James Marshall-Davis’ celebration dance Saturday at the 51st annual Rus Erb Tournament at Glenbrook South seemed more worthy of a wrestler who’s just won a regional or sectional championship than just an in-season tournament.

But for the Evanston senior it marked a major step forward in his career on the mat. Now, he knows he’s “the man”, in the outgoing grappler’s own words.

Marshall-Davis scored the only individual championship for the Wildkits with a 13-3 trouncing of Mundelein Carmel’s Kenny Barber in the title match at 132 pounds and earned the first gold medal of his career in the process.

Two other Kits — David Rivera-Kohr at 120 and Malik Pratt at 152 — suffered their first defeats of the season in their respective title bouts as Evanston earned 5th place in the team standings with 122 points in the 17-team field.

Metea Valley (200.5), Wheeling (141), Oswego (138.5) and Batavia (134.5) finished ahead of ETHS in the team race.

Marshall-Davis improved to 16-2 on the season with a dominant performance that also included a major decision (12-0) over Luke Schultz of Batavia and a quick pin (36 seconds) against Jack Giannini of Glenbrook South in the semifinals.

He left no doubts about the outcome in the championship match as he kept building on the 5-0 first period lead he established versus Carmel’s Barber with a takedown and a near fall in the opening moments of the match.

“I’m so excited because this is the first tournament I’ve ever won. All my hard work is finally paying off!” exclaimed the charismatic senior. “But I don’t want this to be my peak this season. I have to do better. I want to be a state champion.

“I got pinned in the finals here last year and when I was warming up and listing to my headphones, I kept telling myself there is not gonna be a repeat of last year. My technique has improved this year and I think I’m mentally tougher, too. I’m not scared anymore. When I walk onto the mat now, I know I’m the man. And when I got up 6-0 on him, I just knew it was my match.”

“James has made a breakthrough mentally, and things have really started clicking for him the last couple of weeks,” said Evanston coach Rudy Salinas. “Now he’s wrestling to win instead of wrestling not to lose. It’s next level thinking for him — you have to take risks and make split-second decisions in this sport — and he’s such a hard worker. He also has a good wrestling IQ and he’s still figuring out what he likes to do out there.

“His favorite move is that ‘go-behind’ takedown. It’s a basic move you learn as a freshman, but (former ETHS heavyweight)  Jeffrey Brown won a state championship with that move.”

Both Rivera-Kohr and Pratt saw their dreams for an unbeaten season come to an end. At 120, Rivera-Kohr was called for a stalling point in the third period of a scoreless tie with another unbeaten, Travis Piotrowski of Prairie Ridge, and Piotrowski eventually added an escape and a late takedown for a  4-0 triumph.

Rivera-Kohr did achieve a milestone in the semifinals, as his 3-2 victory over Andrew McFall of Oswego was his 100th varsity win at ETHS. Only four other grapplers have reached that plateau in the history of the program, topped by former great Shannon Gillespie with 136 wins. And Rivera-Kohr, a junior, still has a year and a half remaining in his career if he stays healthy.

Pratt competed in the toughest weight class in the tourney as he was one of three unbeaten wrestlers to advance to the semifinals at 152. He edged previously unbeaten Tulga Zuunbayan of Wheeling in a 13-11 overtime thriller in the semifinals, but couldn’t keep up with Marian Catholic’s Jose Champagne and was pinned in the second period.

Against the Wheeling standout, Pratt led 5-4 after two periods. But Zuunbayan scored a takedown with 12 seconds left to take a 1-point advantage, only to see Pratt respond in the clutch with a subsequent escape, and then a takedown in the OT period.

“They had two losses against quality opponents, guys who are both highly ranked, so I’m OK with that,” Salinas said. “We always preach that those are the kind of losses you can learn from. The hardest losses are really the ones that come against people you think you should beat.

“I’m extremely proud of the way David wrestled and we’ll have to work on helping him show the kind of progress that the officials are looking for. And for him to get that 100th win was really a notable win. That’s quite a milestone. He was extremely tough today.”

Evanston missed out on a chance to build its point total when injured 138-pounder Ben Morton had to forfeit twice on Saturday after advancing to the semifinals with a 2-1 win over Joe Posdieni of Batavia. And three other potential starters weren’t in the lineup because of Christmas break family trips.

ETHS freshman Izzy Fox added a 3rd place finish when his opponent, Kordell Norfleet of Marian Catholic, had to forfeit the final match due to injury.