MONTOURSVILLE - Russ Hughes has never been one to be afraid to put his wrestlers in less-than-advantageous situations. It's how he finds out what his Benton wrestlers are made of.
Thursday night, that meant moving two-time state placewinner Jeric Kasunic up a weight class to face Montoursville sophomore regional fourth-place finisher Garrett Hoffman. In turn, it moved senior Brad Miccio up a class to face 13-win Lucas Shaheen.
Both Kasunic and Miccio picked up one-point victories in a 39-24 Benton win over Montoursville in a Heartland Athletic Conference cross-over match. Hughes said following the match he likely would have bumped up freshman Anthony Vitale for a tough bout against Montoursville regional fourth-place finisher Keith Batkowski had the bout not occurred so early in the match with the final outcome still a question.
"We do it in the room. We put them against guys who are 220 pounds. We tell them to spend 30 seconds on top of a guy who is 220 pounds and hold him. You'll feel the difference," Hughes said. "There's a pro and con to it and hopefully we don't get the guys hurt. You need new toys to play with because if you're playing with the same toy, you're not going to get any better and you're going to get bored. So we give them a different kind of toy and hope they don't break it."
The matchups came after Montoursville had won two of the previous three matches cutting its deficit to 30-12, and knowing it had a major advantage at 220 pounds and a forfeit coming at 285 pounds.
Kasunic, who has finished fifth and sixth in the past two PIAA Class AA tournaments, scored a takedown on Hoffman with 20 seconds left in the first period. He added an escape point in the second period and fought off a stellar scramble and takedown attempt by Hoffman in the third period to hold on for a 3-2 win.
Miccio, who was just 13-12 last year but has already won 12 matches this year, scored a double-leg takedown with only 7 seconds left in his bout with Top Hat runner-up Shaheen for a 3-2 win at 182 pounds.
But Kasunic, who hasn't weighed in at more than 161 pounds this year, and Miccio, who is usually right around 170 pounds, are more than used to giving up the weight. Last night was the second time Kasunic has wrestled at 170 this year to go along with two times at 182. Miccio was wrestling at 182 for the fourth time and he has two other matches at 195.
"We were a little flat. We need to take some chances. You don't win big matches without putting some pressure on them," Hughes said. "Those kids are both tough, but you want to put some points on the board. You can't slow things down. Do I expect some more from them? Yeah. I'm glad they won, but let's do it with a little more flair next time."
"This comes from Dan Wright, one of my high school coaches: Until you hit tough competition, you don't know what your weaknesses are," Montoursville head coach Jamie Yonkin said. "You can wrestle kids that aren't very good and beat them and pin them and you don't understand what struggle is. We're glad we got those matches. I'm glad they made those bumps. I was hoping they would."
The wins for Kasunic and Miccio were two of the three wins decided by two points or less for Benton (5-1). State qualifier Logan Womelsdorf needed a takedown with 9 seconds to go to top J.J. Schriner, 6-4, at 220 pounds. Of the eight contested bouts last night, five were decided by two points or less.
Freshman Nolan Ott picked up a 6-5 win for Montoursville at 145 pounds, and Triston Choate won, 4-3, at 160 pounds.
But the Warriors forfeited at four weight classes. One was negated with a double forfeit at 113 pounds. But Montoursville was forced to forfeit at 138 pounds after a period had been wrestled because Jacob Strassner, who was leading 5-0, was not eligible to wrestle at 138 pounds.
Strassner stepped on the scale during weigh-ins at 126 pounds (128 pounds with the two-pound weight allowance), and weighed in at 128.6. Because of that, Strassner wasn't eligible to wrestle at 126 pounds, but could wrestle at 132. Yonkin and his coaching staff thought since he was eligible at 132 that he could still bump up a weight class to 138, as has been the rule in the past.
But a bulletin issued by the PIAA on Dec. 4 stated that a wrestler who is overweight for the weight class he steps on the scale for, is allowed to only wrestle up one weight class. Strassner was eligible for 132 pounds, but not 138 last night.
After the official was made aware of the error following the first period of the 138-pound match, Benton's Joe Smith was awarded a forfeit. It gave the Tigers a 24-9 lead and Montoursville never cut the deficit any closer until Ben Cerney was awarded a forfeit in the last bout.
"He weighed in a little heavier because we wanted him weighed up because we wanted to get the Vitale match (against Batkowski). We wanted Jake to wrestle their other kid," Yonkin said. "We put him on the scale at 26 because we thought if he didn't qualify at 26, then he's still eligible for whatever weight he was at plus the next weight up. So we figured now he's eligible as a 32-pounder and he can do 32 or 38. Apparently there was a thing sent out - that I never saw - that says there's some type of new explanation to it. I messed up. I wasn't on my game tonight."
106: Alan Diltz, B, pinned Morgan Comini, 6-0; 113: Double forfeit; 120: Michael Stuart, B, won by forfeit; 126: Anthony Vitale, B, won by forfeit; 132: Keith Batkowski, M, won by forfeit; 138: Joe Smith, B, won by forfeit; 145: Nolan Ott, M, dec. Ronald Flick, 6-5; 152: Dominic Vitale, B, pinned Michael Forney, 2:52; 160: Triston Choate, M, dec. Jeremy Walsh, 4-3; 170: Jeric Kasunic, B, dec. Garrett Hoffman, 3-2; 182: Brad Miccio, B, dec. Lucas Shaheen, 3-2; 195: Logan Womelsdorf, B, dec. J.J. Schriner, 6-4; 220: Connor Bassett, M, pinned Jared Sivco, 4:29; 285: Ben Cerney, M, won by forfeit.
*Match started at 106 pounds
Takedowns: Benton 8, Montoursville 4.
Records: Montoursville (5-3); Benton (5-1).