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Gush wins in final bout to secure victory for Muncy

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Muncy’s Tristan Ditzler wrestles Benton’s Kaleb Michael in a bout at 195 pounds on Thursday at Muncy.

MUNCY — Royce Eyer smiled for a brief moment before answering the final question posed to him Thursday night. The competitor in him, the former NCAA champion at Lycoming, would have loved to have seen his 170-pounder Ethan Gush take on state-ranked Nolan Lear from Benton at the end of last night’s dual.

But great matchups like that between Top-10 wrestlers will have to wait because the goal this time of the season is to win dual meets. So Eyer held back Gush and handed Lear a forfeit in the dual’s penultimate. The second-year coach then sent his junior state qualifier out for the final bout needing a win to win the dual.

Gush didn’t disappoint. He needed just 3 minutes, 48 seconds to post a 16-1 technical fall as Muncy defeated Benton, 39-36. The result created immediate ramifications in the seedings for next week’s District 4 Duals tournament. Benton fell from the fourth seed to the seventh seed with the loss, and Muncy moved into the sixth seed.

But in the immediate afterglow, all that mattered to Eyer was another victory. A week ago his Indians team (16-3) handed Line Mountain its only loss, and now it has another win over a team it’ll be battling next week for one of the three PIAA Team Wrestling qualifying spots.

“Our goals is always to win,” Eyer said. “No matter who we face we always try to have the same approach regardless of what the name on the singlets are.”

In the night’s marquee bout, Benton’s fourth-ranked Gable Strickland used a last-second takedown in regulation and another in overtime to beat eighth-ranked Jacob Blair of Muncy, 5-3. It looked like there may be another marquee dual when Benton sent Mason Michael out at 160 pounds giving fifth-ranked Lear the opportunity to bump to 170 to face seventh-ranked Gush. But as much as Eyer and Gush may have wanted the matchup, to win the dual they had to skip it.

“It’s about the team, so I had to bump away,” Gush said. “Maybe I’ll see him later on. I was looking forward to the match, but it’s something you have to do for the team.”

There are few better choices the Indians could have had in the spot needing a win to seal the dual than Gush. He’s a returning state qualifier approaching 80 career wins who, two months ago, capped off an all-state football season by helping Muncy win its first state tournament game. The big moment has never been too big for him.

So he felt no nerves when he lined up against Benton freshman Jake Bobersky. He just methodically went about his business. There was a quick takedown and a set of near-fall. Then a couple more near-fall for 10-0 lead after one period. After two tilts for two points each, he scored Muncy’s 16th takedown of the night to clinch the win by technical fall.

“I was just ready to go,” Gush said. “I wasn’t really nervous because I know what I’m capable of.”

“I would have liked to have seen (Lear against Gush), but right now we’re trying to win dual meets,” Eyer said. “So we have to shuffle some guys around sometimes to win the meets.”

Muncy won despite losing to key toss-up bouts in the final seconds. Chase Crawley was dominating his 120-pound bout against Benton Ethan Kolb with Muncy leading the dual, 16-12. Trailing in the bout, 3-2, thanks to a stalling point, and despite his entire bench telling him to cut Crawley and work for the takedown, Kolb stayed engaged and hit a cement mixer in the final 5 seconds to two near-fall points and a 4-3 win.

One bout later, in the night’s most anticipated matchup, Blair dominated Strickland for 5 minutes, 50 seconds. His takedown midway through the first period appeared to be the decisive move of the match. But Strickland, whose older brother Zach won a state title for Muncy in 2011, worked for a tying takedown just ahead of the third-period buzzer.

Then in overtime, Strickland was able to hook Blair’s right leg with his left leg as they were tied up, and wrapped up both legs with his arms for the winning takedown.

“Everyone wanted that match,” Benton coach B.J. Wise said. “I talked to Royce before and said let’s try to get that matchup. With Gable getting to that shot at the end, I think maybe we were in a bit better shape in that match. But I know everyone loved that match and they’re going to be talking about it (today).”

“There’s some history there and I think (Blair) let it affect him,” Eyer said. “We’ve had some long talks and discussions and we have to make better decisions. There’s three-and-half seconds to go and you don’t have any stall calls, put your pride aside and be smart. We didn’t do that.”

But Muncy did get a pair of crucial toss-up wins when Tristan Ditzler bumped to 195 to open the dual with a fall. Then Bailey Hadzinikolov made his season debut after dealing with a knee injury and picked up his first varsity win with a fall at 285 pounds.

“I know what Bailey is capable of,” Eyer said. “We have to get our conditioning a little more up there, but he’s also a real strong, fast and explosive kid. He didn’t seem to forget much from his time off.”

No. 10 Muncy 39, Benton 36

195: Tristan Ditzler, M, pinned Kaleb Michael, 1:46. 220: No. 8 Zach Poust, B, pinned Cael Hembury, 2:59. 285: Bailey Hadzinikolov, M, pinned Andrew Wolfe, 1:49. 106: No. 15 Chase Burke, B, by forfeit. 113: No. 6 Scott Johnson, M, maj. dec. Dylan Granahan, 14-6. 120: Ethan Kolb, B, dec. Chase Crawley, 4-3. 126: No. 4 Gable Strickland, B, dec. No. 8 Jacob Blair, 5-3, sv. 132: No. 7 Bryce Vollman, M, pinned Remington Morrow 0:42. 138: Caden Temple, B, pinned Dylan Sharr, 1:59. 145: No. 10 Mario Barberio, M, pinned Derek Dietz, 0:52. 152: No. 9 Christian Good, M, pined Josh Fisher, 1:52. 160: Mason Michael, B, pinned Kobe Fowler, 0:49. 170: No. 5 Nolan Lear, B, by forfeit. 182: No. 7 Ethan Gush, M, tech. fall Jake Bobersky, 16-1, 3:48.

Takedowns: Muncy 16, Benton 6.

Official: Fritz Snyder.

Records: Benton (13-3); Muncy (16-3).

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