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Lock Haven starts strong but Rider finishes better in thrilling match

By: SAM KUPERMAN

For The Express

Lock Haven University wrestling nearly knocked off a Mid-American Conference (MAC) foe Friday night, but came up just short. Rider (10-2, 5-0 MAC East) defeated Lock Haven (7-6, 3-3 MAC East) 20-17 in a dual meet that came down to the final bout.

“It was a tough match, you know,” Lock Haven coach Scott Moore said. “I don’t think the fans were disappointed. Our guys showed up, wrestled hard. Some impressive wins and gutsy performances. But at the end of the day you have to find a way to win another scramble or get another takedown to win one more match to beat a top 20 team.”

Rider has been inside or near the top 25 throughout the season, starting with a season-opening road upset of sixth-ranked Minnesota. The Broncs feature two wrestlers with top 10 rankings in the NCAA Coaches Panel, and five that hold top 32 spots. LHU knocked off Rider last season, but before that Rider had an eight match winning streak on its side.

On paper, Lock Haven had an edge at its opening three slots in the lineup. No. 15 Luke Werner (125 pounds), No. 28 DJ Fehlman (133), and No. 20 Kyle Shoop (141) present massive challenges for opposing teams to start a dual meet. Rider had the predicted advantage at the heavier weights, meaning the Bald Eagles really needed early bonus points to set themselves up for an opportunity to gain a team victory.

Lock Haven did just, as the trio combined for two major decisions and a pin to put Lock Haven up 14-0 right out of the gate.

“Those are three tough guys that I know of right there at the bottom of the lineup at ’25, ’33, and ’41,” Fehlman said. “I don’t know what it is, but we push each other hard in that practice room every day and mentally we believe we’re going to win every time we step out on the mat and work hard.”

Werner picked up his 25th win of the season in a 15-4 major decision over No. 32 Jonathan Tropea. Werner had 4:24 of riding time in the one-sided affair.

Fehlman initially was in a close bout with Rider’s redshirt-freshman Richie Koehler. Fehlman was down 2-0 initially after a Koehler takedown, but managed to bounce back and win via fall in 4:49.

“I could tell (Koehler) was good at scrambling right away,” Fehlman said. “I didn’t know (Koehler) going in, but any time I was going for his legs he was diving over and he got that first takedown on me. But I stayed with it, got back in, and he jumped out the backdoor again. I hooked his legs and started putting him in danger. Then the coaches said ‘hey hey a little bit more, a little bit more.’ Then it kind of happened fast. He must’ve been flat. I couldn’t see it from where I was at.”

Shoop followed that up with a 12-4 major decision over No. 29 Peter Lipari, a midseason transfer from Rutgers. Shoop notched his fourth major decision of the season. He started to pull away late in the second period after recording a takedown in the waning seconds of the period to extend his lead to four. Shoop outlasted Lipari to fight for that crucial bonus point.

Rider started to climb back into the match at 149 and 157 pounds. Graduate student Gino Fluri grinded out a 4-3 decision over LHU redshirt-sophomore Brock Port. The Broncs then got an 8-0 major decision from No. 6 Jesse Dellavecchia against No. 29 Alex Klucker to trim the gap to 14-7 at intermission.

To get a team win, Lock Haven needed to win a few of the toss-up bouts. With the advantage tilted Rider’s way at the heavier weights, LHU needed a few break-throughs in the second half of the dual meet.

LHU got one at 165 pounds, as redshirt-junior Austin Bell earned a 6-2 decision over redshirt-freshman Joe Casey. Lock Haven got a 17-7 lead out of this, but it was the last match LHU would win of the evening.

Rider’s run started at 174, in a battle of two nationally ranked wrestlers with prior experience against each other. No. 18 Dean Sherry improved his head-to-head record against No. 32 Jared Siegrist to 3-0. Sherry took home a 5-2 decision, as he masterfully used his length to avoid the consistent shots Siegrist tried to get on him.

At 184, Rider was a heavy favorite, but Lock Haven redshirt-junior Ray Bernot gave it everything he had. George Walton pulled out an 8-5 decision, but Bernot had the crowd roaring and really tested one of the top wrestlers in the MAC at that weight class.

“I felt like I just wrestled a really tough match tonight,” Bernot said. “I had some opportunities to score, middle to late in the match. I really worked my offense and tried to get to my stuff this time around.”

Bernot has been asked to fill in for two-time national qualifier Corey Hazel over the last five weeks, as Hazel has been out since the Southern Scuffle.

With the score at 17-13 Lock Haven, LHU needed to win one of the final two bouts, or Rider would drive back to New Jersey with a comeback team victory.

The win would be hard to come by at both 197 and 285, with the advantages Rider held there. The Broncs got a 9-2 win out of No. 9 Ethan Laird. The General McLane graduate knocked off LHU sophomore Parker McClellan, leaving the dual meet in the hands of the two heavyweights.

With Lock Haven’s highly-touted redshirt-freshman Isaac Reid out of the lineup all year, undersized senior Trey Hartsock has had to bump up to 285. He’s done an admirable job there, but often finds himself against wrestlers vastly larger than him. Rider’s Ryan Cloud is no exception to this. Standing at 6’6 Cloud’s build made it incredibly hard for Hartsock to get many shots in. Cloud came away with a 10-1 major decision, sending the Broncs home victorious.

“Right now we’ve got to continue to improve,” Moore said. “Rider’s a tough team, so give them props for driving up here and beating a game-ready team like Lock Haven.”

A home dual meet on February 22 against Cornell is the only remaining dual meet for the Bald Eagles in the 2019-20 season. After that, it’s on to the MAC Championships on March 7 at Northern Illinois University.

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