With wins in final five matches, Whalers win Division I wrestling opener over Ledyard

New London's Naaji Powell-Keyton and Ledyard's Joey Millbach battle during their 106-pound match on Wednesday at Ledyard. Powell-Keyton won 13-9 and New London won 42-31.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
New London's Naaji Powell-Keyton and Ledyard's Joey Millbach battle during their 106-pound match on Wednesday at Ledyard. Powell-Keyton won 13-9 and New London won 42-31. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Ledyard — Mike Gorton, New London High School wrestling coach, had a perfect story to illustrate the dynamics of his team, which came from behind to beat perennial power Ledyard on Wednesday night in Division I of the Eastern Connecticut Conference.

It seems one of New London's senior captains recently entered the Whalers locker room and, much to his irritation, found random clothing strewn about.

"The young guys drive the seniors nuts sometimes," Gorton said with a laugh. "... I said, 'Now you understand what your mom feels like.' ... We have a bunch of excited freshmen and a bunch of good leaders. There's not a lot in between."

New London, competing in its ECC Division I opener, trailed 31-15 before responding with victories in five straight matches for a 42-31 win over defending Division I, ECC tournament and Class S tournament champion Ledyard.

The Whalers (2-1, 1-0) started the comeback with a pair of first-period pins by freshman Teshua Williams at 160 pounds and senior Luis Rodriguez-Veras at 170 to pull within 31-27.

At 182, New London senior Xavier Alvarez scored a takedown with 23.8 seconds remaining in a one-minute overtime period to edge Ledyard freshman Andrew Allen 3-1 and give the Whalers three more points with the decision. Alvarez, who along with Jacob Commander at 195 have been wrestling up a weight this season, erupted with emotion following the tough victory that got the score to 31-30.

"I just had to make sure I scored first and I made no mistakes," Alvarez said. "... I kind of lost my mind for a second (after the win); it caught us up."

Commander pushed New London into the lead with a pin at 195 and senior Noah Kimball added one final pin just 11 seconds into his match at 220 to cap things. Freshman Naaji Powell-Keyton (106), senior Taren Robledo Thompson (120) and freshman Max Commander (132) also had wins for the Whalers, with Commander pinning Ledyard's Ty Miller, last year's fifth-place finisher in Class S.

Richard Mullaney (285), J'Mari Lowman (113), Cole Dirico (126), Brayden Grim (138), Mason Barnett (145) and Dennis Charles (152) won matches for Ledyard (6-6, 2-1).

It was the first victory in the series for New London in the tenure of either coach, Gorton or Ledyard's Steve Bilheimer. That followed New London's third-place finish in Saturday's Chad Antoch Memorial Tournament in Westerly, in which the Whalers topped Windham, also for the first time under Gorton.

"It feels great to have a young team. Over the years we've been getting better and better," said Alvarez, a State Open qualifier last year who is a New London captain and also a member of the high school's ROTC program, who will join the U.S. Army following graduation. "It's the first time our coach has beaten Ledyard and Windham, so we're happy for him."

"It was hard. It was great," said Max Commander, who follows brothers Mikey and Jacob to the New London wrestling program, of his match. "I just had to have the heart to go out and win and I ended it with a pin. ... I used to watch (Mikey) and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. We have a lot of newcomers doing an awesome job."

Bilheimer said that Ledyard has been up and down with its performance this season. He felt the Colonels wrestled well at the Trumbull Duals at the end of December, going 3-1. Since then, however, the team has lost back-to-back dual meets to Killingly (51-18) and New London.

"Hopefully we can have more ups than downs," said Bilheimer, who had eight freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup Wednesday. "I'd like to think we've done a pretty good job peaking at the end (of the season).

"I thought (New London) wrestled really well and we made a bunch of fatal mistakes. I knew after (152) it was going to be tough for us. ... It was a tough, disappointing loss tonight, but at the same time, I'm enjoying the challenge this year. We've been able to do really well for a really long time. We've beaten a lot of teams for a long time. Everybody's gunning for us."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

New London's Xavier Alvarez and Ledyard's Andrew Allen during their 182-pound match on Wednesday at Ledyard. Alvarez won 3-1 in overtime. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
New London's Xavier Alvarez and Ledyard's Andrew Allen during their 182-pound match on Wednesday at Ledyard. Alvarez won 3-1 in overtime. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
New London's Jacob Commander and Ledyard's Jadian Mackenzie wrestle in the 195-pound match on Wednesday at Ledyard. Commander won by pin.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
New London's Jacob Commander and Ledyard's Jadian Mackenzie wrestle in the 195-pound match on Wednesday at Ledyard. Commander won by pin. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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