Sussex Central pins Cape Henlopen to take DIAA Division I wrestling state crown

By Andy Walter
Posted 2/17/24

SMYRNA — Sussex Central High’s wrestlers felt like they let one get away from them last year.

The Golden Knights weren’t about to let that happen again.

This time, …

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Sussex Central pins Cape Henlopen to take DIAA Division I wrestling state crown


SMYRNA — Sussex Central High’s wrestlers felt like they let one get away from them last year.

The Golden Knights weren’t about to let that happen again.

This time, top-seeded Central took control from the start and never let go, downing No. 3 Cape Henlopen, 36-34, to capture the DIAA Division I dual-meet wrestling state crown on Saturday night.

The Knights (15-0) led 36-10 before losing the last four individual bouts — including the final three by intentional forfeits — to earn the program’s second state title in the dual-meet format.

On the other mat at Smyrna, No. 2 Delaware Military downed No. 1 Saint Mark’s, 38-32, to take it’s second-straight Division II state championship,.
Central was also undefeated last winter before falling to Salesianum by a point in the state semifinals.

“It’s something we’ve been working for all year,” said senior Gabe Cannon. “We were here last year and lost in the semifinals. ... We were all here to know how that felt.

“We were just thinking about it all year, every practice. It’s really a dream come true. Last year, we were close — we got a taste. It was a real heartbreaker. It (winning the title) really feels good.”

The Knights, who won their fourth straight match over the Vikings (17-5), left little doubt after opening up a 24-0 advantage five bouts into the finals.

Malachi Stratton (113 pounds) got Central started with a tech fall in the opening match. Evan Cordrey (132) added a first-period pin before Talan Savage (138) capped off the run with another tech fall.

“Throughout the whole season, the coaches said. ... remember that feeling,” Stratton said about the motivation from last season. “It’s a feeling that we didn’t want to feel again.

“When we came back, in the same position we were in last year, we made sure we were going to get to the final and win.”

By the time the match got to the 175-pound bout, the Knights held a 30-10 advantage. Cannon knew that a pin would clinch the title.

The senior came through, registering a fall in 2:26 as Central’s wrestlers, coaches and fans broke into celebration.

“I had to take my glasses off because everybody was just jumping,” Stratton said with a laugh. “It was a lot of emotion and happiness. It was a great feeling.”

“They (his teammates) were like, ‘You know what you’ve got to do,’” said Cannon. “As a senior and captain on this team, I knew I had to take care of business.”

The Knights advanced to the title match with a 37-21 victory over No. 3 Caesar Rodney earlier in the day on Saturday. Central led 37-3 before forfeiting the last three matches.

Drake Rogers (113) and Savage (138) both won by fall.

Cape Henlopen earned its spot in the finals by knocking off No. 2 Salesianum, 32-30, in the semifinals. The Vikings held a 32-21 lead before losing the last two matches.

The victory was a measure of revenge for Cape, which lost to the Sals in last year’s state finals. The Vikings were in the state title match for the third year in a row.

“It was an exciting match,” Cape coach Chris Mattioni said about the semifinal bout. “It was great to get by them after they beat us last year in the state finals.”

The Vikings reeled off three straight pins to take their 32-21 advantage. That run included falls from Hayden Wheeler (165), Jeffrey Rainier (175) and Luke Arnold-Decyk (190).

In the finals, Wheeler and Arnold-Decyk both had pins again for Cape. In the end, though, the Knights were just too much to knock off.

“They wrestled great, hats off to them,” said Mattioni. “It was an accomplishment to get there. I’m proud of how they (the Vikings) competed just to get to this match.”

The scene after Saturday’s finals was a much different one for the Knights from last year. Happy Central wrestlers posed for an endless number of photos with their trophy.

Stratton, for one, hadn’t forgotten how crushing last year’s loss was.

“It was a very sad feeling.” said the junior. “A lot of us were crying, our heads were down. We didn’t want that again. We wanted to make sure our heads were up this year.”

Central coach Shane Miller was proud of the way his team stuck together all year and got their state crown this time.

“This is a special group of young men,” he said. “We knew going into this tournament that the only team that could beat us was us.

“If were on our game and we stayed true to ourselves we couldn’t be stopped. They went out there and performed like they knew that they were going to.”

Bonus points

DMA beat Lake Forest, 46-21, in its semifinal. The Spartans got pins from DeMarion Russ (120) and Nurrideen Ahmad-Statts (157) in the loss. ... Saint Mark’s downed Laurel, 43-23, in the other semifinal. Joseph Baynard (285) had the lone pin for the Bulldogs. ... The two-day Henlopen Conference tournament begins on Friday at Sussex Central.

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at Follow on X at @DSNsports.

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