The MIAA A Conference wrestling rivalry between Mount St. Joseph and McDonogh has long been a “match of the year” event. The Eagles ruled the rivalry in recent years, until last year, when the Gaels got back in win column. St. Joe kept their winning ways going, Wednesday night, registering a 34-15 win.

“The Mt. St. Joe vs McDonogh match is always exciting because of the long-standing rivalry between the two programs,” St. Joe coach Harry Barnabae. “Every year wrestling fans throughout the state come to watch some intense wrestling matches, and they are never disappointed. Looking in the stands I saw former wrestlers and their families from both programs spanning over the past 50 years.

“Going into the match we knew that McDonogh was going to be making some adjustments to their lineup. Our wrestlers were prepared for whoever stepped out onto the mat. This can be a concern when you have a young team, five freshmen and three sophomores. However, this core of wrestlers are battle tested, aggressive, and not intimidated by a big match. They are mentally prepared.”

The young Gaels, who’s starting lineup featured only three seniors (Will Ballinger, Shawn Orem and Neil Schuster) won 10 of the 14 bouts, including a few upsets. The biggest being freshman Nathan Porter (126) edging state runner-up Ray Kable, 2-1.

“I felt like I needed to beat him,” Porter said. “I wanted to bump my rank back up. I felt it was good after that break (a shoulder injury caused Porter to miss the last few weeks of December). It was unfortunate, but I came back in and had a good match. I just wanted to beat him. I didn’t want to let him get in on a single. I felt I could have done a little better on bottom. Maybe a little stronger, gotten out.”

The match started out at 160. The first three matches represented a stretch where uncertainty ruled. On paper, the Gaels were favored in all three bouts, but McDonogh’s lineup consists of three highly touted freshmen at those weights, Dominic Solis (160), Garrett Kappes (170), and Jack Wimmer (182). Winning these matches would be the key to winning the dual meet.

Schuster had little problem with Solis registering an 11-1 major-decision, but the other two freshmen turned some heads with their gutsy performances. In the end, they came up just short, with National Prep placer Justin Henry winning a 3-1 decision over Kappes, and public school state runner-up David Schultz, a transfer from Linganore, adding a 3-2 victory over Wimmer.

The close scores were a theme for the night as seven of the matches were decided by two points or less. Austin Stith (195), a transfer from Gaithersburg, put MSJ out front, 13-0, with his 9-2 win over the Eagle’s state placer Brandon Shure.

McDonogh put some points on the board when Parker Robinson (220) renewed his rivalry with Keagan Rill. Rill won their first meeting last year in their dual meet matchup, but dropped the next meeting at the state tournament. Robinson won tonight’s rubber match, 3-1.

The No. 1 heavyweight in the state per the Maryland State Wrestling Association, PJ Mustipher, added a first period fall over Ballinger to pull the Eagles within four, 13-9.

Freshman Chris Barnabae made quick work of Mohammed Ndiaye at 106 to push the Gaels’ lead to 19-9 with a 40 second fall. Fellow freshman, Connor Strong, made his long-anticipated debut after dealing with an early season shoulder injury. Strong showed off the skills that have made many earmark him as a natural wrestler, picking up a 9-2 win over Sean Scott at 113lbs.

“I felt OK about it,” Strong continued. “I would have liked to score more points and maybe get the pin. I had several opportunities on top to turn him, but for my first match I felt pretty good. A little tired, but I kinda shook some dust off. I felt like maybe if I would have taken a little more time on my feet I would have gotten a few more takedowns. I just worked on top a little bit. I like the dresser dump I hit on the side. I hit that last year in states, and I hit it a lot in practice, so I was glad I was able to hit that and pick up five off of it.”

On finally joining the lineup for the state’s No. 1 ranked team, he said, “It’s pretty awesome. Everybody supports each other and it’s really a team effort. Against St. Paul’s part of the reason we won was we all pulled together and did what was necessary to help the team win. And I felt like we did that tonight and it really showed.”

