UPPER DARBY — Upper Darby wrestling coach Bob Martin walked his team to the back of the high school's gym prior to the season. He pointed at the banner filled to its edges with the Royals' 12 Central League titles.
"Come in and visualize: 2015 Champs,' Martin recalled telling his group. "If you don't visualize it, you won't realize it.'
Upper Darby (16-4, 9-0 Central League) moved one step closer to league championship number 13 Wednesday night with a 43-21 victory over Garnet Valley (8-5, 7-2). The match turned in the Royals' favor as the Jaguars faced Death Row, the self-coined nickname of the home team's heavyweights. Madhat Fares pinned Ryan Rushton at 195 pounds. Joshua Yeboah-Gyasi followed with a pin. Peter Augustin made it three in a row with a double-spear takedown of Brian Smith. And just like that, a match that Garnet Valley led, 18-9, was suddenly 27-18 for the hosts. The turnaround took all of 1:53.
"We knew that if we could get to the heavier weights we knew we controlled it,' said Yeboah-Gyasi, whose entrance to the mat produced raucous cheers that only grew louder with the 16-second match. "Death Row took care of business.'
Garnet Valley did all it could to build an insurmountable advantage. The Jaguars came out aggressive with matchups that coach Rocco Fantazi liked.
"Right now we're still champions,' Fantazi told his wrestlers before they hit the mat. "We gotta fight for it. We're not just going to give it to them.'
Through the 170-pound weight class, the Jaguars delivered on the promise of a fight. They took five of the first seven matches, including a disqualification at 182 that gave the visitors six points. Upper Darby's Brian Kennerly lost control of Mark Peters as he threw the junior to the mat and Peters landed awkwardly on his head and neck. He was unable to continue. It was as hurtful as it was hopeful for the Jaguars, but only briefly. Peters appeared to be okay after the match. Garnet Valley was not.
Excusing the disqualification, all five of the Jaguars' wins on the night — Matt Marino earned a 6-2 victory over Sam DePhilipo to close the contest at 126 — came via decision. The lack of bonus points cost them.
"I'll give (Upper Darby) tons of credit,' Fantazi said. "They deserved it tonight.'
A large crowd, there in celebration of not only Royals wrestling but also First Responders Appreciation Night, remained subdued through Garnet Valley's early dominance. While nerves settled in for the denizens, Upper Darby's sideline was quietly confident.
"I wasn't really worried,' said Augustin. "We were all ready. I know my team's tough.'
When Coltrane Mosley-Jones pinned Ryan Mortimer at 170, the junior walked to the stands and called for more cheers. The fans obliged.
"Coltrane getting that pin was big,' said Augustin. "When the big crowd got going, I wasn't worried at all.'
That sense of calm reflected a desire to make a statement at home. A season ago, the Jaguars crushed Upper Darby to take the Central League title. The Royals returned the favor Wednesday.
"We like to rise to challenges,' said Yeboah-Gyasi. "They beat us pretty bad last year. We wanted revenge.'
The Ghanaian-American earned vengeance, but the league is still up for grabs. Upper Darby wrestles Conestoga in a quasi-championship match on Friday, before finishing against Penncrest Saturday.
Martin believes his team is only getting better.
"We're still peaking,' the veteran coach said. "Tonight, we're coming back and scoring the big points. It keeps our momentum.'
Two wins on the weekend would clinch the Central League for the Royals. Then next year Martin will have a new banner to look at.
Elsewhere in the Central League:
Conestoga 41, Penncrest 24: The Lions fared well on the road, but couldn't quite overcome the Pioneers. Joe Pyfer (195) pinned Scott Jean in 1:40 to give the visitors hopes of an upset victory. But Conestoga, undefeated in the Central League, failed to relinquish its advantage. Penncrest (7-7, 5-4) closes league wrestling with weekend matches against Marple Newtown and Upper Darby.
Haverford 52, Springfield 13: The Fords won nine straight matches at one point as part of a blowout league victory over the Cougars. Ibrahim Ammar (195) started the streak with 10-2 decision over Alex Costa. Ben Simonson (138) capped it with a pin of Zachary Venit. Haverford's league record is now an impressive 8-2, while the Fords boast a 16-4 overall mark. Springfield falls to 10-17, 3-6 in the league.
Strath Haven 60, Harriton 20: One of the Central's best stories continued. Strath Haven (17-10, 6-4) easily bested Harriton for its third league win in four matches. The Panthers benefited from eight forfeits, but also got pins from Brett Burns (138) and Devon Moore (132).
Ridley 66, Lower Merion 10: Six Lower Merion forfeits spotted the Green Raiders a 36-0 lead that the Aces never threatened. David Huth (113) and Matt Cowan (120) made it 48-0 with back-to-back falls. Ridley improves to 10-10 and 5-5 in the league.
In the Del-Val League:
Chichester 64, Glen Mills 13: A dominant victory clinched a dominant league campaign for the Eagles. Chichester earned its first outright Del Val title since 1998. The Eagles opened a big league with three wins and two forfeits to start the match. The Battlin' Bulls' Daniel Lopez countered with a major decision of Eddie Sykes, but Chichester wouldn't be denied. The Eagles are 18-4 and finish a perfect 4-0 in the Del-Val. Glen Mills falls to 5-18, 0-4 in league wrestling.
Academy Park 42, Interboro 27: The Knights claimed second place in the Del Val with the victory. Zuri Thompson (182) earned a 14-7 decision over Tahj Sanders and Dylan Wallace (195) pinned Joe Koke to close the match. Eric Thomas continued to impress for the Bucs even in a loss. He pinned Mohamad Kaba in 32 seconds to take his season record to 26-2. Academy Park closes league wrestling with a 3-1 mark, 14-12 overall.