Mike Meier with a pin at 3:57 to ensure a Broncos victory, and spark a bit of controversy in doing so.
"We just wanted to make sure everything was right about Ben wrestling, and it was, but we weren't altogether sure what was happening when he came out," said Conant coach Chad Hay, who said he and his assistants had heard there was a chance Calamari wouldn't not be able to compete due to an ankle injury. The Cougars had made plans to face another Barrington heavyweight just in case the 2012 state qualifier was unable to answer the bell.
"Despite the mix-up at the end, it was a great night of wrestling between two very good teams," said Hay. "Barrington battled hard and deserved the win tonight. But we were right there with them, and we now feel with continued improvement, and some tweaking here and there, we're going to be right there at the end for sure."
The Cougars, who were without their 189-pounder and sectional qualifier from last season, Tyler LaBarbera, nonetheless were always within reach of the Broncos, thanks in part to wonderful efforts from Bobby Alexander (120), Benny Clifford (132), Griff Rose (138) and Colton Comstock (195). They and Aly Ahmed, who earned a hard-fought 12-8 decision over Travis Cysewski at 160 pounds to give the visitors a 15-13 lead, each drew praise from their coach.
"Aly has wrestled just three weeks for us, and he really gave us a big lift with his win," said Hay.
After Austin Mazzenga opened with a 6-1 win at 113 pounds to begin the two-plus hour match, the teams traded victories, with just Alexander, and John Blanke (145) of the Broncos recording bonus points.
"Each match was so evenly matched, so we didn't see a lot of bonus points through majors and pins because of it until the very end," said Barrington coach Ken Hoving. "It couldn't be much closer, and the final score didn't really show how tight it was all night long.
"The difference came down to the end with Mark Shealy getting a big pin for us at 182 to give us the lead once again, then Jack (Bornhofer) and Ben coming through with pins to finally put Conant away."
The Cougars eased into a 5-point advantage at 18-13 following a 9-4 decision from Dan Andress at 170 pounds, but Shealy, sitting and watching for his turn to shine, did just that with a pin in 45 seconds.
After Comstock pushed the visitors ahead of the Broncos (22-19) with an 11-3 major decision, Bornhofer quickly pinned his 220-pound counterpart to set up the heroics from Calamari.
Freshmen Mitch Stathakes put the icing on the cake with a 3-2 triumph over Danny Madonia in a superb final bout of the night.
"It's not going to be easy at all this season," said Hoving. "Conant and Schaumburg are very deep and strong teams, and obviously, everyone is going to come at us this season as the defending champs.
"The guys did well tonight, and competed hard, and (things) worked out for us in the end."