BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – For the first time in three years, the crown won’t be worn by Annville-Cleona. But with the king abdicated who will fill the vacated thrown?
Perhaps a prince from the east – Elco’s Royal Raiders.
On Thursday night, the Elco wrestling team ended Annville-Cleona’s reign of terror in the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s Secton Three. And in the process, the Raiders put themselves in prime position to claim the kingdom.
Elco’s 43-30 triumph over the Little Dutchmen dashed any hopes A-C had of winning a fourth straight section championship. But a win at Donegal on Friday night would give the Raiders the title.
Elco will carry a 17-2 overall mark and a 5-0 league record into Friday night’s winner-take-all showdown with the Indians. Annville-Cleona slipped to 13-7 on the season and 4-2 in the circuit.
“This group is very close,” said Elco head coach Chad Miller, “mainly because we have ten seniors on the team. The five core seniors, they’ve been wrestling together since junior high, all the way up. It’s kind of like what Annville had last year.
“I don’t know how the match with Donegal is going to go,” Miller added. “The biggest thing for us is we should score points, but we’re going to give them up too.”
“I just want to congratulate Chad,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Mike Miller. “They have Donegal tomorrow and it’s for all the marbles. I want to wish them good luck. It would be nice to keep the title in the county.”
Using their depth, strength and experience, Elco overwhelmed the Little Dutchmen in the upper weights. Benefitting from one forfeit, the Raiders logged five falls, captured seven of the 13 bouts contested overall and opened an insurmountable 43-21 lead with heavyweight Brandon Daub’s first-period pin.
“We were pretty confident coming in,” said Chad Miller, “only because I thought we’d score too many points. I thought there was a possibility they (the Little Dutchmen) could win eight matches and we’d still out score them.”
“What I’ve been telling them (his wrestlers) is wrestle as hard as you can, win your match and we’ll sort it out at the end,” said Mike Miller. “We know Elco and they know us. It’s a hard, tough rivalry.”
With the Little Dutchmen nursing a 15-13 edge six bouts in, the Raiders won five of the next six contests to open its 22-point lead.
From 160 to 285 pounds, Elco recorded four opening-stanza falls and claimed its forfeit. Tom Price, Colton Dunkle, who improved to 16-3, unbeaten Dylan Hickernell and Daub did the damage.
“They did some moves,” said Chad Miller of the Little Dutchmen. “They had some JV kids out there. There was certain matches we didn’t have to win. The forfeit really didn’t matter because that’s where our strength is. They (the Little Dutchmen) tend to lose those matches anyways.”
“We were hoping to throw a monkey wrench into their plans,” said Mike Miller. “We didn’t give up. Sometimes kids are tougher on themselves. They want to win every match.”
Also picking up a first-period pin for the Raiders was 145-pounder Zach Bankus, who moved to 16-6. At 106, Elco’s Matt Achey gutted out a 4-2 decision, while teammate Zach Layser posted an 11-0 whitewashing at 138.
For Annville-Cleona, 113-pounder Tanner Pyles needed just 17 seconds to improve to 24-6, T.J. Renninger upped his personal mark to 24-4 with a 3:15 fall at 132, Jeffrey Inman went to 24-7 with a dominating 7-1 performance at 126, 106-pounder Matt Dorak jumped to 25-4 by ekeing out an 8-6 decision, Zach Brandt picked up a pin at 152 and senior Keller Hess scored a 3:42 fall at 182.
“The goal was, ‘Let’s see what we can do’,” said Mike Miller. “Coming into the season we had realistic expectations. The junior high hasn’t lost in two years. They have a nice little roll going.
“We’ll start looking at that (the individual postseason),” Miller continued. “We’re not done with the team season yet. We’ll focus on the team a little bit, but we’ve got to start focusing on the second season soon.”