NEW BETHLEHEM — Finding itself in a 21-6 hole six bouts into their early-January showdown at Redbank Valley, the Brookville Raiders wrestling team survived a gut check and held off the Bulldogs for a 33-28 win Thursday night.
The Raiders were down 28-21 with two bouts remaining, but senior 220-pounder Tanner LaBenne and state-ranked heavyweight Colby Whitehill came up with huge pins as the Raiders improved to 8-2.
Raiders head coach Dave Klepfer knew his team would have its hand full against the Bulldogs, the last District 9 team to beat them on the mat way back in the 2013 Class 2A Dual Meet final in DuBois.
The streak stands at 57 straight against D9 squads with a forfeit loss due to an ineligible wrestler in a match against Brockway at the 2015 Ultimate Duals.
And the challenges will continue, probably next Thursday at home against Brockway when the Raiders celebrate the 20th anniversary of their 1999 PIAA Dual Meet Championship team.
“It was a night of a lot of good bouts and a lot of excitement,” Klepfer said. “Kudos to Redbank. They have a really nice team. I’ve been telling people. Everybody’s talking about Brockway and Port Allegany and I said Redbank Valley is the sneaky one. But, I’m not sure it’s sneaky because they have everyone back from last year pretty much and they plugged in a few wrestlers and they’re getting better. They wrestle into March and April, and some into the summer, so I’m really happy with the win.
“At the end of the day, It’s really going to be a preview of what we could see at some point again.”
Both teams won seven bouts, the Bulldogs taking five of the first six after Owen Reinsel’s first-period pin of Ridge Cook gave the Raiders a quick six to start the night at 106 pounds. Then it was the Bulldogs who raced out to their big lead as Trenten Rupp broke a 2-2 tie with two back points with under 45 seconds left in the bout for a 4-2 win over Cayden Walter at 113.
Mason Songer decked Josh Popson in the second period at 120, Brayden Altobelli blanked Parker Fleming 6-0 and Ethan Wiant picked up a big 5-4 win over Cabe Park at 132. The Bulldogs then got a forfeit win at 138 from Hunter Martz and the lead ballooned to 21-6.
In a must-win for the Raiders at that point, Wyatt Kulik edged Christopher Shaffer 7-6 at 145. Kulik had three reversals to Shaffer’s two and Shaffer was called for a one-point kicking penalty in the third period and that wound up the difference.
Jacob Cable blanked Caleb Snyder 3-0 at 152 and Wyatt Griffin decisioned Patrick Crawford 7-1 at 160 before Elliot Park tied the match up with his second-period pin of Coltin Bartley at 170.
That set up quite a flurry of a finish with Hudson Martz putting the Bulldogs back up again at 182 with his 10-6 win over Braden MacBeth, taking advantage of a five-point move and near pin of MacBeth late in the first period.
Aiden Gardner majored Nathan Taylor 10-1 at 195 to put the Bulldogs up 28-21. Then it was LaBenne’s turn for heroics as he took Kobe Bonanno down and pinned him 33 seconds into the second period.
“I felt good about him winning. He’s very underrated … and he’s a smart wrestler. He’s a type of kid where we preach that the other guy makes mistakes and we need to capitalize on it,” Klepfer said. “He wrestles a slower pace, but he’s waiting for a mistake and he found one tonight. It was a big one. I was looking to get a win, not a pin there.”
And with No. 3-ranked Colby Whitehill waiting in the wings at heavyweight, the match was pretty much sealed. He bulldozed Kolby Barrett and pinned him in nine seconds to set the final.
“We knew Kulik had to win against a pretty darned good kid,” Klepfer said. “We really put it together as a team tonight when our backs were to the wall. We were shorthanded a guy (starting middleweight Cody Hetrick didn’t make weight) and it speaks volumes about our group. They’re still trying to find their way, half of them anyway and this was their first real test. We’ve had some good matches early in the year, but we didn’t have our backs against the wall like tonight. To be down 21-6. There was no panic … I told the kids, don’t panic, our guys are coming we’re we are going to get bonus points and chip away.”
The Bulldogs dropped to 7-1 with the loss, knowing they might have missed out on a good chance to knock off the Raiders.
“Hudson came through with a big win, but then we lost a couple we didn’t think we’d lose,” Bulldogs head coach Mike Kundick said. “But like I said, in the grand scheme of everything, the match means nothing. It’s just the idea we kind of let it slip away from us. We’ll just keep working. The ones that count are in February.
“I hated to lose it. We hated to lose it as a team, but I told them we have to understand this is all practice for February. None of this matters except getting to the state tournament. The duals are practice for that.”
The Bulldogs head to the Coudersport Duals Saturday. The Raiders visit Curwensville Tuesday.