Sandburg's Ricky Robertson pressures Oak Park-River Forest's Malik Brumant in a 220-pound quarterfinal Saturday at the IHSA Wrestling Dual Team State Finals in Bloomington. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
BLOOMINGTON — Chris Pajak and Sandburg came up short against Oak Park-River Forest twice in the regular season.
But the Eagles senior and his teammates won the one that counted Saturday morning in the Class 3A state wrestling quarterfinals at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
Pajak avenged two earlier defeats to unbeaten state champ Joe Ariola, winning 2-1 at 182 pounds to help Sandburg earn a 33-23 victory in a matchup of nationally-ranked teams.
Sandburg (26-4) kept alive its hopes for a fifth state championship in nine seasons. Oak Park finished 33-2.
Pajak (36-15) lost 5-2 to Ariola (46-1) in the first round of the Class 3A individual state tournament last weekend and wound up not placing.
But he got an escape to break a 1-1 tie early in the third period on Saturday and held on for the win.
"It was a close match at [individual] state and I knew I could beat him if I put my mind to it," Pajak said. "Going in I was really focused, ready to go."
But the bout's intensity caused him to momentarily lose track of the score.
"In the third [period], I didn't even know I was winning 2-1," Pajak said. "I thought it was 1-1, I thought it was going to overtime.
"I looked over at my bench, [they were saying], 'You're winning, you have 16 seconds left. Just finish it off.'"
He did, putting Sandburg up 19-18. Oak Park regained the lead, 23-19, on Andre Lee's technical fall in 4:48 over Pat Halpin at 195.
But Ricky Robertson (50-0), who won the 195-pound state title last weekend, moved up to 220 and got a tech fall in 4:47 over Malik Brumant to make it 24-23 Sandburg. Then Bill Gore (30-7) bumped up to 285 and pinned Adam Lemke-Bell in 5:05.
Christian Robertson's 6-0 decision over Robert Campos gave the Eagles an insurmountable 33-23 lead and both teams forfeited at 113.
Sebastian Pique (17-3), who missed Sandburg's first two meetings with Oak Park this season because of an elbow injury, got the Eagles started with a 12-3 major decision over Matt Rundell (29-8) at 120.
Oak Park then took control, going up 15-4 with three straight tech falls from Isaiah White (47-3, 126), Larry Early (47-1, 132) and Jake O'Mara (30-7, 138).
Sandburg cut it to 15-10 thanks to decisions by John Pellegrino (38-6,
145) and Mitch Cook (38-10), who edged Kamal Bey 3-2 at 152.
Oak Park's Devante Mahomes (46-1) avenged his only loss of the season — which came in the 3A individual quarterfinals — by beating state champ C.J. Brucki (42-7) 9-3 at 160 to make it 18-10 Huskies.
State champ Colin Holler (50-0) then got a 2:50 fall at 170 to set the stage for Pajak.
"It's the best feeling ever," Pajak said. "As soon as I beat [Ariola], I thought we were going to win right there."
Oak Park coach Mike Powell wasn't happy with some of the officiating, especially a fleeing-the-mat call against Ariola.
But, he added, "I hate to harp on that. We didn't win, [Sandburg] won. I don't want to take anything away from them.
"That is a really well-coached wrestling team. They are poised and they are mature. We knew they were better than us, but we thought we were going to win anyway. So we give a lot of credit."