SYRACUSE — Niagara Wheatfield knew its day was over before the final dual even started.
The fate of the Falcons was determined when North Babylon trimmed Cicero-North Syracuse by two points. Having already lost to North Babylon 35-25, there was no path for Niagara Wheatfield to advance out of pool play at the NYSPHSAA dual championship Saturday at SRC Arena.
The Falcons entered the tournament as the top seed in Division I, but despite a 31-29 win over CNS to close the day strong, their state tournament ended in pool play for the second consecutive season.
“We knew that first match was going to be our toughest one out of the two,” Niagara Wheatfield head coach Rick Sweney said. “We studied them a lot. We lost a couple matches. 3-2 matches, one-point matches, which we win both of them, we beat them. We adjusted pretty good but some of the (kids), we don’t really wrestle them before anywhere, so we don’t really know (until we wrestle).”
Through the sectional tournament, Niagara Wheatfield stayed in the driver’s seat straight through the final against Williamsville North/East. But the Falcons had to wrestle from behind on multiple occasions against North Babylon before leading into the final bout at 285-pounds.
Against three of Niagara Wheatfield’s stronger lightweights, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-6 after slowing down Eian Peterson (116) and Muntathar Abbas (124) by 3-2 decisions and Evan Azbell (131) by a 19-3 technical fall. The Falcons found some momentum with Te’Shaun Mathews, whose 6-0 decision over Isiah Gutierrez at 160, helped cut the deficit to 23-21 with four bouts left.
With spirits low on the bench, Mathews aimed for a pin but couldn’t find many openings and then couldn’t convert a third-period takedown of Gutierrez.
“I had no choice but to pull through for my team,” said Mathews, who won both of his matches for the Falcons. “Even though I couldn’t get the pin, I got three points out of my match. … It came down to the wire and we just couldn’t pull through it.”
John Fike pushed through to cut the deficit to 29-25 with his pin at 215, his first of two wins on the day, before the Bulldogs persevered with Alexander Seger’s pin over Niagara Wheatfield’s Peter Sheehan at 285.
The Falcons bounced back by winning four of their first bouts against Cicero-North Syracuse, including a pin from Joe Cicco at 160. Despite the loss, Sweney said the experience was yet another learning curve for the Falcons, who return the majority of their roster next year.
“That’s what we’re looking for, more experience, more confidence and not to be overwhelmed when they get up here and wrestle better.” Sweney said. “That’s why we bring more kids and why we do what we do. Keep coming back.”