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Robinson Wrestling Rules the State

Rams, for first time since 1985, take possession of the state AAA crown.

Throughout the postseason, the Robinson Secondary wrestling team has had one prevailing thought in mind – to capture the program’s first state title since 1985. The Rams, under longtime head coach and former Robinson standout wrestler Bryan Hazard, realized all season long that they had the talent, experience and desire to achieve such heights. Following Concorde District and Northern Region team championships in recent weeks, all that was left for the team to accomplish was its original goal of taking the title at states.

Last weekend, Robinson left no room for question as to who the best team is in the state as the Rams, in typical dominant fashion, captured first place running away at the Virginia State AAA championships. Making the team title extra special was the fact that the two-day postseason meet, held Feb. 25-26, took place at Robinson’s own Henry M. Smith Field House.

“Now we get to put a 2011 [state championship] banner in our gym,” said a joyful Hazard, during Robinson’s celebratory moments following Saturday’s championship round matches. “Our kids worked so hard and believed. To win a tournament like this you have to believe it.”

During post meet ceremonies, former Robinson head coach – the legendary John Epperly, of whom Robinson’s wrestling room is named after – was the individual who presented the state championship trophy to the Rams.

“It was amazing that coach Epperly gave us the trophy,” said Hazard, a 1991 Robinson graduate who was a part of the Rams’ region title winning team that same year. “He’s my mentor.”

Under Epperly, Robinson won state titles in both 1981 and 1985. The ’85 state crown marked the last time before this year that a team from the Northern Region won the team championship. Over the years, state high school wrestling has, for the most part, been dominated by schools from around the Tidewater/beach area.

<b>THERE WAS LITTLE</b> suspense going into Saturday night’s championship finals matches regarding who would win the team title. Robinson, over the most part of the two days of tournament wrestling up to that point, had easily had the most success. So for the five Robinson wrestlers who were competing in the finals, the pressure of having to win in order to boost the teams’ chances was a non-factor. The Rams, they realized, had first place clinched and could focus on garnering some individual championships.

Robinson’s individual state champions were Brooks Martino (135-division) and Jake Smith (119). Rams who reached the finals before losing were Dallas Smith (112), Jack Bass (125), and Jake Pinkston (heavyweight).

Robinson won the team title with 155.5 points, besting runner-up Cox High (125) of Virginia Beach and third place Colonial Forge (98.5) of Stafford. Forest Park (76) of Woodbridge took fourth place and Westfield High (69) from the Northern Region was fifth. Annandale High, also from the Northern Region, finished 11th place at the 20-team meet.

Some of the evening’s most drama came at the 119 finals where Jake Smith, in overtime, defeated Jerelle McCabe of Bayside High (Virginia Beach), 6-5. Smith (43-6) led 3-0 after two periods and held a 5-0 advantage following a take down at the edge of the mat with 1 minute, 18 seconds remaining in the third period. But, following a one-point escape point that got McCabe within 5-1 with 20 seconds left, things fell apart for Smith in the closing seconds when his opponent got him onto his back and scored four points.

Incredibly when the buzzer sounded, the match was tied at 5-5 and headed into overtime.

“I was wrestling a perfect match until the last couple of seconds,” said Smith. “I went in shock [after he tied it] because I thought I’d had the match won. I was a little surprised and flustered going into overtime and tried to keep my head.”

The score remained tied following the first one minute overtime. In the second OT, Smith, beginning the session in the down position, earned an escape point to take a 6-5 lead with 50 seconds left. Moments later, it appeared McCabe had scored points when he momentarily got Smith onto his back. But no points were given and Smith still led. Over the final 20 seconds, Smith was on top of McCabe, who nearly got away from the Robinson wrestlers grip as time ran out.

In the end, Smith had held on and gotten the dramatic win.

“I’m just glad I was able to fight it out and win,” said Smith. “I fought hard and did what I needed to do. [Winning the title] means everything to me. And winning at home is an even greater feeling. I couldn’t have done it without coach Hazard.”

In the moments following the 119 match, a loud, large contingent of beach area fans, frustrated that McCabe had not been awarded overtime points earlier in the second OT, vehemently booed the officials and, seemingly, Smith, whose arm had been raised by an official as the winning wrestler.

Later, Smith would be booed again as he took the medal stand. He took it in stride, smiling as he walked up to his first place standing at the podium.

Of course, the numerous partisan Robinson fans were trying to drown out the boo birds with loud cheers for their champion.

“It was kind of poor for the [beach] fans to boo like that, but a win’s a win. I’m real glad I have a state title,” said Smith.

He went on to say there was a fairly large part of the close-to-capacity crowd, made up of fans from all across the state, that wanted to see the Rams falter because of their dominance throughout the weekend.

“Everyone is going to want to see the No. 1 team lose,” said Smith. “I was ranked No. 1 [going into states] so [that same group] wanted to see me lose.”

