Ledyard wrestlers cruise to Class M state title

Buy Photo Dana Jensen/The Day Ledyard's Caile Johnson puts a pinning cominbation on Stratford's Brandon Murphy during their 160-pound semifinal match in the Class M state wrestling tournament at Law of Milford. Johnson pinned Murphy in 2:52 and was won of six Colonels to reach the championship round as Ledyard successfully defended its team championshp on Saturday night and won the 19th state title in program history, a state record.

Milford - He already wrestled what Ledyard coach Steve Bilheimer called the best match of his career, beating the top seed in an emotional 220-pound semifinal at the Class M state tournament Saturday.

Then Ben Morales, the No. 5 seed, won the championship, too.

"That kid (No. 1 seed P.J. Sawicki of Bacon Academy) placed at the State Open and went to New Englands last year," Bilheimer said. "Ben, I don't even think he's won a match (at the Open). … He wrestled him smart. I'm not a big throw guy, but he had a nice throw.

"Ben kept his composure. He wrestled him about as perfect as you could."

Morales, after beating Sawicki 12-4, won the title 4-3 over No. 7 Ryan Tharas of New Fairfield, scoring two takedowns while allowing all three of Tharas' points on escapes, highlighting Ledyard's 19th championship as a team.

The Colonels finished with 252.5 points to top Foran of Milford (153), adding to a resume which already includes more division championships than any other program in state history.

Morales was one of two champions for Ledyard, which clinched its second straight Class M title after the semifinals, when it led Avon 220.5-132.

Top-seeded Colin Grim also won a title for Ledyard at 182, beating No. 3 Dan Rodrigues of Avon 7-4 in the last match of the night.

Waterford 113-pounder Brentt Smith, the top seed, added a win, blanking No. 6 Dillon Lisk of Suffield in the final, 6-0. Waterford was ninth with 95 points, New London 12th with 76 and St. Bernard/Norwich Tech 24th with 32.

"It's been a hell of a day. It means a lot," Morales said. "There's a lot of alumni in the crowd; we want to let them know we can continue it."

"We've been able to be very competitive over a long period of time," said Bilheimer, in his 10th season. "There's other teams that have, too, but we're one of them. … It takes a lot of dedication. It's one of the harder high school sports. It takes mental toughness; you've got to keep your mind fresh."

Ledyard had six finalists, including a wave of five straight semifinal winners, beginning with 152-pounder Brandon Finney.

With 120-pounder Devon MarcAurele already in the finals, the second-seeded Finney started a Ledyard roll with a pin of No. 3 Jonah Swett of Lyman Memorial/Windham Tech in 3:38. Caile Johnson, the third seed at 160, followed with a pin of No. 2 Brandon Murphy of Stratford in 2:52.

No. 2 seed Ryan Wade edged No. 3 Trystan Cauley of Suffield 3-1 at 170 and Grim pinned No. 4 Zachary Hubler of Foran at 182, setting the stage for Morales.

Morales got off to a big lead against Sawicki and continued to build on it, despite being shaken up briefly when he landed hard out of bounds.

After the finals, Morales came off the mat into the embrace of his brother Nick, who reached the state finals in 2007.

"He was strong. He had great upper body strength," Morales said of his championship round opponent. "My coaches told me before he likes to get inside legs and shoot low. I like to stay on my feet, so (letting him escape) was defense. … It's a great feeling."

MarcAurele was the runnerup to No. 3 Taylor Shay of New Fairfield 7-1.

Finney was second to top-seeded Clay Callahan of Foran, falling 6-0.

Johnson was pinned in the second period, finishing second to No. 1 Mikey Amorando of New Fairfield.

Wade was pinned in the first period of the finals, falling to top-seeded Joe Murphy of Avon.

"They're gamers, they work hard," said Bilheimer of what he likes about this team, which will compete in the State Open next weekend at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven. "They push themselves, they enjoy the sport of wrestling. I want my kids to have fun, but not be overly animated."

As for Waterford's Smith, he had been looking forward to a tough Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament - he's lost in the past to East Lyme's Kareem Small - before that tournament was canceled due to the recent blizzard.

Smith, the top seed, won his first match by pin in 18 seconds and took his quarterfinal 18-6 before pinning Jacob Pouliot of Foran in 1:53 in the semifinals.

"It was huge," Smith, a junior who is 35-4, said of the title. "I finished third here last year (at 106) and I worked hard all summer to get here."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Ledyard's Ben Morales, top, turns Bacon Academy's P.J. Sawicki to his back during their 220-pound semifinal match at the Class M wrestling tournament on Saturday in Milford. Morales upset the No. 1 seed, 12-4, and then beat New Fairfield's Ryan Tharas 4-3 in the title match, helping the Colonels win the team title.
Buy Photo Dana Jensen/The Day Ledyard's Ben Morales, top, turns Bacon Academy's P.J. Sawicki to his back during their 220-pound semifinal match at the Class M wrestling tournament on Saturday in Milford. Morales upset the No. 1 seed, 12-4, and then beat New Fairfield's Ryan Tharas 4-3 in the title match, helping the Colonels win the team title.
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