STRONGSVILLE — If anyone in the Northeast Ohio Conference has learned anything the last three years, it’s that you don’t want to go head to head with the Elyria Pioneers.
Elyria and Strongsville met Thursday night for the Valley Division dual meet crown. Both teams were undefeated in the league’s top division and the winner would earn six points — half of what’s needed to guarantee the outright title — heading into the conference tournament.
The Pioneers have not lost an NOC dual meet since 2010, and completed their third straight unbeaten conference season with a 42-30 win over the Mustangs.
“It’s a conference match, and conference matches are fun,” Pioneers coach Erik Burnett said. “Strongsville is building and they’re going to be very good, very soon. We knew we were going to have our hands full with them.”
Elyria (10-4, 5-0 NOC) did have trouble handing the Mustangs their first dual-meet defeat of the season. The back-and-forth meet came down to the heavyweight match. The Pioneers led 36-30 and a Strongsville pin would have tied the score and led to criteria for the tiebreaker.
But T.J. Halstead allowed the officials to leave the rulebooks in their back pockets by pinning Alex Uhas in 30 seconds.
“T.J.’s been doing a nice job this year,” Burnett said. “We’ve been trying to get a little more consistency out of him. I’m looking forward to the end of the year, because I think he might do some good things.”
Halstead made the win look easy — “I snapped him down, threw on a cow-catcher to take him to his back and then just pinned him,” he said — but is not a fan of being put in a clutch situation.
“I always hate ending the meet with the last match at heavyweight,” he said. “I like to start in the middle weights so there’s not as much pressure on me. But I knew what I had to do, so I went out there and did it. It felt pretty good at the end … just to know that I sealed the deal for the team.”
The Pioneers threw a cherry on top with a 44-27 non-conference win over Walsh Jesuit, a team that finished fourth in the Division II state tournament last year. Elyria was helped by four Warriors forfeits.
“Walsh has some injuries and sicknesses, they’re missing so many guys,” Burnett said. “The guys they’ve got are good, so when they get their lineup back together … you’ll see them at the end of the year and they’ll have guys on the podium down in Columbus.”
The match of the night was Elyria’s Brandon Egnor — a 2012 Division I state qualifier — versus Walsh Jesuit’s Nolan Whitely, ranked No. 7 in the state by Josh Lowe of Intermat.com, at 132 pounds. The pair battled through a tight match that Whitely won 3-2.
“It was a good match, but he got the best of me,” Egnor said. “I felt like I was a little slow, didn’t have good stamina. It shows me that I need to work on my short offense, especially because I’m down in that position a lot.”
Burnett said, despite the loss on his record, Egnor can learn from a match like that.
“We had him in key positions tonight that we didn’t score on,” Burnett said. “We have to work on those positions and we have to be able to score there … bottom line.”
The Pioneers’ top points earner of the night was junior 113-pounder Armando Torres, who picked up 12 points with a pair of pins. He stuck Strongsville’s Sam D’Amico at 3:34, then pinned Walsh Jesuit’s Justin Kahwaii in 57 seconds.
“I’m always hoping to win, that’s what I go out to the mat for,” Torres said. “Duals like this are mostly for the team, not for myself, so I got what I needed for the team.”
While every match win against the Mustangs was crucial, the one that stuck out was Darrion Overall’s second-period pin of Strongsville’s Jake Demio at 126 pounds.
Demio earned a first-period takedown and looked to increase his lead to 3-0 with a quick escape in the second period, but Overall scrambled his way around Demio’s shoulders and stuck the Strongsville wrestler on his back.
“That was the big one right there, at 126,” Strongsville coach Al Pucillo said. “Jake was up 2-0 and I expected a win for us in that match, maybe even a pin.”
It was a tough pill to swallow for Pucillo, who has been taking beatings from the Pioneers since the NOC was formed six years ago.
“We’re closing the gap on them,” Pucillo said. “We’ve been ruined by them the last two years, so to see the kids keep it close tonight was encouraging. We have a lot of young kids out there, too.”
Both teams had beaten Valley Division foes Mayfield, Mentor, Solon and Twinsburg earlier in the season — the Pioneers downing all but Mayfield at last weekend’s Mentor Duals — and Strongsville and Solon are Burnett’s picks to be the Pioneers’ biggest obstacles at the NOC tournament.
“The tournament is a different animal,” he said. “Whoever gets prepared best for those two days can win it.”
The Elyria wrestlers don’t seem too worried.
“Now we’re in the driver’s seat,” Torres said. “The talent we’ve got, especially in tournaments, I think we can take this conference and go back to back to back.”
Elyria 42, Strongsville 30
106 — Garrett Lambert (S) tech. fall Nico O’Dor, 15-0. 113 — Armando Torres (E) pinned Sam D’Amico, 3:34. 120 — Ben Darmstadt (E) dec. George Archer, 8-5. 126 — Darrion Overall (E) pinned Jake Demio, 3:42. 132 — Brandon Egnor (E) maj. dec. Dave Erdelac, 14-1. 138 — Ricky Perez (S) pinned Jesse Orantek, 3:09. 145 — Chad Shaffer (E) pinned Frank Tusick, :49. 152 — Danny Crumleigh (S) maj. dec. Kevin Villa, 11-1. 160 — Dan Andrews (S) dec. Walker Snowden, 13-12. 170 — Taylor Workman (E) tech. fall Nick DiSalvo, 16-1. 182 — Jacob Puntel (S) pinned Dylan Reis, 2:46. 195 — Connor Kamczyc (E) pinned Justin Kwiecien, :26. 220 — Justin Garden (S) pinned Daniel Brenner, :32. 285 — T.J. Halstead (E) pinned Alex Uhas, :30.
Elyria 44, Walsh Jesuit 27
106 — Alex Mackell (WJ) maj. dec. O’Dor, 18-7. 113 — Torres pinned Justin Kahwaii, :57. 120 — Darmstadt dec. Stefan Plevris, 9-4. 126 — Michael Kastandous (WJ) tech. fall Overall, 15-0. 132 — Nolan Whitely (WJ) dec. Egnor, 3-2. 138 — Orantek pinned John McCarty, 1:05. 145 — Shaffer tech. fall James Kelly, 16-0. 152 — Brad Ward (WJ) pinned Villa, :51. 160 — Snowden won by forfeit. 170 — Nick Rumple (WJ) dec. Workman, 2-1. 182 — Reis won by forfeit. 195 — Kamczyc won by forfeit. 220 — Spencer Theiss pinned Brenner, 1:50. 285 — Halstead won by forfeit.