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Sandburg's Jim Pellegrino (left) wrestles Oak Park-River Forest's Gabe Townsell in Orland Park Saturday, January 12, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Johnny Gahagan and Oak Park-River Forest were just good enough on Saturday.
They know they'll have to be better down the road, because they expect Sandburg to be.
"We wrestled fairly well today," Gahagan said. "I know I should have beat that kid by more and I struggled out there. But I found heart and won us the dual."
Gahagan beat Sandburg back-up Tom Brennan 5-4 at 145 pounds to give No. 3 Oak Park an insurmountable seven-point lead with one match left in the final of the Sandburg Duals. The Huskies won 27-24, the second time they've beaten the No. 2 Eagles in four weeks.
The last time the teams squared off, at Hinsdale Central's Rex Whitlatch Invitational, Oak Park beat Sandburg 286.5-278 for the title and Gahagan decisioned Sandburg regular Alante Walker 13-3 in the 145 final. Gahagan needed a third-period escape and takedown to overcome a 4-2 deficit this time, but he and the Huskies are more concerned about what might happen Feb. 23. That's when the teams could meet for a third time, in the Class 3A state quarterfinals, provided Sandburg gets past No. 5 Marist in the latter's regional.
"We could have wrestled a lot better the whole day, but they had some studs out of the lineup and that was the difference," Oak Park coach Mike Powell said.
"Right now it looks like we've got the edge, but we've got to keep working hard in the [practice] room," Gahagan said. "We're winning now, we'll definitely be winning in February."
By then, the Huskies expect to be better. Star 120-pounder Matt Rundell was out Saturday — "we're just healing him up," Powell said — and 220-pounder Emonte Logan — out all year while rehabbing an ACL injury — could be in the lineup.
Sandburg was without four starters Saturday: two-time state finalist Sebastian Pique (120), Jim Pellegrino (138), Walker and Nate Sonneveld (285). The Eagles have been without Pique (elbow) almost all season, but he could return either for the SouthWest Suburban Conference meet next weekend or for a dual against Andrew on Jan. 19.
"We've got two kids sick, [and are] banged up in a couple areas," Sandburg coach Eric Siebert said. "We've got to get healthy for when it's important."
"We want to peak later on, not peak so early," Sandburg's Ricky Robertson said. "We're not worried about losing today. It's what happens down there [at state]."
Sandburg led most of Saurday's dual, which began at 160 pounds, building a 20-12 lead on a pin by Colin Holler (170), a technical fall by Jake Vales (120) and decisions by Robertson (195), Bill Gore (220) and Christian Robertson (106).
Isaiah White started Oak Park's comeback with a 14-7 win at 126 and Larry Early's 15-6 major decision at 132 cut the deficit to 20-19. Jake O'Mara then put the Huskies ahead for the first time since the opening match, earning a 15-0 technical fall at 138. Gahagan's decision at 145 clinched the win for the Huskies, who earlier beat Antioch 59-6 and Hononegah 37-26. Oak Park's other wins were decisions by Devonte Mahomes (160), Joe Ariola (182), Adam Lempke (285) and Gabe Townsell (113).
Sandburg got to the final with easy wins over South Elgin (70-3) and Sycamore (46-13). Hononegah beat Sycamore 46-13 for third place.