By Frank Dimon
For The Daily Item
When Mifflinburg and Warrior Run kicked off the dual meet season Wednesday night, the matchup of two of the top programs in District 4 presented some well-defined contrasts.
It pitted a Wildcats lineup, studded with three state medal-winners and a strong supporting cast, against the Defenders superbly balanced side flavored with just a hint of young stars on the rise.
Mifflinburg’s middle-of-the-field finish in Williamsport’s Top Hat tournament last weekend versus Warrior Run’s Darren Klingerman Invitational championship effort in Bloomsburg.
And maybe most significantly, Wildcats’ rookie head coach Al Fluman coaching his first dual meet and matching wits with Wayne Smythe, a head coach for 42 years who will collect career victory No. 500 later this season.
Warrior Run’s balance trumped bonus-point wins by Mifflinburg’s trio of stars, and Smythe inched closer to that landmark win when sophomore Eric Hunt pulled out a dramatic 4-3 decision at 113 pounds as the Defenders opened with a solid 40-28 win over the Wildcats.
The Defenders picked up five falls in the Heartland crossover meeting but Hunt’s key decision over Noah Kuba — and Austin Fiedler and Tyler Hornberger minimizing bonus points in Mifflinburg wins at 285 and 120 — was pivotal.
“(Hunt’s victory) was huge and each of our guys made huge contributions,” Smythe said after recording victory No. 492. “Saving bonus point early in the match was critical.”
After Hunter Stroup began the dual with a first-period fall at 220 pounds, Fiedler never challenged returning state champion Nazar Mironenko at 285. But he never went to his back and Mironenko, who had a pair of falls on his way to his second Top Hat championship last weekend, used a four-takedown effort for a 9-1 major decision.
Zackery LeBarron staked Warrior Run to a 12-4 when he got a fall in the second period at 103. Hunt and Kuba followed with the best bout of the night.
Hunt, who edged Kuba 3-2 in a dual meet last year, fought out of a tight first-period cradle, and, trailing 2-0 entering the second period, dominated on top in the second period. He escaped with 53 seconds left in the third period and quickly converted a takedown for the win.
“It was the same exact result as last year, a big win for me,” Hunt said. “It was just a matter of digging deep down in the third period to pull it out. I just wanted to get back on the winning track after losing at Bloomsburg last weekend.”
An undersized 106-pounder last season, Hunt has grown into a legitimate threat at 113 this year.
“Some of the size was natural growth and some was work in the weight room,” Hunt said. “I practiced four times a week in the off-season and was prepared for this season. I worked hard to be ready for matches like this.”
Smythe said Hunt was, indeed, ready.
“I’m not saying (Kuba) wasn’t ready but Eric was ready,” Smythe said. “They are very evenly matched and Eric just stayed with it. He didn’t lose confidence; he’s that type of kid.”
Hunt’s win gave the Defenders a 12-4 lead, and while Tyler Hornberger lost an 8-3 decision to the Wildcats’ Cooper Wagner at 120, he turned Wagner in the final minute to save a bonus point. Brian LeBarron gave Warrior Run a 21-7 lead with a fall at 126.
The Wildcats fought back with consecutive falls from Cole Walter (132) and Colton Showers (138) to slice the margin to 21-19, but Warrior Run’s Doug McCarty stopped the run when he majored Clark Wagner, 10-0 at 145. Mifflinburg cut the margin to three when Eric Dock picked up a takedown in the final 10 seconds of a 4-3 decision over William George at 152.
But the Wildcats’ only win in the final four bouts came when senior Ty Walter, up a weight at 182, pinned Daniel Breech in 3:45 for the 100th win of his career.
“(Warrior Run) is very solid all the way up through (their lineup),” Fluman said. “We were hoping to have a little bit more room to make some moves but we couldn’t due to a couple of circumstances. They are a tough team and, clearly, we don’t match up with them the way that we need to. We thought it was going to be closer than (the final score) but basically it came down to bonus points here and there. (But) I was pleased with different kids (Wednesday) than last weekend (at the Top Hat).”
“It is a big win, but it is the beginning of the season,” Smythe said. “We’ve started the season well and we had a good weekend (at the DKI). But the goal is always the same: to get better the next time out.”