DUBOIS — Avenging last season's upset loss to Ridgway and earning the District IX Class AA title were the only two things Brookville head coach Dave Klepfer and the Raiders wrestling squad had on their minds heading into Saturday's championship match.
The Raiders were strong, motivated and unstoppable, rolling over five-time district champ Ridgway for a 36-33 victory, the team championship title and a trip to the PIAA wrestling championship Thursday in Hershey.
"This one has been marked on the calendar by all athletes and coaches for 365 days now, so it feels pretty good to come away with a win against a really exceptional team, a well-coached team and a team that knows how to win, and they've been there before quite a bit," Klepfer said. "Anytime you can beat a team like that, it's a pretty good feeling."
Klepfer said he was especially happy for the seniors, who have now experienced the best and the worst of Brookville wrestling.
"We had the lowest season in Brookville history when these seniors were sophomores," Klepfer said. "They turned it around last year, finished 14-2, then came in this year with one goal in mind as a team, and that was to win this tournament. I'm real happy for the seniors that have been through thick and thing; they've seen it all."
Although the Raiders won by only three points, the score was much closer than the match, as Brookville was able to forfeit the final two matches due to being ahead by so many.
The Raiders sealed it up at 160, the 12th bout of the match. Heading into the bout, Brookville led 36-18, and Taylor Cudworth held Ridgway's Kyle Caggiano to 6-1 to give the Raiders the lead they needed to win it all.
Klepfer said he felt the match that truly made the difference was Jimmy Miller's 8-4 victory over Zac McKnight to bring the Raiders to 28-12.
"(Jimmy) is a really, really smart wrestler for a ninth-grader, especially," Klepfer said. "He just doesn't seem to get rattled too much."
Miller's match was followed by Brock and Brodie Zacherl at 138 and 145, respectively, and Klepfer said he knew what to expect from the Zacherl brothers, who each earned a victory, putting Brookville almost out of reach.
Sophomore Zach Vroman then took the mat, and he looked as if he would pull out a win with a takedown with eight seconds left, but Ridgway's Slade Horner escaped, took the bout to overtime and earned a pin at the last second.
"Vroman, obviously going into overtime and getting pinned, there's no harm there, though," Klepfer said. "We were getting after it."
But the pin for Ridgway didn't matter much, as Cudworth matched up well defensively at 160, not allowing Caggiano to get a pin, and the Raiders had won the title.
"This is really what we wanted last year, but things didn't work out for us the way we had hoped, but the guys didn't really let it get them down too much," Klepfer said. "It was tough, but we had a group of guys wrestle in the offseason freestyle, and that's what it takes to beat teams like Ridgway and Reynolds and those type of teams."
The match started off strong for Brookville, as senior captain and powerhouse Logan Stout picked up a convincing 11-0 major decision over Seth Stahl at 195, giving the Raiders an early 4-0 edge.
Ridgway then came out with a vengeance in the 220 match. Ridgway's Chad Quail was matched up against Brien Alexander, who had not wrestled a bout all season, and Quail picked up a pin in 4:48, giving the Elkers a 6-4 lead. But it was the only time they would lead the entire match.
Brookville senior Jacob Cieleski was moved up to heavyweight, and he succeeded with flying colors, earning a 7-1 decision to put the Raiders back on top.
A three-match streak stretched the lead to 19, and Ridgway was never able to recover.
The Elkers gave up a forfeit to Devin Joiner at 106, and Trey Constable easily pinned Cody Stahl at 113. Daulton Zimmerman then earned a pin in 2:48 over Tad Pierce to put Brookville up 25-6.
"(It was) a pretty big day for Daulton Zimmerman; he beat a state-ranked kid from Smethport (Nate Schwab) in the semis, then got the big pin for us (against Ridgway)," Klepfer said. "Truthfully, I think that was when you could see a little bit of wind come out of their sails. When Zimmerman pinned there, we knew we were in the driver's seat."
Although Ridgway was able to pin at 126, Brookville kept the control for the remainder of the match.
At 132, freshman Miller earned his win. Miller was leading 4-0 after two periods, securing a reversal in each of the first two. He kept rolling in the third period before winning 8-4.
"He's just the type of kid that every coach would want," Klepfer said. "He does all the right things; he works hard. He really accepts the challenge — he wants to wrestle the best kids."
Brock Zacherl then earned five more points with a technical fall over Dalton Dahler, followed by Brodie Zacherl winning 5-3 over Steven Mitchell.
The Elkers earned the pin over Vroman but secured their final points on the mat against Cudworth, whose bout, despite a loss, was the winning one. The Raiders were fortunate to forfeit at 170 and 182 — two weight classes in which the wrestlers are a bit banged up.
"It kind of worked out good in the sense where we started this dual meet," Klepfer said. "It gave us that flexibility in the end, and getting a big enough lead was the difference."
In the semi-finals, the Raiders had even more success with a 36-33 victory over second-ranked Smethport.
Again, Brookville was able to forfeit several matches at the end, making the score closer than the match.
Dombrowski started the match with a pin, Stout was given a forfeit, and Cieleski earned a pin, and only three bouts into the match, Brookville had an 18-0 lead.
Nate Nosker added to that lead, escaping at the last second for a 2-1 victory. Smethport then finally put some points on the board, winning back-to-back decisions at 106 and 113.
Zimmerman then brought the momentum back to the Raiders' side with a 2-1 decision over Schwab, and Cole Clever continued the swing with a pin in 3:46 over Justin Burgess.
At 132, Miller struggled against Smethport's Karl Lightner, giving up an 8-3 decision, but Brock Zacherl sealed up the victory with a pin over Reuben Donovan in 1:01.
As Brookville led 36-9, the Raiders elected to forfeit the final four matches, bringing the final score to 36-33.
With the D-IX championship under their belts, the Raiders will travel to Hershey Thursday for the PIAA state championship, and Klepfer has high expectations for Brookville.
"These kids think they're good enough to be a top-two, top-three type of team," Klepfer said. "Truthfully, once you get there, it's just about anyone's game. Everybody has to be healthy; no one can be sick; everyone has to be at the right weight; a lot of things have to go right."
But the Raiders are hoping things go right for them this week in practice, and they'll be able to compete to their best abilities at the state level.
"We're ready. We've wrestled the type of schedule that prepares us to get down there and make some noise," Klepfer said. "I'm just hoping the guys put together a couple good practices, and we'll go down and see what we can do as a team."