Bloomington, 3/1/14--Ameen Hamdan, (left) of Marist, won his 132 pound match against Savonne Bennette, of Oak Park-River Forest, to tie the overall score for both teams. Oak Park-River Forest, would go on to win the final two rounds and take the title during the championship round of the 3A wrestling team state finals. | Vincent D. Johnson/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 3, 2014 7:03AM
BLOOMINGTON — The tracks were set and the wheels were greased. No team was going to stop Oak Park-River Forest from rolling away with the Class 3A state championship Saturday at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
Marist, though, didn’t seem to get that memo.
After rallying from a 19-0 deficit to beat Marmion 27-25 in the semifinals, Marist took Oak Park-River Forest and its five individual state champions to the brink. The RedHawks tied the action at 22-all following decision wins from Mike Mullaney (126) and Ameen Hamden (132), but it just wasn’t enough. Oak Park-River Forest finished the tilt with two of its state champions, Isaiah White and Larry Early, and won the crown 31-22.
“To come up shy to OPRF is nothing to sneeze at,” Marist coach Brendan Heffernan said. “We were two bouts left, right there with the No. 2 team in the country. We were right there.”
It was a banner season for Marist, which won the Dvorak tournament for the first time since 1995 and had its best finish in team state since a second-place run in 1997.
“I’ve honestly never been more proud of a team,” Mullaney said. “And this was just an amazing finish to a great season for me.”
One of the biggest surprises was freshman Jim McAuliffe, a state medalist at the individual state tournament. McAuliffe pinned state runner-up Jay Renteria in their 106-pound clash to pull Marist to within six points.
“The most important thing is to keep your head straight, keep your head in the match and good things will come,” McAuliffe said. “This is a very great feeling. It’s a great taste in my mouth for more — I’m hungry for more. I can’t wait to come back next year and hopefully be on the top.”
Oak Park-River Forest opened the championship round by winning the first three weights before Marist state-placer Ethan Benoit answered at 182 with a major decision. Two bouts later, heavyweight Tom Ford prompted a three-match win streak, with Nick Lukanich (113) capping McAuliffe’s pin with a 4-0 decision to cut Oak Park-River Forest’s lead to 19-16.
“This was our first time here in 17 years, so I give (our kids) a lot of credit for keeping their composure,” Heffernan said.
Marist should be in contention again next year. The RedHawks lose Mullaney and Purdue-bound seniors Peter Andreotti and Mario Leveille, but the majority of its lineup is back.
“The atmosphere, the fans, it’s a great place,” said Benoit, a junior.
After being awarded the second-place trophy, Marist wrestlers carried the award over to teammate Mark Duda, a two-time state finalist, who wasn’t allowed to wrestle after an incident at the individual state tournament.
Marist topped Lincoln-Way Central 36-21 to reach the semifinals.