SUFFIELD, January 17 – The Canton High wrestling team didn’t win a North Central Connecticut Conference championship on Wednesday night. But they cleared the way to bringing home their first league championship since 2002.
The Warriors built a 24-point lead only to see Suffield/Windsor Locks come back and tie their NCCC match Thursday night with one match remaining. But Canton junior Austin Kilduff pinned Suffield/Windsor Locks’ Xavier Gonzalez in 1:22 to lift the Warriors to a 42-36 victory.
The win leaves Canton (14-3, 4-0 NCCC) as the only team without a loss in league play while Suffield/Windsor Locks (8-3, 4-1 NCCC) dropped their first NCCC match of the season.
Canton has three more league matches remaining against Coventry, East Windsor and Granby and will be heavily favored to win all three. None of the three teams have a full 14-person lineup with Coventry and East Windsor each having less than six varsity wrestlers.
This was really the match for the league championship and both teams knew it.
It took a while for the home crowd to get vocal with Canton winning the first five bouts of the match to take a 24-0 lead. But Suffield surged with five pins and a forfeit to tie the match at 36-36.
So, it came down to Kilduff and Gonzalez, who had beaten Kilduff in last year’s CIAC Class S tournament, in a winner-take-all match at 182 pounds that likely would determine the winner of the dual meet and probably the league championship.
Gonzalez took an early 2-0 lead getting a two-point takedown but Kilduff got a two-point reversal with 20.2 seconds left in the first period to tie the match at 2-2.
In the second period, Kilduff tied up Gonzalez and pinned him in 3:22 to give the Warriors the victory.
“I wasn’t overwhelmed or being cocky about it,” Kilduff said. “I just wrestled smooth and wrestled my own match.”
Kilduff, who is 21-1 on the season, was wrestling up a weight class. He usually wrestles at 170 pounds. In fact, five Canton wrestlers were moved around the lineup with four coming up with victories.
“I’ve been playing this match over and over in my head for a week,” Canton coach Josh Bristol said.
It was a sweet victory for the Warriors, who finished second to Granby the past two years in the league. In both matches with Granby, one individual bout was the difference.
“This is huge especially for my seniors,” Bristol said. “These kids have been working a long time to get this. We lost by a match last year and we lost by a match two years ago. It was so close. Finally, finally that things have gone our way.”
It wasn’t easy. On Thursday, Canton needed every point to have Kilduff in position to win it in the final match.
Canton’s James Pelehach, wrestling up a weight class, started off the match with a pin at 195 pounds. Teammate Braydon Fluckiger (220) outlasted the taller and heavier Will Robb, 12-2. Fluckiger weighs about 185 pounds and was about five inches shorter than Robb.
Charlie Corso (285) trailed 2-0 after one period but won with a second period pin at 285 to increase the lead to 16-0 and Ethan Titus picked up a key 9-0 victory at 106 pounds for a 20-0 Canton lead.
Titus had a solid 6-0 lead with 1:20 remaining but he turned Suffield’s Dan Taggert to his back in the final 10 seconds to get three near fall points. Titus picked up an extra team point for winning by more than seven points.
Canton’s Matt Webb earned a 12-2 victory at 113 pounds to increase the Warrior lead to 24-0.
Suffield/Windsor Locks roared back with pins from Zachary Jones (120), Ghassen Saleh (126), Dylan Washburn (132) and Matt Raine (145) to cut the Canton lead to 30-24. Canton’s Brian Connelly had a pin for the Warriors at 138 pounds.
Canton’s Donovan Mackin, wrestling up a weight class, picked up a crucial pin at 152 pounds to give Canton a 36-24 lead with three matches remaining. Suffield’s Hunter Adams (160) picked up a forfeit and teammate Miguel Gonzalez (170) won with a pin to tie the bout at 36-36 — settling the stage for the final winner-take-all bout.
Canton returns to the mat on Saturday when they compete in the Highlander Invitational in Portland.
NOTES: Suffield/Windsor Locks is looking for their first NCCC title since 2007. In the NCCC, the league champions is determined by dual meet results. The post-season tournament does not factor into determining the league champion.
Canton 42, Suffield/Windsor Locks 36
195: James Pelehach (Ca) pin Logan Sopelak, 0:53; 220: Braydon Fluckiger (Ca) dec. Will Robb, 12-2; 285: Charlie Corso (Ca) pin Dan Belson, 2:31; 106: Ethan Titus (Ca) dec. Dan Taggert, 9-0; 113: Matt Webb (Ca) dec. Luke Plano, 12-0; 120: Zachary Jones (S) pin Ryker Bahre, 2:32; 126: Ghassen Saleh (S) pin Jack Freedenberg, 1:40; 132: Dylan Washburn (S) pin Gabe Deiulis, 1:40; 138: Brian Connolly (Ca) pin Jake Smith, 0:57; 145: Matt Raine (S) pin Nic Johnson, 0:39; 152: Donovan Mackin (Ca) pin Joe Neiroda, 2:59; 160: Hunter Adams (S) forfeit; 170: Miguel Gonzalez (S) pin Nate Biega, 0:45; 182: Austin Kilduff (Ca) pin Xavier Gonzalez, 3:22
Records: Canton 14-3, 4-0 NCCC; Suffield/Windsor Locks 8-4, 4-1 NCCC