McDonogh’s Ryan Leventhal (120) outpointed Matthew Jun, 11-4, to make the score 22-12. At this point, St. Joe went on another four-match winning streak to put the match away.

After Porter’s match, the number one and two 132lbers in the state squared off, No. 1 Orem and McDonogh’s Caden Mareno. Orem put forth an impressive effort, falling just short of a major-decision, 11-4.

“I was very happy to see strong performances out of our seniors Shawn Orem and Neil Schuster,” Barnabae said. “Considering that it was senior night, they did not lose focus, and rose up to the occasion. Caden Mareno is a tough and cagey wrestler. I thought Orem wrestled a very smart match. Schuster is focused on winning a state title this year, and it showed, with his win tonight against a strong opponent, Dominic Solis.”

Sophomore Seth Fillers is quickly earning the nickname “The Closer.” His victory in the St. Paul’s match sealed the win for the Gaels, and he was able to duplicate that feat again, upsetting Alex LaVeck, 2-1, in their 138lb bout. After Fillers’ win, the team score was 31-12 with two matches remaining.

“I just knew to get out there and win,” said Fillers. “That’s all I know. I just went out there thinking I’m better than this kid because I’d wrestled him a couple times in the summer. He’d cradled me before, so I just went out there to wrestle. I was trying to get the power half in, but I couldn’t really fix it in when I was on top. But I just worked on it. I could have wrestled better. (I) wrestled not to lose instead of to win. Next time I wrestle him it will be a bit different.”

Freshman Chris Roybal (145) added three more points to the Gaels’ tally with a 3-2 upset of Eagles’ former state placer Grant Gorvett.

In the closing bout at 152, sophomore Zach Phillips gave McDonogh’s Quinn Devaney all he could handle. Devaney, a three-time state placer, who also placed at the Ironman and Beast of the East this season, ended up on the winning side by a 4-3 margin.

Barnabae reflected on some of the performances from his squad.

“Freshmen Connor Strong, back in the lineup for the first time this year wrestled very well. Nate Porter’s 2-1 victory over Ray Kable was huge. Chris Roybal at 145 also had a big victory upsetting McDonogh’s Grant Gorvett, and Chris Barnabae had a solid performance pinning Ndiaye in the first period. Every match was hard fought on both sides, as many of the results were close. Seth Fillers victory over Alex LaVeck was one of those matches, as well as, Justin Henry, David Schultz, and Austin Stith.

“One of the most exciting matches of the night was Zach Phillips against Quinn Devaney. Quinn is one of the most accomplished wrestlers in Maryland and Zach kept the match very close, almost scoring a takedown in the final seconds. I was very happy with Zach’s intensity and positioning. He continues to get better every match. What the team realized from this match is that we have room for improvement, and we must continue to do so, if we expect to win a State Championship.”

(match started at 160)
160-Neil Schuster (MSJ) maj-dec Dominic Solis, 11-1
stin Henry (MSJ) dec Garrett Kappes, 3-1
182-David Schultz (MSJ) dec Jack Wimmer, 3-2
195-Austin Stith (MSJ) dec Brandon Shure, 9-2
220-Parker Robinson (McD) dec Keagan Rill, 3-1
285-PJ Mustipher (McD) pinned Will Ballinger, 1:07
106-Chris Barnabae (MSJ) pinned Mohammed Ndiaye, :40
113-Connor Strong (MSJ) dec Sean Scott, 9-2
120-Ryan Leventhal (McD) dec Matthew Jun, 11-4
126-Nathan Porter (MSJ) dec Ray Kable, 2-1
132-Shawn Orem (MSJ) dec Caden Mareno, 11-4
138-Seth Fillers (MSJ) dec Alex LaVeck, 2-1
145-Chris Roybal (MSJ) dec Grant Gorvett, 3-2
152-Quinn Devaney (McD) dec Zach Phillips, 4-3