Milford defeats Caravel 37-30 to grab 6th straight Division II dual meet wrestling state title

Milford fans and wrestlers celebrate after winning the Division II championship. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

SMYRNA — Evonte Bennett has been primarily a junior varsity wrestler throughout his career at Milford High, filling a spot in the starting lineup occasionally when an extra wrestler is needed.

But the senior stepped onto the mat in the 285-pound bout Saturday night and made the most of his opportunity.

Bennett made quick work of his opponent, pinning him in 36 seconds to help his Buccaneers defeat Caravel Academy, 37-30, and grab the Milford wrestling program’s sixth consecutive Division II dual meet state championship at Smyrna High.

“Honestly, I was a little nervous, but at the same time I was excited because I know this is what I do, and I didn’t want to let my team down,” Bennett said. “I wanted to make my team proud and I wanted to bring home that six-peat.”

Milford’s Anthony Diaz scored a technical fall of Caravel’s Andre Smith in the 220-pound match.

“He’s wrestled for four years, he’s done everything I’ve asked, I use him oftentimes as that extra guy,” said Milford coach Don Parsley. “He got an opportunity to go out there to show me why I believe in him.”

It marks the sixth overall state title for Parsley, fourth in a row, and the Milford program’s eighth overall D-II dual meet title.

“I can tell you, what’s really cool, I have a really special team,” he said. “They’ve had more fun than any group of kids I’ve ever had, they work harder than any group of kids I’ve ever had.”

Dan Rigby coached the Bucs to consecutive state titles in 2014 and 2015 before Parsley made his return to win four more in a row.

Milford, the top seed in the two-day state tournament, earned an 81-0 shutout of eighth-seed Mount Pleasant Friday night and a 51-18 semifinals win over Woodbridge High Saturday to set up the finals showdown.

Jordan Passwaters of Milford going for back points against Caravel’s Matthew Duarte in the 145-pound match. Passwaters won by decision.

Milford earned eight individual wins, including two technical falls, a pair of forfeits and Bennett’s pin of Caravel’s Anthony Ranauto.

Jordan Passwaters (145-pound weight class) and Bevensky Augustin (182) each earned decisions. Rafael Mejia (170) and Jack Thode (113) each earned major decisions.

Anthony Diaz (220) earned a 19-2 technical fall while Gaij Copes (160) and Eric Bennett (195) grabbed wins by forfeit.

Even after handily defeating this same Caravel squad, 43-24, at the Legacy Duals Jan. 26, the Bucs knew they couldn’t take them lightly.

“Not once did we ever take their team lightly, we stayed focused and we treat them like any other team we wrestle,” Evonte Bennett said. “We go hard from the start and we finish strong and we just do our thing. We wrestle and we just leave it out there on the mat and it pays off with victories. It definitely does.”

The 9-2 decision for Passwaters at 145 and the Copes win by forfeit at 160 put Milford ahead early, 9-4, and sophomore Rafael Mejia added to that early momentum in the 170-pound bout.

In the 120-pound match Caravel’s Ethan Gray scored a technical fall over Milford’s Trenton Grant.

He earned the 16-4 major decision over Caravel’s Anthony Bernieri to extend the team lead to 13-4 through the first four matches.

“My team needs this win, I’m just going to go out there and do what I have to do,” Mejia said of his thought process. “I came out here, wrestled my match and that was the outcome of it.”

“Raf went out there and really did a nice job, took care of business,” said Parsley.

Augustin’s 7-1 decision at 182 and Eric Bennett’s win by forfeit led way to Diaz’s 19-2 technical fall over Caravel’s Andre Smith at 220.

While Bennett’s pin at 285 put the Bucs ahead 33-4 with six matches to go, it was Thode who sealed the victory two matches later in the 113 bout.

“When he went out there and got the win, I knew that Caravel wasn’t going to be able to catch us,” said Parsley.

Milford’s Jack Thode won by major decision over Kevin Bowne of Caravel in the 113-pound match.

Thode’s 12-4 major decision over Caravel’s Kevin Bowne put the Bucs ahead by 30 points.

“Jack knew what he had to do,” Parsley added. “He, in workmanlike fashion, went out there and did everything that was necessary.”

“It feels great. This is a feeling I’ve never felt before,” Thode said.

Caravel’s Ethan Gray earned a 16-0 technical fall in the 120-pound bout, pulling the score to within 37-12, but with the match out of reach Parsley elected to forfeit the last three bouts – 126, 132 and 138 – to clinch the 37-30 title victory.

“When we come on the mat, we always make sure that we don’t just wrestle for ourselves, we wrestle for each other,” Evonte Bennett said. “It’s something big that you learn in the Milford wrestling program and I just like the fact that my leadership paid off and I was able to let my whole team know I was not just wrestling for myself but for them.”

While the Bucs will return 11 of 14 members of the starting lineup next season, the state title win ends the team’s Division II run. At least for now.

Next year, the six-year title streak will be put to the test when the Bucs move up to Division I competition.

“If you look historically, we won in 2004 and we won in 2009, but we didn’t win it in ’05 and ’10 because we went Division I. We would’ve probably repeated back in those days,” Parsley said.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to stay on the Division II side and have this nice stretch, but I have a good group of kids, I have 11 of 14 starters coming back next year, it’s time for us to make the move and I think we’re going to be up for the challenge.”

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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