Smyrna holds off CR 35-33 for Division I dual meet wrestling state title

Smyrna head coach Aaron Harris is hoisted into the air by his team after they won the Division I state title Saturday. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

SMYRNA — The Smyrna High wrestlers formed a circle, put their hands in the middle and yelled, ‘Andrew!”

Minutes earlier they had watch Andrew DeBenedictis-Bayne fall on his back while falling out of bounds in the Division I dual meet wrestling state finals. He stayed on his back, motionless.

Smyrna coach Aaron Harris walked out and tapped DeBenedictis-Bayne to stand back up and received no response.

“He was out cold,” Harris said. “His eyes were flickering when I got there. I think he’ll be OK, though. He was talking and he said, ‘Coach, I’m sorry.’ He didn’t do anything wrong. I told him, ‘Get better and we’ll win a state title for you.”

The Eagles rallied behind DeBenedictis-Bayne and brought home that state title.

Smyrna’s Gabe Giampietro won by pin over Dawson Mitchell of CR in the 106-pound match.

It came down to the final match, but Smyrna was able to hold off Caesar Rodney 35-33 for the Division I dual meet state title on Saturday on its home floor. It was a rematch of last year’s state finals which Caesar Rodney won.

Smyrna has now reached the championship round of the tournament each of the last eight years. The Eagles have five Division I titles in that time span.

This was the first championship for Smyrna since 2016 and the Eagles’ 10th all-time dual meet state title since the tournament began in 1993, including five championships when Smyrna was in Division II.

Saturday’s match featured nine lead changes, one of which was when DeBenedictis-Bayne was knocked out late in his matchup at 285 pounds. He was stretchered off and CR’s Kevin Hudson was awarded an injury default for six team points as the Riders went up 24-20.

Freshman Gabe Giampietro was up next for Smyrna in the 106-pound matchup. The match was delayed for nearly 20 minutes as paramedics and trainers attended to DeBenedictis-Bayne.

CR’s Marion Smith going for back points against Dylan Andruzzi of Smyrna in the 113-pound match. Smith won by decision 7-3.

Giampietro wasted no time as the dual meet resumed, recording a pin in 2:07 with DeBenedictis-Bayne on his mind to give Smyrna the lead back.

“I love that man to death,” Giampietro said. “He’s like a brother to me. We’re real close, it’s like the heavyweight and the lightweight, we’re always with each other.”

M.J. Smith won a decision at 113 as the Riders took a 27-26 lead. Joey Natarcola answered at 120 for the Eagles with another pin and Smyrna went on top 32-27.

The next match was the biggest swing match of the night.

Jaxson Al-Chokhachy took the mat for Smyrna against CR’s Mike Primo. Primo was undefeated in his career against Al-Chokhachy and had beaten him 7-3 during the regular season.

Al-Chokhachy forged ahead early in the third period with an escape point. He held a 3-2 lead for the remainder of the period, Primo almost caught him in a takedown with less than five seconds left but Al-Chokhachy was able to ward off the attempt until time ran out.

“I’ve lost to him maybe 10 times in my life,” Al-Chokhachy said. “I was 0-10. I got my one when I needed it.”

Smyrna’s Gavin Sembly pinned CR’s Mikel Abdullah in 2:44 in their 170-pound match.

“Before the match he said, ‘Coach, I’m more focused than I’ve ever been, I’m going to win that match,’” Harris said. “I said, ‘If you
win that match, we win.’ That wasn’t the last bout of the night, but it was the deciding factor.”

Caesar Rodney closed within 35-30 after Pat Wisniewski’s decision in the 132-pound bout.

It set the stage for two former individual state champions to finish out the contest. CR’s Jackson Dean went out at 138 pounds to face Smyrna’s Nick Natarcola.

Dean won the match, but Natarcola only surrendered a decision for three team points as he made sure he did not allowed Dean to pin.

“I have all the confidence in the world in Nick in winning that match but he went out and did what he had to do for the team,” Harris
said. “Nick knows Jackson is dangerous with throws so he tried to stay out of those positions and keep himself out of danger.”

The match was similar in score to Smyrna’s 33-30 victory over the Riders on Jan. 23 but different in terms of matchups as both coaches shifted their lineups around, looking for an advantage.

Riley Tracy of CR won by fall in 5:51 against Smyrna’s Christopher Marr in the 160-pound bout.

“Both of them were tight chess matches,” Harris said. “You got two good coaches coaching against each other, we played chess and made some moves and we came out on top. A couple things could have gone the other way and you’d be talking to (CR coach) Dan Rigby right now. Congratulations to CR, my boys just dug deep and pulled it out.”

The victory was Harris’ first state title as a coach. He moved to Smyrna this offseason from Dover to take over from Kurt Howell after Howell announced his retirement.

Smyrna also received pins from Gavin Sembly (170 pounds) and Masen Wilson (220) on the night while J.T. Davis recorded a tech-fall at 182. Bryce Mullen added a decision at 145.

The top-seeded Eagles reached the finals after a 52-20 victory over Delcastle on Friday night and a 60-12 win against Sussex Central in the semifinals earlier in the day on Saturday.

Caesar Rodney, the second seed, downed St. Georges 66-11 on Friday and needed to come from behind to defeat Salesianum in Saturday’s semifinal. CR escaped the semifinal after Smith had a pin at 113, Primo earned a decision at 126 and Wisniewski won via major-decision at 132 for a 33-31 victory after trailing 27-20 with four matches to go.

Gabe Degraffinreed (152), Riley Tracy (160) and Jacob Garrett (220) had pins for the Riders in the championship round.

Once Smyrna grabbed the trophy, the Eagles started planning how to visit DeBenedictis-Bayne who was still on their minds.

“It wasn’t hard to refocus, we just knew we had to win for him,” Nick Natarcola said. “It sucks to see that happen to him. He’s a great kid and a great teammate.”

“I think the reason we dug down and won was because of that,” Harris said. “They did it for their teammate.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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