HERSHEY – As the time slowly clicked off the clock, the wrestlers and coaches on the Canon-McMillan side of the wrestling mat could barely contain themselves.
On the mat, Brendon Price was holding a 4-3 lead over Zach Elvin of Central Dauphin in the final bout (106 pounds) of the PIAA Class AAA Team Tournament inside the Giant Center Saturday.
The Canon-McMillan crowd rose and counted it down.
4 … 3 … 2 … 1 …
Seemingly at once, bodies jumped into the air in celebration. Canon-McMillan head coach Chris Mary rushed the mat, lifted Price into the air and carried him back to adoring fans and teammates. Price wept in Mary’s arms for minutes after the bout.
Price’s one-point win came under the most pressurized situation imaginable for a high school wrestler: with the dual meet and a state team title on the line.
Price’s win gave the Big Macs a 34-31 victory over Central Dauphin that assured them their second consecutive state team title.
“This is one of the best days of my entire life,” said Mary, who led the Big Macs to a 19-0 record. “I just can’t put into words how I feel about these kids.”
Price had lost the two previous meetings against Elvin, an 8-5 decision in last year’s semifinals of this tournament and a 13-2 major decision at last year’s Powerade Christmas Wrestling Tournament, which was held at Canon-McMillan. Interestingly, Price’s win came in Elvin’s backyard. Central Dauphin is just a few miles from the Giant Center.
“I was really nervous because I knew this would be a close match,” said Price. “But then I thought this would be a good opportunity. He was ranked second in the state and I got excited. My teammates were great. They told me they would support me, that they would still love me no matter what.”
Canon-McMillan defeated Central Dauphin, 28-25, in last year’s semifinals in a dual meet some thought was the best in this tournament’s history. Today, that might have to be rethought.
“This one brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart,” said Mary, comparing the two wins. “It’s because of what these guys had to overcome. We had a great team last year. Last year, we won on talent. This year, we won on heart.”
Central Dauphin (24-1) was thought to have the advantage in this match because Canon-McMillan was without two starters who were out because of injury. Solomon Chishko, a 145-pound junior who was a third-place finisher in the individual state tournament last year, was out with a fractured elbow that has not completely healed since he sustained the injury in a preseason tournament three months ago. Malachi Krenzelak, a 138-pound junior, has missed the last month with an injury.
As in any match of this magnitude, the way a team loses a bout is almost as important as the way it wins.
Canon-McMillan did not give up bonus points at 113, where Central Dauphin needed two more points for technical fall over Josh Minor but was held to a 13-0 major decision; at 145, where CD’s Nick Varndell got a 7-0 decision over Nick Oberhaus; and at 170, where Colton Peppelman was held to a 10-5 decision by the Big Macs’ Sam Minor. Those four extra team points would have had Central Dauphin celebrating at the end.
“There were heroes all over the place,” Mary said.
Canon-McMillan got a great start after Minor’s loss at 113 opened the match. Dalton Macri pinned Nick Ward in 3:50 at 120, Connor Schram followed with a 21-6 technical fall over Levi Williams at 126 and Alec Hutchin decisioned Zach Bentz, 8-1, at 132 to give CM a 14-4 lead.
Central Dauphin won the next five bouts to take a 26-14 lead. Tyson Dippery won by forfeit at 152, Varndell got his decision at 145, Austin Rose knocked off William Pihiou with a 14-2 major decision, Garrett Peppelman pinned Nick Konyk in 12 seconds and Colton Peppelman won a decision over Sam Minor at 170.
“We knew it would be close,” said Cody Wiercioch, Canon-McMillan’s defending state champion. “We knew if we could get the matchups we wanted, we could win, and we did.”
Wiercioch started the rally with a 19-4 technical fall over Steven McNeal. After Terrance Parson won by 15-0 technical fall over Steve LaFrance to push CD’s lead back to 12 points, 31-19, C-M’s Alex Campbell pinned Dietrick Ferster at 220 and Angelo Broglia pinned Mike Ferster at heavyweight to tie the score, 31-31.
Price then went out and provided his heroics.
“These kids have heart,” Mary said. “I told them before the match that they have to have the will to win. And they went out and got a state title.”