By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
For about a minute Saturday afternoon in the Shikellamy Fieldhouse, it looked like the Shikellamy wrestling team just might be able to feed off the emotion of the day.
It was Senior Day and the team was also mourning the loss one day earlier of former longtime coach Phil Lockcuff.
When the Big Seven League meet with Bald Eagle Area opened at 195 pounds and Braves junior Dwayne Pepper took the Eagles’ senior state medalist, Aaron Varner, to his back, it could have been the start of something that would make the late beloved coach proud.
But Varner, a Class AAA bronze medalist last season, not only broke the hold (trailing 5-0), then returned the favor with a five-point move of his own to close out the opening period at 5-5.
After Pepper deferred in the second period, Varner chose bottom, escaped and took Pepper to his back again, this time for a fall in 2 minutes, 53 seconds.
The dramatic turnaround by Varner seemed to spark the visiting Eagles, who took that momentum and built a 31-0 advantage en route to a 43-24 victory.
Shikellamy coach John Supsic said the Pepper-Varner bout felt like deja vu from last season at the Manheim Christmas Tournament, when Pepper did the same thing, but then got pinned in the second period.
He said a pin there by Pepper not only could have given his team the spark it needed, but would have given Pepper the confidence he sometimes lacks.
“Pepper went out like a ball of fire, the kid’s a state place-winner, and came that close to pinning him and that would have been huge for Dwayne,” Supsic said.
Bald Eagle Area coach Steve Millward agreed a pin by Pepper could have affected the way things went. “Fortunately Aaron had enough fortitude and energy to fight off his back or who knows what might have happened later in the meet,” he said.
After Varner’s fall, the Eagles (8-2 overall, 2-2 Big Seven) followed with three more pins, a decision and a major over the next five bouts. Shikellamy’s Tyler Hepler stopped the bleeding when he used a half-nelson to pin Jacob Noll in 1:33 at 126.
Hepler’s fall started a mini-rally for the Braves (8-8, 1-3) who got a 7-4 decision by Tristan Paul at 132 and pins by Anthony Best (145) and Joe Snyder (160) to go with John Rohrbach’s 10-4 win at 170. The Braves had scored 24 points over six bouts.
When Best, a junior, cradled Dennis Shaw in 1:38, it was his first pin of the season.
Supsic said that had Pepper won and freshman Nick Gittens (106) not lost 4-3 to Coby Bainey, the meet may have been more competitive. “if they wrestle 10 times, Nick wins nine out of 10 times,” Supsic said of the Gittens bout.
“It was a down day for us. We didn’t say anything to the kids. They all knew coach, he would come in the locker room and talk to them,” Supsic said. “Even if we had won, it would have been bittersweet.”
It was the final home meet of the season for the Braves, who close the regular season with a pair of road meets and take on Jersey Shore at 6 p.m. next Saturday in Milton for the District 4 Class AAA Duals championship and a berth in the state tournament.
Millward and his team came out during the pre-meet activities honoring Lockcuff. “The coaches here always seem to have their kids ready when we come to town and it was a regular Shik-Bald Eagle match, but missing one major element. We wanted to show our respects and come out and honor the former coach for what he meant to not only the Shik program but the communication between both of our schools. We were honored to be a part of the program today,” Millward said.
Supsic said, “We’ve had a rivalry with Bald Eagle Area for 20-plus years and that was a lot of respect they showed, and a lot of class.”