UPPER CHICHESTER — Jim Beletti had planned this celebration for quite some time.
First, the Chichester wrestling coach wanted to salute the youth program that had laid the foundation for the success of this year’s high school varsity squad. Second, Beletti would ask the packed gym to pay honor to a senior contingent consisting of five wrestlers and two managers. Finally, the Eagles would wrap up the most successful of his 14 years at the helm by capturing the Del Val League championship with a victory over Interboro.
Interboro coach Dan Tobin had other plans, hoping his Bucs would play the role of party-crashers.
Boy, did they.
The defending champion Bucs stormed out of the gate to a shocking lead that ballooned to 26-0 on Cody Mathis’ second-period pin at 152 pounds, taking much of the starch out of the once boisterous standing-room-only crowd and sending Interboro on to a surprising 50-22 rout.
When Eric Owens posted the sixth of Interboro’s seven pins by flattening Isaiah Bobo in 1 minute, 43 seconds at 220 pounds, the victory was clinched and the celebration among the large Bucs fan base on hand swept over the now sullen gym.
“I didn’t expect that,’ Owens said wide-eyed after posing for multiple pictures with his teammates. “After the two (early) pins I was like, ‘˜We’re on a good run.’ But after that it was pin after pin and I thought, ‘˜My God, what’s going on?’
“We worked hard all week, the coaches pushed us hard in the room and it showed out here on the mat,’ the senior continued. “All the kids busted their butts for this Del Val championship. This was a pride thing.’
That pride was evident from the outset, when Mike Wasch opened the match with a technical fall at 126 pounds and was followed immediately by falls from fellow sophomore Eric Thomas (132) and senior Joey Gonzales (138).
Another soph, Jeff Finley, added a decision at 145 to push the advantage to 20-0, causing more than a few quizzical looks at the scoreboard. Then Mathis took down Joe Trefz, and the Chichester faithful began to wonder if their team would even score.
Junior Dan Sullivan momentarily halted the romp, posting the Eagles’ first points with a major decision at 160. But back-to-back pins by seniors Steven Phillips (170) and Keith Thomas (182) — the latter of the two having begun the night with an 8-18 record — proved that things were going the Bucs’ way.
“I think we had the right matchups and beginning at 126 was a good starting point for us,’ Tobin said. “It was satisfying because at one point I looked up at the scoreboard and thought, ‘˜They can’t catch us now.”
To classify the match as much-anticipated would be a gross understatement.
Both coaches eyed each other in the preseason as the lone obstacle to the league title. When Tobin chose to withdraw his squad rather than face Chichester for third place at the Delco Duals in December, the top Buc explained that he wanted to preserve the all-or-nothing showdown for the season finale. Beletti’s response was somewhat diplomatic, although he couldn’t help but add, “I told my kids that Chichester will never (withdraw) against any team.’
The wait appeared to be finally over last week, by which time Tobin was crowing, “I’m pumped to get (to Chichester), I can’t wait for the match. We’ve wrestled very tough competition. I’m not afraid of Chichester, they are what they are. They’ve wrestled (teams like) Olney while we’ve wrestled Boyertown and Council Rock North. This is about a rivalry, it’s all about championships. That’s what I’ve coached for the past 16 years.’
Beletti, on the other hand, sounded like he’d wished they had met on the mat back in December rather than deal with a recent rash of injuries and illnesses. Then another winter storm hit the area, knocked out the power at Chichester and the match was postponed another six days.
The delay did nothing to improve the Eagles’ health, which took a turn for the worse when 182-pounder Brian Baldwin joined another starter on the sideline with a skin condition Monday.
“We missed some guys and knew we couldn’t win some (of the weights), but it shouldn’t have been that bad,’ Beletti said. “On paper it looked a lot closer. If you can’t win, you try to limit the points, but you can’t give up that many pins early and expect to come back later on. We had a great crowd, I just wish we could’ve put on a better show.’
As the once-packed gym began to clear out, Tobin smiled and shook hands while soaking up the last bit of electricity.
“What a great atmosphere for a high school match, huh?’ Tobin asked. “We heard a lot about (Chichester) talking that they were going to win the title. But I told our kids we’re the defending champs and they’ve got to come get it from us. We didn’t do a lot of talking, we just came in and did what we had to do.’
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