CR wins first D-I dual-meet title since 2012: No. 3 Riders stun top seed Smyrna 30-29

CR wrestlers celebrate after beating Smyrna Saturday night. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

SMYRNA — For a school with a rich wrestling history like Caesar Rodney High, five years without a state title felt like an eternity.

The Riders climbed their way back to the top of Delaware wrestling on Saturday. This time, they did it as the underdog.

The No. 3 seeded Riders stunned host and top seed Smyrna High 30-29 in the finals of the Division I DIAA state wrestling dual meet. It is the first state championship for CR since 2012.

CR’s Brendon Holder scores on a takedown over Hunter Moyer of Smyrna in the 220-pound match. Holder won by decision 4-1. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

It’s the ninth time Caesar Rodney has won the Division I tournament — the most all-time. The Riders had not made the final round the last three years and were knocked out of last season’s tournament in the first round.

It’s the first Division I championship for CR coach Dan Rigby who took over his alma mater in 2015. Rigby had coached Milford High to a pair of Division II titles.

“This is just huge,” Rigby said. “We’ve been through some tumultuous times in the last couple of years. To come back here and do this with my alma mater, with coaches who have all wrestled for Caesar Rodney and won state titles, with a great group of kids it means so much to the kids and the school.”

It came down to the final match for the Riders.

After Smyrna’s Greg Baum turned a tied 152-pound match into a third-period pin and six points for the Eagles, CR only led 30-26 with just the 160-pound bout left.

Benedict Anderson of CR lifts Smyrna’s Ryan Kelley off the mat on his way to a 7-5 decision in triple overtime in the 128-pound bout.. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

The Riders sent out junior Mikel Abdullah against Smyrna’s J.T. Davis. In a match one week ago, Davis earned a pin at 160 as the Eagles downed CR 33-25.

But Abdullah only needed to lose by a decision. With Davis winning most of the match, Abdullah stayed off his back and made sure to not give up any bonus points.

As the seconds ticked down, Abdullah only lost to Davis 7-2 doing just enough to set off a wild celebration in the corner of the Smyrna High gym.

“You just got to keep fighting,” Abdullah said. “I knew my team was right there for me and I had to keep pushing. I kind of took it all in and I knew it’s not about me, it’s about my team and I had to do what’s right for them.”

“It’s amazing,” he added. “No words can describe it. Me and my team won, we worked hard for this and came out on top.”

The Riders received clutch performances from all over the lineup.

Sam Ervin, who lost 5-3 a week ago against Smyrna, won his match 3-1 with a late takedown in the first match at 170. Brenden Holder (220) and Kevin Hudson (285) earned decisions as the contest was tied 9-9 after five matches.

Michael Primo of CR and Smyrna’s Easley Pierson battle in the 1st period of the 120 pound match. Primo won by fall in the 2nd period. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

Smyrna went ahead with a pair of decision by Joseph Natarcola (106) and Jaxson Al-Chokhachy (113) before Mike Primo tied it for the Riders with a pin at 120. Primo only won by a major-decision the last time CR faced Smyrna.

“I knew I needed a pin because last time we wrestled Smyrna we lost and I didn’t get the pin,” Primo said. “I knew I had to get that pin for my team.”
Then Cam Hayes followed that up with a pin at 126. Jackson Dean would add another pin later in the 145-pound match.

Smyrna’s 113 Ðpounder Jaxon Al-Chokhacky is carried off the mat by medical personal after he beat CR’s Kevin Bowne with a 4-3 decision. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“We said as long as everyone wrestles tough like we did a week ago we could give them a close match,” Hayes said. “We had big things go our way and came out on top. It feels great to work for this. Through the past year or so we’ve been grinding to get this program back to where it needs to be. Right now, we’re finally at that peak.”

Before Dean’s pin though, the Riders got a come-from-behind victory courtesy of Ben Anderson.

Anderson trailed 4-0 in his 138-pound bout. He rallied to tie at 4-4 to force overtime and eventually won 7-4 in the tie-breaking session.

“I knew it was going to come down to the last match or the last two matches so I had to give it my all,” Anderson said, sporting a bloody lip. “I had to stay and wrestle with heart. We’re putting another banner up and we’re so proud of each other. It’s incredible.”

That all set the stage for Abdullah to just give up the three points and give CR the championship.

“Mikel has been my friend since middle school,” Primo said. “I’ve seen him grow as a wrestler and watching him win that state title for us just fills me with excitement.”

Smyrna’s Joseph Natarcola trying to get control over CR’s Patrick Wisniewski in the 106 pound match Saturday night. Natarcola won by decision 7-3. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

For the senior class this was especially emotionally because these wrestlers remembered growing up watching the dominant CR teams from years past. The Riders had one stretch from 2003 to 2007 where they won five consecutive Division I championships. They also went back-to-back in 2011 and 2012.

“I’ve been wrestling since forever ago and would watch CR win it over and over again,” Primo said. “To finally be a part of that makes me really, really happy. It’s special. I’m grateful for my team and everyone involved.”

It was the first time since the state championship match in 2012 that Caesar Rodney defeated Smyrna.

“These seniors were here for the tough

times and the rebuilding,” Rigby said. “For these guys to stick it out and lead this team to a championship is special. It couldn’t happen to a better group of kids.”

Bonus points

Caesar Rodney defeated No. 6 seed St. Georges in the first round 46-21. The Riders then downed second seed Salesianum 38-25 in the semifinals. They had lost to Salesianum 34-21 on Jan. 20. … Sussex Central, the fourth-seed defeated No. 5 Dover 34-24 in the first round. Smyrna then beat Sussex Central 46-11 in the semifinals. … It was second year in a row a team won three matches to take the title, Sussex Central did so last season. … Smyrna has now appeared in the title match the last seven years. … The final match featured two Henlopen Conference teams for the seventh year in a row. The last time a non-Henlopen team reached the finals was when St. Mark’s fell to Caesar Rodney in the 2011 championship. … Smyrna’s 195-pounder Tony Wuest recorded a pin in both his matches Saturday, giving him 101 pins in his high school career.

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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