Smith made it to the finals with wins over Brian Lee of Norview (Chesapeake) by pin; Connor Mairena of Colonia Forge (Stafford), 1-0; and Austin Hurst of Great Bridge (Chesapeake), 5-0.

Martino, at 135, was Robinson’s other champion, winning his finals match, 8-4, over CJ Jablonski of Cox High. The Robinson junior trailed in the championship match 4-3 with 48 seconds remaining in the second period before, moments later, earning reverse points to go ahead, 5-4. Early in the third period, Martino got an escape point for a 6-4 advantage. Jablonski, a junior with 130 career wins, required a blood timeout with 1:31 remaining. Thereafter, when the match resumed, Martino was in control of the action. Two late points in the final seconds wrapped up the win and title. At the final buzzer, Martino triumphantly raised his arms into the air.

“It was a tough match,” said Martino (43-6). “He came out hard and started very strong. [Late in the match] when I looked at the clock with one second left I just felt joy. Individually, it’s such a great feeling.”

Of the Rams winning the team title, Martino was even more thrilled.

“Any state championship is huge,” he said. “I’m so happy for coach Hazard. The championship shows how hard we’ve worked. And to win it at home, I love it.”

Martino opened the state tournament with a second round pin win over Stuart Jefferson of Matoaca High (Chesapeake) on Friday afternoon. That evening, he was also a pin winner over Timmy Antonelli of Kellam High (Virginia Beach). That advanced Martino into an early Saturday afternoon semifinals match and a 7-1 win over Gabe LaVey of Hanover (Mechanicsville).

<b>ONE OF THE BEST</b> matches of the finals came at heavyweight where Robinson freshmen Jake Pinkston pushed bigger opponent Taylor Horner, a senior from Franklin County (Rocky Mount), to the final seconds before being pinned with three seconds remaining in the match.

Pinkston, the sensational underclassman who, in his first high school postseason, captured both Concorde District and Northern Region titles, made a great showing in the state finals. Following a scoreless first period, Horner (51-5) earned an escape point for a 1-0 lead early in the second period. On two occasions throughout the second period, it appeared Pinkston was going to earn take down points. But the action, during both sequences, led to the wrestlers falling out of bounds and Pinkston still trailed after two periods.

However, he earned an escape point early in the third period to make it 1-1. From that point on, both wrestlers, as they had done much of the match, competed head to head on their feet, looking for chances to score. Horner finally got the big move late in the match when he scored a takedown with 15 seconds left. Moments later, he got the pin – the first pin win of the finals matches that evening.

Following the match, the Robinson faithful gave Pinkston a rousing ovation. He had gotten to the finals with Friday wins over Dominique Hannibal of Deep Creek (Chesapeake) and Keenan Hughes of Patrick Henry, and then a Saturday semifinals match win over Marcus Matthews of Osbourn High (Manassas), 9-3.

Robinson’s other two finalists were Dallas Smith (112) and Bass (125). Smith (30-6) won matches over Sawyer Barksdale of Lee-Davis (Mechanicsville); Dieguito Pritchett of Phoebus (Hampton); and Cam Tomok of Hermitage (Richmond) to reach the finals. In the title match, he lost to Cody Stageberg of Cox High, 9-7.

Smith opened the finals match with an early two-point takedown. The score was tied at 3-3 after one period. Late in the second period, Stageberg, trailing 4-3, scored a takedown to go ahead 5-4. His lead increased to 9-4 in the third period before Smith rallied, getting a reversal with one minute remaining to get within 9-6. In the final seconds, Smith was awarded a stall point to get within 9-7. That’s how the match ended.

Bass, in his 125 finals match, lost a 4-1 decision to Annandale’s Dane Harlowe. The match was tied at 1-1 before Harlowe (33-5), from the ground, scored a takedown to go up, 3-1, with 1:30 left in the second period. He went on to win the match and garner the state title after finishing second at states last year. Bass, a freshman, finished the season 41-7. His three wins leading up to the finals came over Christian Olanowski of First Colonial (Virginia Beach), 6-4; Donte Henderson of Stafford, 21-5; and Zach Isenhour of Kempsville (Virginia Beach), 2-1.

Other Robinson wrestlers to place at states were: Tim Fitzpatrick (eighth place at 171); Wes Jones (third at 160); Zaq Depasquale (eighth at 145); and Santiago Valdez (third at 130) of Robinson.

Throughout the postseason, the Robinson Secondary wrestling team has had one prevailing thought in mind – to capture the program’s first state title since 1985. The Rams, under longtime head coach and former Robinson standout wrestler Bryan Hazard, realized all season long that they had the talent, experience and desire to achieve such heights. Following Concorde District and Northern Region team championships in recent weeks, all that was left for the team to accomplish was its original goal of taking the title at states.