Ledyard wins its 20th state wrestling title

Ledyard's Daric Johnson, left, controls Foran's Ben Crull en route to winning the 220-pound title, 4-3, at the Class M wrestling tournament on Saturday at Law High School in Milford. Johnson, a sophomore, helped the Colonels rally past ECC rival Waterford to win the team championship, the program's 20th state title.
Ledyard's Daric Johnson, left, controls Foran's Ben Crull en route to winning the 220-pound title, 4-3, at the Class M wrestling tournament on Saturday at Law High School in Milford. Johnson, a sophomore, helped the Colonels rally past ECC rival Waterford to win the team championship, the program's 20th state title. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

Milford - Ledyard won the 19th state wrestling title in program history a year ago by 99 points.

"As much I like to win that way and I was excited for the kids, this is a different kind of excitement," Colonels coach Steve Bilheimer said Saturday night at Jonathan Law High School, where the Class M state tournament was being wrestled. "This was an exciting day, definitely stressful."

The Colonels tacked on state championship No. 20 Saturday, adding to a total which already served as the most divisional titles by any wrestling program in state history.

But this one was a bit more improbable.

Ledyard, down by as many as 39 points to Eastern Connecticut Conference rival Waterford during the semifinals, came back to top Waterford 193-168. And aside from 170-pound senior Devon MarcAurele, ever the standout, the Colonels got their star power from 220-pound sophomore Daric Johnson.

Johnson, the No. 6 seed, came into this season having never competed at the varsity level in any of his three sports at Ledyard: football, wrestling and baseball.

On Saturday, he held on for a 4-3 victory over top-seeded Benjamin Kroll of Foran to win an individual title and all but clinch the team title for the Colonels. Johnson, elated, ran to the bleachers to hug his parents and grandparents.

"To be honest, in the beginning of the season, I was talking to our assistant coach Ben Morales and he told me if I worked hard I could maybe do well at states. I said, 'No way, man.' I thought this kid was going to bully me out there.

"The reason I was so upset when I lost at ECCs last week was because I thought, 'This is the only time I'm going to do something great for the team.'"

MarcAurele also won the second title of his career for Ledyard, having taken the 106-pound title as a sophomore. The top seed, MarcAurele pinned No. 2 Collin Flannery of Vinal Tech in 3 minutes, 2 seconds, leading Flannery 13-2 at the time.

MarcAurele and Johnson were joined as state champs Saturday by St. Bernard's Matt Dowler (106), and Waterford's Brentt Smith (120) and Sam Lindblom (132).

After the one-two finish by the ECC teams, Foran was third with 153 points, followed by Berlin (120) and Branford (102.5).

Ledyard won last week's ECC tournament with 195 points, while Waterford was third with 161.5.

This week, Waterford jumped out to a commanding lead during the semifinals after sending wrestlers to the finals in four straight weight classes, starting with Smith, who won by technical fall over Law's Timot Rebenstisch 23-8.

Waterford's Niko Randolph, the No. 4 seed, showed a great deal of energy in an upset of top-seeded Ethan Greider of Berlin 4-3, continually jogging back to the circle during stoppages.

Brothers Sam, a sophomore, and Justin Lindblom, a senior at 138, then won back-to-back matches on the same mat and Jimm Roscover had a chance to make it three straight before falling on a third-period pin.

"That was exciting," Waterford coach Chris Gamble said of the way the Lancers competed in the semifinals. "I was really hoping they all wrestled well and they did."

Ledyard mounted a comeback, though, with a semifinal pin by MarcAurele and a 5-4 win by Johnson over No. 7 Nick Zacchio of Avon, what Johnson called "the closest match in my lifetime." The Colonels then proceeded to wrestle back strong as Jeff Csisar (160) and Daniel Contino (182) were third and Mike Graff (152), Caile Johnson (195) and Josh Throop (285) were fourth.

"He was the shining light of hope when things weren't looking so great," Bilheimer said of Daric Johnson's semifinal win, which pulled Ledyard to within five points of Waterford at 148-143 after the semis. "They we realized we could wrestle back and, 'We've still got a shot.'"

Dowler avenged his only loss of the season in his final, beating JoJo Gonzalez of Ellis Tech 10-6, while Smith edged New London's Alejandro Paulino 3-2 and Sam Lindblom won 14-3 over top-seeded Emmett LiCastri of Immaculate.

Waterford's Randolph dropped the 126-pound championship match 8-1 to Colin Rook of Guilford and Justin Lindblom was topped by Branford's Joseph Martone 3-0.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

St. Bernard/Norwich Tech's Matt Dowler, top, beat Ellis Tech's Baltazar Gonzalez 10-6 to win the Class M 106-pound title Saturday night.
St. Bernard/Norwich Tech's Matt Dowler, top, beat Ellis Tech's Baltazar Gonzalez 10-6 to win the Class M 106-pound title Saturday night. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo
Waterford's Brentt Smith, top, maintains control over New London's Alejandro Paulino during their 120-pound final in the Class M tournament on Saturday in Milford. Smith edged Paulino 3-2.
Waterford's Brentt Smith, top, maintains control over New London's Alejandro Paulino during their 120-pound final in the Class M tournament on Saturday in Milford. Smith edged Paulino 3-2. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo
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