CLAYSVILLE – Maybe Mark Powell described Wednesday night’s wrestling match between Trinity and McGuffey best when he said, “It’s old school versus new school.”
Powell was coaching the first dual meet of his varsity career for Trinity. Across the mat, PIAA Wrestling Hall of Fame coach Mark Caffrey was settling into his third stint as the Highlanders’ head coach.
Turns out there wasn’t much difference between these Section 4A-AAA programs.
The Hillers, thanks to some key pins and a key mistake by McGuffey at 138 pounds that resulted in a forfeit, grabbed a 26-20 victory in front of more than 1,000 fans packed into McGuffey’s steamy gymnasium.
As if to make this night even more memorable, it was the first dual meet in memory without a warning for stalling call by the referee, in this case, Mike Doppelheuer. It was not a poorly refereed match, just one that kept moving.
“This was such a big match with the crowd,” said Powell, who was hired to replace Mike Marino. “The atmosphere was electric.”
So much so that Caffrey got a knock on his office door following the match from a student wishing to come out for the team.
“It was nice to see that crowd,” said Caffrey, who took over for Jeff Breese Sr. “It was just like old times.”
That’s the goal for both coaches, return these programs to the dominance they enjoyed a decade ago. Both teams are struggling back from difficult times and both coaches are supremely confident that can happen.
The turning point in this bout came at 138 pounds, when McGuffey sent out Tyler Harris by mistake while Trinity’s Justin Ritter was still at the center of the mat. Harris was weighed in at 145 pound, which meant he could not wrestle any lower than that weight. Powell caught the error and brought it to the attention of referee Mike Doppelheuer.
“He was supposed to go out at 45,” Caffrey said. “I thought they had already raised (Ritter’s) hand.”
The Highlanders were forced to forfeit the weight, which gave Trinity an 18-6 lead. Caffrey wanted to forfeit to Ritter and put Harris against Trinity’s Jeff Miller at 145. The two wrestlers are evenly matched, but even a McGuffey loss by decision would have meant the match – if it unfolded the way it did over the next nine bouts – would have ended in a 33-33 tie. And the Highlanders would have won by criteria.
“Every match, I go over and ask the (scorekeeper) who is wrestling for them,” Powell said. “I knew it was a mistake. I might be new, but I’m not as green as people think.”
The bout didn’t seem so devastating at the time. Trinity went on to build a 27-6 lead after Evan Sherrieb pinned Cody Walker at 145. Jared Iddings had a pin at 126 and the Highlanders were forced to forfeit at 120 because the starter there – Jake Seabright – is recovering from a broken hand from football season and isn’t ready to go.
McGuffey began its comeback at 182, where Brent Blacharczyk pinned Trinity’s Robert West to cut the Hillers’ lead to 27-18. Don McWreath got the pin back for Trinity at 195 to make it 33-18, but Ryan Steinstraw pinned Trinity’s Connor Fritz in 4:58 to bring it to 33-24 with two bouts remaining.
Evan Seaman put the match out of reach for Trinity with a 3-2 decision over Austin Johnson at heavyweight. McGuffey’s Gage Nicolella pinned Tristan Buxton in 3:54 to make it a six-point match.
“I really have faith in our system,” said Powell. “I really believe we can win everyone of our matches, but I know it’s not going to happen that way. I was more nervous now than when I competed. I have more confidence in them than they have in themselves right now.”