By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
With a world champion and numerous state medalists in the house, Lewisburg got big performances from two lesser-known wrestlers Thursday night to nail down an exciting win over Benton in a Heartland Athletic Conference Division II meet.
Even though Lewisburg coach Jim Snyder’s worst fear came true — he lost the pre-match flip, giving his rival, Benton coach Russ Hughes his choice of match-ups — the Green Dragons overcame four pins by the Tigers and Lewisburg sophomore Nick Bernstein clinched a 42-33 victory in dramatic fashion in the Donald Eichhorn Middle School.
Bernstein became the closer to set-up man Max Reed on this night as the Tigers (11-4 overall, 4-2 HAC-II) whittled away at a 33-12 deficit to pull to within 33-27 after 152 pounds.
Reed, a sophomore, defeated once-beaten senior Brandon Lontz 12-6 to give the Green Dragons (17-4, 4-2) a 35-27 advantage. After Benton veteran Jeric Kasunic got a pin at 170, the outcome was placed into the hands of Bernstein and his opponent, Brad Miccio.
The pair battled through the first period with Bernstein getting a takedown, Miccio a reversal, and Bernstein an escape. Miccio took a 4-3 lead and was headed to his back when the Lewisburg wrestler hit the right button.
When it seemed like Miccio might end it with a meet-clinching fall, Bernstein hit Miccio with an elevator and quickly clamped him down with a grapevine. The fall came in 3 minutes, 13 seconds, and brought the Lewisburg team and their fans to their feet.
Bernstein said it the first time he has ever gone out with the meet on the line. “It feels good.”
“I knew a lot was riding on me; the guys were counting on me,” Bernstein said.
He said he has seen a lot of guys get the first takedown and come back and win by a pin, so that experience helped him. “I knew I just had to throw everything I could at him.”
But a leg elevator?
“We got on our feet and he had my legs and I thought right away ‘elevator, elevator’ and when I hit it, I was real disappointed with it, that it didn’t go the way I wanted it to — at first,” Bernstein said. “And then I felt him go over and then I knew, and I just went right with him,” he said.
As referee Rocky Miller signed the fall, Bernstein said, “It was the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt. That was one of the most proud moments. ... I can’t even describe it, everyone was standing up cheering, hooting and hollering,” he said.
Snyder said, “(Berstein) got himself where he wanted to be, and, when he hit that leg elevator, the whole bench was saying ‘no, no, no’ and I was saying ‘hit it,’ because I saw him hit in the (practice) room and I wanted him to hit it.”
Like Bernstein, Reed knew the outcome could come down to his bout. He grabbed 5-2 lead in the first with a takedown and three-point nearfall. Lontz got a reversal in the second, but Reed reversed him back and picked up two more back points before Lontz got another reversal to send it to the final period at 9-6. Lontz let Reed up and Reed scored the clinching takedown with 48 seconds left.
Reed said, “I knew that he was a good kid and I just went out there and tried to take care of business. I knew the goal was to win there.”
He lost a bit of concentration when he thought he had the takedown at the edge of the mat, but it wasn’t called, and Lontz then reversed him. “Once I reversed him, I knew I was on top of him and I would be winning the match.”
Reed added, “Nick took care of business very well there and I’m proud of him for that, too.”
Even with Benton missing 126-pounder Ron Flick (illness), Snyder thought that, if Benton won the toss, his team could lose by 25 points.
“I thought, It’s going to be hard, very hard, but we had people like Logan Aikey (152) who laid out. He didn’t win, but he was in real deep trouble early and he came back and gave himself an opportunity to win (he lost 7-6).”
Lewisburg fell behind only once, with Logan Womelsdorf getting a pin in the opener at 195. From there, Benton forfeited three bouts and got pinned at 220 (Brandon Smith in 3:32) and 106 (Brian Friery in 40 seconds).
The meat of the Benton lineup made it close. Former Line Mountain state champion, two-time state place-winner and recent world champion Zain Retherford (138), Matt Welliver (120) and Colt Cotten (145), along with Kasunic, pinned their opponents.