Milford wrestlers take down second straight team state title

Milford's wrestling team won its second consecutive Division II state wrestling championship.  (Milford Chronicle/Jeff Mitchell)

Milford’s wrestling team won its second consecutive Division II state wrestling championship. (Milford Chronicle/Jeff Mitchell)

SMYRNA — Early momentum was against Milford. And it was senior Matt Groce’s job to get it back.

Moments after Groce saw classmate Ben Mitzel get pinned by Sanford’s Erik Lundberg in what was a tight 170-pound match, that’s what he set out to do.

Little more than a minute into the opening period, Groce (182) pinned Sanford’s Spencer Green to tie the team score 9-9 three matches into Tuesday night’s Division II dual meet state championship.

The win was the first of four straight for the top-seeded Buccaneers (13-1), who went onto defeat the No. 2 Warriors 36-24 to claim their second consecutive Division II state title.

“I looked up at coach (Dan) Rigby and he said we needed six to try and swing momentum back,” Groce said. “So I swung the half and tried to keep him down.

“It’s amazing to come out my junior year and win a state championship. And it was amazing to finish my high school career with another team state championship.”

In a meet that felt closer than the final score indicates, it was junior Adam Funkhouser that all but sealed the Milford repeat.

Wrestling in a back and forth 132-pound match with Sanford’s Logan Carpenter, Funkhouser got a late escape and takedown and then held off the Warrior for an 11-9 decision. The win made the team score 30-18 with Henlopen Conference 138-pound champion Bart Dalious still left the wrestle one of the two remaining matches for Milford.

“I was telling myself that if we win this match we probably win a state championship, so there was a little extra drive at the end to pull through,” Funkhouser said. “It feels great going back-to-back.”

Wins like those by Groce, Funkhouser and Bryan Wynes, Rigby said, are what it takes to win team championships.

“We focused all year on not having pressure situations, and teammates pick each other up,” Rigby said. “I told Funkhouser, ‘hey, you just have to go out there, not get pinned and try to go for the win.’ I’m proud of all those guys.”

Milford took the lead for good when Sanford forfeited to Kenny VanVorst at 195 and Wynes (220) followed with a win by decision that put the Bucs up 18-9.

Another forfeit at 285 put the Warriors (9-3) in a 15-point hole. But after the teams traded decisions at 106 and 113 – CJ Frederick won by decision for Sanford over Robbie Rosser in a match that went to the wire and Milford freshman Cam Hayes got the points back for the Bucs – a few upsets kept the score close.

Eighth-grader Niko Chilson (120) avenged an earlier season loss to Milford senior Jarek Lugo with a 3-1 decision thanks to an overtime takedown, and Warriors freshman Adam Brooks (126) followed with an extra period win versus Alex Creasey that cut Sanford’s deficit to nine.

Funkhouser’s near clincher came next, however, and following a Milford forfeit at 138, Dalious (145) finished the night with a 3:40 pin of Timmy Griffith.

Semifinals

Earlier in the evening, the Bucs defeated Henlopen South rival Lake Forest 40-15 in the semifinals.

Starting at 145, the Spartans (8-7) jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the meet when senior Eric Gibson stuck Don Scott in 3:38 and Grant Ford followed with a decision win versus Milford’s Phillip Ruiz.

The Bucs, though, won nine of the remaining 11 matches – the teams double forfeited at 120 – to advance to the championship meet.

Wrestling at 126, Milford senior Jarek Lugo’s technical fall victory was his 100th career win.

Sanford bested No. 3 Delaware Military Academy in the other semifinal.

Quarterfinals

Losing to Caravel in the regular season, No. 5 Lake avenged the defeat with a 39-36 win over the fourth-seeded Buccaneers (9-4).

Pins by Dean Fleming at 138 and Gibson (145) gave the Spartans an early 12-0 lead and momentum enough to carry them to the point where they could forfeit the final three matches of the quarterfinal and still win.

“Wins, you always like them,” Lake coach Mike Hansen said. “Our kids really wrestled hard in that match.

“I knew that with our starting lineup in we could pull through against Caravel,” he continued. “But Milford’s loaded. We came into it and we didn’t get some of the matches and extra points you need against those types of teams.”

The wrestling season will conclude with the state individual championships this weekend at Cape Henlopen High. And although the Buccaneers will not doubt take the time to enjoy their team title, Groce said there is still work left to do.

“We’ll get some hard work in tomorrow, relax some Thursday and then get ready for the tournament,” he said.

From the Milford Chronicle Sports Desk

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