Cronin dazzles on his way regional title

OXFORD — Out in the far reaches of western Pennsylvania, there is a wrestler who carries a national reputation. His name is Spencer Lee and as a freshman at Franklin Regional High School in 2014, he compiled a record of 49-0 and won the PIAA Class AAA championship at 120 pounds. In Lee’s exceptional career, which will likely lead him to a Division I scholarship and beyond, only one person has pinned him: Upper Darby’s Colin Cronin.

“I honestly don’t know how I beat him,’ Cronin said with a laugh. He was in fourth grade when he earned the one-of-a-kind win. “It happened a long time ago.’

Cronin may not have the notoriety of Lee, but he’s pretty good in his own right. At the PIAA Class AAA Southeast Regional Tournament Saturday at Oxford Area High School, Cronin claimed the 132-pound title with an 11-2 major decision over Josh Stillings of Pennridge. The Drexel Hill native is Upper Darby’s first regional champ since 2001, when Andy Helms and Joel Edwards each won gold. Edwards added a state championship for good measure, Delco’s only state title since 1974.

“When he came into the program we knew he was good,’ Royals head coach Bob Martin said of Cronin. “He had won the Eastern Nationals a few times. He’s the real deal.’

In his run to Hershey, the sophomore beat his three regional opponents by a combined score of 36-9. The ease with which Cronin wrestled reflected his deceptively strong style. He’s long in limb yet explosive, lanky but stout enough to throw his foes around.

“The last three weeks, he’s just been on a mission,’ Martin said. “It’s just like a day at work for him.’

And an average one at that, if you ask the young man who boasts a sparkling 36-1 record.

“I feel like I wrestled OK,’ Cronin said. “I could have wrestled better.’

At least he impressed his coach.

“He had a pedigree,’ said Martin. “And he’s lived up to it.’

With Cronin and 220-pounder Joshua Yeboah-Gyasi, who finished second to Boyertown’s Jordan Wood for the second straight week, Upper Darby will send two wrestlers to Hershey after an eight-year absence at the state tournament. Yeboah-Gyasi appeared to suffer a concussion in his bout and was attended to by the medical team. His status for next week is unknown.

The unfortunate incident was the low point on an otherwise terrific day for the Royals and Delaware County as a whole. Eleven Delco wrestlers earned trips to Hershey. Garnet Valley and Sun Valley led the way with three each.

Prior to this year, the Vanguards had produced four state qualifiers total. Sean Donohue put an exclamation point on Sun Valley’s performance with a last gasp lunge in the fifth-place bout at 132.

“I thought to myself, I’m either going to states or they’re taking me off in a stretcher,’ Donohue said. He trailed West Chester Henderson’s Joey Wilson 2-1 with seconds remaining in the third period. But as the clock hit zeroes, Donohue took the Warrior down.

“Words can’t explain this,’ said Donohue. He leaped into coach Tom Ellis’ arms, a man who cooled him down after a heated loss in the consolation semifinal.

“He left the match frustrated,’ admitted Ellis. “I asked him before his final match, have you accomplished everything you want to? He said no. I told him now’s the time to do it.’

Alex Elliott took second at 160 and Steve Okoorian finished third at 170 to ensure all three 100-win Vanguard seniors tasted chocolate.

For the Jaguars, a familiar name worked his way through the regionals. Matt Marino is the youngest of three brothers to qualify for states.

“It’s a great feeling to follow my brothers,’ the sophomore said. “I want to finish the Marino legacy off right.’

Matt, who claimed third place at 120 after pinning Harry S. Truman’s Dylan Nuttall in 1:37, has his work cut out to match his family’s mark. A 2010 graduate, Joseph’s best finish was fourth. Mike finished sixth a year ago. But Matt battled the stalwarts of the Southeast region well. Last week, he beat region champion Derek Gulotta of Owen J. Roberts, 11-3, in the districts before losing to Spring-Ford’s Ryan Hayes in the final. Gulotta got revenge on Marino, 3-1, in the semis at Oxford, and then took care of Hayes for the gold. Marino, in other words, is not far behind.

“I feel like 120 is wide open,’ he said. He’ll be joined in Hershey by Nick Puliti, fourth at 126, and senior Pat Rowe, who won fifth place at 152.

Speaking of wrestling families, Radnor’s Tommy Meyers ended what had become known as “The Meyers Curse.’ He is the first of four brothers to reach the state tournament.

“It’s been a great experience,’ Meyers said. “It was a lot of hard work that payed off.’

The senior lost his perfect season in the 170-pound championship, when he fell to Pennridge’s Kyle Gentile, but he insisted that being undefeated was always secondary to states.

“Getting to Hershey was more important,’ Meyers said.

Penncrest’s Joe Pyfer was the lone Delco wrestler to emerge out of a stacked 182-pound class. He bested Radnor’s Zak Taylor and Ridley’s Lawrence Alkins on his way to a third-place finish. Pyfer landed a 16-4 major decision over Souderton’s Philip Stolfi to take bronze.

“It’s more overwhelming than anything,’ said Pyfer, who took up wrestling three years ago to supplement his mixed martial arts career. “I have to give credit to my coaches who have worked so hard to help me get here.’

Finally, Interboro junior Eric Thomas ensured that the Del Val League would be represented at the state meet. Thomas claimed a silver medal at 138.

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