Tiebreaker lifts Sussex Central to wrestling win over Caesar Rodney

CAMDEN – Wrestling in all likelihood to see which team would earn the second seed in next week’s state dual meet championships, Sussex Central and Caesar Rodney’s annual matchup fittingly had to be decided by a tiebreaker.

By way of winning more matches – 8-6 – it was the Golden Knights who were awarded the dual meet victory Wednesday night. Although the teams finished wrestling tied 31-31, officially Sussex Central was a 32-31 victor after winning the tiebreaker.

Sussex Central defeated Caesar Rodney 32-31 thanks to a tiebreaker. (Sussex County Post/Jeff Mitchell)

Sussex Central defeated Caesar Rodney 32-31 thanks to a tiebreaker. (Sussex County Post/Jeff Mitchell)

The win in all probability earned the Knights (10-1 overall, 5-1 North) the No. 2 seed and a first round bye in Tuesday’s Division I dual meet state championships at Smyrna High. Henlopen North champion Smyrna is the projected No. 1 seed. Common opinion is CR will be third, but the Riders still have Salesianum to wrestle on Friday and official pairings will not be released by the wrestling committee until the weekend.

“You don’t know how good it feels, I’m tellin’ ya,” Sussex Central head coach Phil Shultie said of the win over the Riders. “We knew it was going to be a close match tonight and the guys wrestled hard and we came out on top.”

“This clinched it,” he added about seeding. “We should be two and they (Caesar Rodney) should be three.”

Trailing by six entering the evening’s final match, CR got a 4:50 pin from senior Michael Clavier at 195 to tie the team score 31-31 and the home crowd fell silent awaiting to hear the meet’s official winner. Seconds later Shultie, from the scorer’s table, raised his hands and pointed toward his bench when the match was officially won and a loud cheer went up from the Central wresters.

It was the second win over CR in as many seasons for Central, which won last year’s dual meet 40-25. Last year’s win over the Riders still wasn’t enough to convince the wrestling committee to invite the Knights to the dual meet championships while CR was awarded a spot.

History will not repeat itself this season. What could very well repeat itself on Tuesday, however, is a dual meet between the two teams in the Division I semifinals.

“Beating CR two years in a row, definitely one of the top teams in Delaware, it’s an awesome feeling for us,” said Knights senior Justin Bennett, who was part of a five-match Knights’ winning streak that led to the win.

“It’s definitely stressful,” Bennett added about wrestling through the Henlopen Conference powers once only to likely face some of them again in the state duals.

Johnny Morris (220) began the night with a 9-0 major decision over CR’s Jeremy Crawford and teammate Victor Cruz (285) battled through an apparent shoulder injury for a 1-0 decision to give Central an early 7-0 advantage.

Partially aided by the absence of normal Central 126-pounder Rashad Stratton, however, CR rattled off four straight wins – three by pin – to open up a 22-7 team lead.

Michael Primo (106), Benedict Anderson (113) and Mason Harrington (126) were the Riders’ pinners during the run, which included a 10-2 major decision victory by defending state champion Cam Hayes at 120.

Drew Morris stopped the CR run with a 10-2 major decision at 132, but Chase Mounts gained three of the four team points back with a 10-9 decision over Mark Tolson in one of the evening’s best matchups.

Mounts struck early in the match with Tolson and held a 7-2 lead after the first period, but the Central junior tilted the CR 138-pounder three times in the second to finish it with a 9-8 lead. In the third, Tolson looked like he was going to ride out the clock but Mounts hit a reversal with less than five seconds remaining to score the victory and pushed CR’s team lead to 25-11 with six matches remaining.

Sussex Central won five of those six.

Bennett got things started with a pin in 1:38 in his 145-pound match and Knights 152-pounder Brandon Bautista kept things going with a 20-3 technical fall that brought Central to within three of the CR lead at 25-22. Blake Chambers (160) then tied the team score for Sussex Central with a 1-0 decision over Thomas Gallucci thanks to a third period escape.

Knights 152-pounder Brandon Bautista works for some back points. (Sussex County Post/Jeff Mitchell)

Knights 152-pounder Brandon Bautista works for some back points. (Sussex County Post/Jeff Mitchell)

Knights junior Lucas Hudson looked like he might be on his way to a major decision over Andrew Sudler in their 170-pound match but settled for a 6-2 decision that gave Central a 28-25 team lead. Michael Wright then scored a 9-3 decision over Dante Walker (182) in the meet’s penultimate match before Clavier’s pin tied the score 31-31 and forced the tiebreaker.

“Hudson and Wright, those matches were the key,” Shultie said. “Tonight was just our night.”

Sussex Central is scheduled to host nonconference William Penn on Friday in its regular season finale. From there the Knights will ready for the state dual meet championships and then the sport will conclude over the following two weekends with the Henlopen Conference and state individual tournaments.

From the Sussex County Sports Desk

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