The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 17, 2014

High school wrestling: Baker posts pivotal win for Shikellamy


Daily Item

---- — By Harold Raker

The Daily Item

SUNBURY -- A young fan approached Shikellamy's AJ Baker Thursday night and asked, "Did you win?''

Baker calmly answered "yes" and seemed almost embarrassed when the young boy extended his hand.

Yes, son, Baker did win. But this was not your garden variety win. The Braves sophomore 170-pounder had his hand raised in victory only once before this season and had lost 13 times.

The story behind his second win is one for the family scrapbook.

Baker's team trailed Mifflinburg 9-0 after two bouts and Baker trailed Mifflinburg senior Ryan Gessner 12-1. Twice he came within a couple of hairs of getting pinned, and putting the Wildcats up 15-0 in the key Heartland Athletic Conference Division I match.

Baker valiantly fought to stay alive then stunned the crowd at the Phil Lockcuff Gymnasium with one of wrestling's oldest moves.

Baker reversed Gessner into a headlock and got the pin in 3 minutes, 32 seconds.

Both coaches, Mifflinburg's Dave Murray and Shikellamy's John Supsic, said that dramatic turnaround was a key to the Braves' 39-31 victory.

"A swing like that definitely impacted the team," Murray said. He added that Gessner realizes it is an area he has to work on, and he needs to have a short memory.

Supsic said, "That was huge, he was wrestling a tough kid and AJ's been struggling all season. He didn't quit though. I give him credit. It was the turning point of the match. It made the difference.

"He kept fighting and that's what we teach," he said after his team improved to 6-6 overall, 4-0 HAC-I.

Indeed, the Braves' ability to fight their way out of pinning combinations on several occasions -- and pins by Shikellamy's Kayleb Shirk (182), Dwayne Pepper (220) and Jake Matthews (120) -- put the outcome into the hands of the Brave who is having the best season of anyone on the team.

With his team-leading 36-31, senior Tristan Paul did not disappoint in the final bout. He did what he had to do, posting a 7-0 decision over Brendan Hicks at 145, to improve to 16-3 on the season.

Paul said it was important for him to treat the bout like any other, knowing it would determine the outcome. He said. "I prepare like I do any other time, just go out do whatever you have done in the past."

He said he didn't think about making a mistake and giving his opponent a chance to do what his teammate had done earlier.

"You can't think about it when you're out there. You just have to do what you can do," he said.

Just like his teammate, Baker.

"That was awesome. He just kept fighting and that's what you have to do to come out on top," Paul said.

The win was the 599th in Shikellamy program history. The chance for No. 600 comes Thursday at home versus Shamokin.

"We got pins and the guys wrestled real tough," Supsic added. "Everybody did their job; I was really proud of these guys. We've had some hard luck lately. (Thursday) things went our way."

Despite his shocking win, the quiet Baker was happy but seemingly unimpressed with his accomplishment.

He said he wasn't sure how he got off his back, but "I knew I was down and I really wanted to win. I just had it in my mind that I am in better condition than this kid.

"I really wanted to do better, but I thought I was going to lose, so I tried something that I thought would work," Baker said.

"He just had a really bad hip (position) from my left side and I just yanked him over and grabbed him in the headlock," he added. "I got him on his back and I was like 'Oh! Am I going to get him?' I just had to try harder, keep squeezing."

He was happy when he got the fall, but not so much for himself. "I just felt like I didn't let the team down."

Murray chalked up the night to a learning experience for his Wildcats (6-6, 2-2). Murray said, "(The Braves) came to wrestle, they went after it, and we got a lot of things exposed that we need to work on.

"That was the difference," he said." They wanted it and they went out and got it."