Montoursville’s Bennett a surprise winner at district tourney

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Montoursville’s Dylan Bennett puts a hold on Benton’s Colton Babcock in their 145-pound championship bout on Saturday at WIlliamsport High School.

Gavin Hoffman hemmed and hawed for a few seconds, stammering over his words trying to be as politically correct as he could in his assessment of teammate Dylan Bennett’s district championship.

Finally, the Montoursville senior just blurted out what he was thinking without trying to sugarcoat it.

“There’s nobody who thought he was going to be a district champ,” Hoffman said after winning his third District 4 championship. “Not to be rude, but that was kind of out of the question. But he showed up this weekend and something snapped in him and he had a great weekend.”

Bennett’s 145-pound title at the District 4 Class AA tournament Saturday at the Magic Dome was easily the most unlikely of the 14 championships. The other 13 weight classes saw all their champions come from the top four seeds in the bracket. Bennett was seeded seventh. Bennett was the only non sectional finalist to win a district championship.

None of that matters now of course. The freshman improved his season record to 30-11 and walked out of the gym with gold hanging around his neck.

“It feels great coming out here like this and performing the way I did,” Bennett said. “But in hindsight, none of this matters if I don’t come here next week and perform. The overall goal is going to Hershey next weekend.”

Bennett was one of 29 local wrestlers to finish in the top five of the district tournament to earn a spot in next week’s Class AA Northeast Regional tournament. He was also one of the four local district champions crowned, joining Montoursville’s Wyatt Lutz (113 pounds), Milton’s Noah Stamm (138 pounds) and 195-pound champion Hoffman.

Eight local wrestlers earned runner-up finishes, including Muncy’s Joe Klock (132), Noah Gush (152) and Mike Kustanbauter (170), Hughesville’s Luke Gorg (120), Warrior Run’s Jeremy Hanford (126), Montoursville’s Gable Crebs (160), Jersey Shore’s Hunter O’Connor (182) and North Penn-Liberty’s Justin Kriner (285).

Klock finished second to Benton’s Cole Rhone after forfeiting his 132-pound final. The senior tore the meniscus in his left knee during practice this week, and after earning his spot in the regional tournament, decided to call it a day in order to rest his knee as much as possible.

Muncy finished second in the team standings, qualifying nine wrestlers for regionals next week. Its 157.5 team points were behind only Southern Columbia’s 205.5 points as the Tigers won the first team title at the District 4 individual tournament in school history.

Montoursville finished third in the team race, crowning the second-most champions and advancing four to regionals.

“We got nine of the 11 guys out, so that’s pretty good for us,” Poust said after winning his first district title. “I thought Christian (Good) had a really good tournament. I thought Noah wrestled really well in the finals. All together I think we all wrestled pretty well.”

Bennett’s jaunt to one of the most unlikely district titles in recent memory started Friday night with a well-wrestled upset of second-seeded and 19th-ranked Noah Ettinger of Midd-West. It put him in the position of being the favorite in Saturday morning’s semifinals against Canton’s Mak Gleckner. And Bennett needed just 1 minute, 3 seconds to score a fall, earn his spot at regionals, and become one of four Montoursville finalists.

But he wasn’t done. He wrestled a near perfect match against top-seeded and returning state qualifier Colton Babcock of Benton. Babcock hadn’t lost in more than a month entering Saturday and was ranked fifth in the state at 145 pounds. Bennett is unranked.

That didn’t particularly matter to Bennett, though. He executed his gameplan in the finals almost perfectly. He was able to finish on a sweep single in the first period for a crucial takedown and a 2-0 lead.

Bennett didn’t sit on that lead. He knew he couldn’t afford to, not with Babcock’s penchant for scoring points in bunches. He worked his tail off to get an escape which extended his lead to 3-0 in the waning seconds of the second period. And he followed that with a third-period rideout of Babcock.

As the final seconds of the match ticked off the clock, Montoursville head coach Jamie Yonkin rose to his feet, looked at his freshman, and pumped his right fist with all the atta-boy he could muster.

“I knew I had to get the takedown. That was huge there,” Bennett said. “There’s a sense of urgency when you get in on a good shot against a good kid like that because you’re not going to get many of them. So when you do get one, you have to be able to convert.”

It was the perfect match to close out the perfectly-wrestled tournament for Bennett. But even in the afterglow of the best tournament performance of his young career, Bennett was already focused on regionals.

Without a top-four finish next week and a trip to the state tournament, he doesn’t feel like yesterday’s district championship will carry weight it currently does.

“It’s a big confidence booster to knock off three tough kids and come out with a championship,” Bennett said. “I’m happy with what I did this weekend. In the back of your mind, you have to believe in yourself no matter what everyone says.”

“I’m more excited for him that me because it shows how much he’s grown throughout the year,” Hoffman said. “He had a rough start and he had some losses. But he’s showing how he can develop. He really proved that he’s making strides and getting better, and it’s great to see in a guy that young.”