SMYRNA – When Smyrna wrestling coach Kurt Howell saw Friday night’s match against Sussex Central was going to start at 120 pounds, he knew what the Eagles had to do.
“If you just look at the matchups, where we started out was a good place for us to get momentum,” Howell said.
Smyrna took full advantage, winning the first six matches – three by pin – and holding off a late charge by the Golden Knights to close the regular season with a 39-27 home victory.
The top-ranked Eagles (12-2, 6-0 Henlopen North) clinched another conference title and ran their in-state winning streak to 56 matches. They also got into a great position in the drive for their fifth consecutive Division I championship at Tuesday’s DIAA Dual Meet Championships, to be held at Smyrna.
“We had to win out to get No. 1 seed,” Howell said. “That should solidify that. I don’t know who we’re going to wrestle in the semis, how it will shake out, but we just have to keep our head on straight, keep plugging away.”
No. 3 Sussex Central (9-2, 4-2) rallied to win six of the last eight matches, including a couple of dramatic last-second decisions, but the deficit was too great.
“Smyrna is tough,” said the Golden Knights’ Phil Shultie, who was coaching the final regular-season match of his 41-year career. “We knew in that area, they were going to get a roll. Maybe if we could have started in some other place …”
They started in the perfect place for Smyrna, as Nick Natarcola (120) and Cole Sebastianelli (126) got first-period pins and Greg Baum scored a technical fall for a 17-0 lead. Then freshman J.T. Davis won one of the night’s best matches with a 3-2 decision over Sussex Central junior Drew Morris.
“I just kept moving on bottom,” Davis said. “I kept to my game plan, just tried to do my best.”
Howell thought Davis’ victory was one of the keys to the Eagles’ successful night.
“He’s been wrestling really well lately,” the Smyrna coach said. “Just really solid position. He doesn’t give up much. He stays aggressive, and he never runs out of gas. He’s always in it all the way to the end.”
Chase Archangelo (145) followed with a pin, and Nate Bryant’s major decision at 152 gave the Eagles a 30-0 lead. Brandon Bautista finally got the Golden Knights on the board, getting a takedown in the final seconds to nip Dakota Kerr 4-2.
Blake Chambers got Central’s first pin at 170, and the Golden Knights’ Lucas Hudson edged Hunter Moyer with another late takedown at 182. Tony Wuest answered with a 50-second pin for Smyrna at 195.
John Morris countered with a pin for Central at 220, but Eagles heavyweight Elijah Taylor clinched the match by taking down Mario Santizo in overtime. The Golden Knights made the final score closer with a pin from Jevon Saffold at 106 and major decision from Yony Garcia at 113.
“I was very happy with what we did,” Shultie said. “Smyrna came out and took it to us in the lighter weights. But hopefully Tuesday, if we get this far, hopefully it will be a different score.”
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.