Though his team had clinched a victory over Thomas Stone by the time the 189-pounders took the mat, La Plata High School wrestler Sean Ruppard still had a score to settle.

His opponent--Thomas Stone's Robert Pepper--was one of the many wrestlers who beat him as a freshman, during a season in which Ruppard did not win a single match.

Tuesday night, the Warriors senior earned a 3-1 decision over Pepper to help La Plata (2-1 overall, 2-0 in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference) defeat the host Cougars, 40-15, and to further solidify his position as one of the best wrestlers in the area. Thomas Stone (4-3, 3-2) defeated Laurel, 56-8, in the first match.

"I knew this was going to be a tough match," said Ruppard, who admitted wrestling is more a hobby than a passion, but who hopes to place at the 4A/3A South Region tournament and do well at states. "Pepper is a really good wrestler. . . . I'm just glad I came out on top."

Ruppard began wrestling in eighth grade. He went winless his freshman season at 145 and 152 pounds and won about half his matches the following season at 189. Last season, he went 26-19 and placed fourth in the SMAC at 189. This season, Ruppard is 15-4. He placed fourth at the Chopticon Tournament, third at the Lackey Invitational and second at the Patriot Classic.

"Sean deserves to be here," La Plata Coach Cliff Nagle said. "When he was a freshman, we used him to fill holes in the lineup. Instead of forfeiting, we would put him out there and hope for the best. He really got clobbered those first few years, but now he's someone we rely on."

La Plata took the early lead as junior Cliff Weimert pinned his opponent at 103, but Thomas Stone tied the match on a pin by senior Jeremy Harpold at 112. La Plata won the next two matches and took an 18-6 lead. Sophomore James Pash won by forfeit at 119 and junior David Stup wrestled up one weight class and recorded a pin at 125.

"This was one of the better matches we've wrestled," said Nagle, whose team placed third at the Patriot Classic at Northern High School last weekend. "Thomas Stone has some really good wrestlers, and we knew it was going to be a close match. . . . I think the score is not indicative of how close a lot of those matches were."

Thomas Stone cut the lead to 18-9 as senior Bobby Jameson won in overtime at 130 pounds, but La Plata won three of the next four matches to take a commanding 31-12 lead. Senior Gene Paik pinned his opponent at 135, junior Justin Miller won by decision at 145 and sophomore Casey Allen earned a major decision at 152.

The Cougars cut the lead to 31-15 as junior Jason Fish won by decision at 160, but La Plata closed out the match with three straight decisions. Senior Dennis Williamson won, 5-3, at 171 and junior Josh Geisbert won, 8-4, at heavyweight.

"We didn't lose on conditioning," Thomas Stone Coach Joe Higgs said. "We lost on poor defense, stalling calls and penalty points. When you have decisions, you can't give away easy takedowns because you have poor defense. That really killed us."

LA PLATA 40, THOMAS STONE 15

103--Weimert, La Plata, p. Felton, 1:02; 112--Harpold, Thomas Stone, p. Smith, 0:42; 119--Pash, La Plata, won by forfeit; 125--Stup, La Plata, p. Buddenbender, 4:50; 130--Jameson, Thomas Stone, dec. Dankulich, 4-2 (OT); 135--Paik, La Plata, p. Strickland, 1:14; 140--MacFarlane, Thomas Stone, dec. Cochran, 4-2 (OT); 145--Miller, La Plata, dec. A. Swearinger, 5-3; 152--Allen, La Plata, maj. dec. Davies, 15-1; 160--Fish, Thomas Stone, dec. Polyasko, 7-5; 171--Williamson, La Plata, dec. Simmons, 5-3; 189--Ruppard, La Plata, dec. Pepper, 3-1; Hvy.--Geisbert, La Plata, dec. M. Swearinger, 8-4.

THOMAS STONE 56, LAUREL 8

103--Felton, Thomas Stone, won by forfeit; 112--Harpold, Thomas Stone, p. Markley, 0:37; 125--Buddenbender, Thomas Stone, won by forfeit; 130--Jameson, Thomas Stone, maj. dec. Steigner, 11-2; 135--Strickland, Thomas Stone, p. Cox, 3:31; 140--A. Swearinger, Thomas Stone, maj. dec. Cotturo, 12-2; 145--MacFarlane, Thomas Stone, p. Williams, 3:36; 152--Fish, Thomas Stone, p. Goverman, 4:20; 160--Hill, Laurel, p. Davies, 0:57; 171--Rickert, Laurel, dec. Simmons, 5-4; 189--Pepper, Thomas Stone, p. Hernandez, 1:30; Hvy.--M. Swearinger, Thomas Stone, p. Winfield, 0:55.

CAPTION: In an early match, Thomas Stone's Jason Fish and Laurel's John Goverman wrestle in the 152-pound weight class. Fish eventually won on a pin.