Connor Mills and his fellow Delaware Valley senior wrestlers want to dine on some home cooking one more time Friday night.
The Terriers host long-time rival Raritan in the Central Group 2 final Friday night (7) and they are looking forward to one last match in a well-packed Hutchins Gym between the top two seeds in the section.
“Our gym really is a terrific place to wrestle,” said the 132-pound Terrier after Wednesday’s 50-15 defeat of Point Pleasant Borough in a sectional semifinal. “We always appreciate the support we get from the students, our ‘Dawgpound’, our fans and our community that come out and cheer for us.”
Del Val is one of three local teams in sectional finals Friday night with eyes on the state group championships Sunday in Pine Belt Arena at Toms River North. No. 1 seed Phillipsburg hosts No. 2 seed Middletown North in the North 2 Group 4 championship while No. 2 seed Warren Hills visits top-seeded Cranford in the North 2 Group 3 final (both at 7 p.m.).
The 20-3 Terriers, ranked No. 11 in the state in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association poll, seek their second consecutive trip to the Group 2 final, where they lost to Emerson-Park Ridge 29-28 in 2016. Del Val has won seven state championships but not one since 1999, and coach Andy Fitz refuses to even think of Toms River.
“We are not even thinking about the weekend,” Fitz said.
Given the challenge posed by the 26-2 Rockets, ranked No. 14 by the NJWWA poll, that seems like a sound policy for the Terriers, who are seeking their 17th sectional title.
Perhaps no other sectional in the state has become as closely identified with two specific teams as Central Group 2 has between Raritan and Delaware Valley – and with good reason.
In 2016, the Terriers won 30-29 on the fifth criteria. In 2015, it was 31-30 Del Val in the final. In 2012, Raritan won the final. The last six meetings between the teams have been decided by a combined 12 points (Delaware Valley leads the overall series 9-5).
This season, if you’re looking to compare common opponents in quality matches, the Terriers defeated North Hunterdon 35-25, the Rockets 29-21; against Phillipsburg, Del Val fell 35-30 while the Stateliners topped Raritan 38-22.
Comparing state-ranked wrestlers by Wrestling Full Circle, Raritan has one top-8 choice (28-1 junior Russell Benson at 132) while Del Val has two, senior Matt Kolonia (#8 at 138) and junior Kyle Lightner (#5 at 195).
So all factors point to another very close, very tense, very intense matchup between two teams that know each other extremely well.
Leaving aside the matter of the coin flip – which Raritan probably needs more than Delaware Valley does – two factors stand out to, perhaps, tip the scale towards the Terriers.
One is that Del Val has recently tasted defeat, a stinging 37-15 loss at Hunterdon Central on Feb. 1, and that didn’t go down well with the Terriers.
“That was a tough loss, a match we really wanted,” Mills said. “But as seniors we realized that everything we wanted to accomplish was still in front of us after that loss. We’ve tried to stay positive and keep an upbeat attitude.”
Sometimes a loss at the right time can be an unexpected tonic for an entire team, and that may have the case for Del Val.
The second reason, and unquestionably the more important, is where the match is. With the demise of Phillipsburg’s ‘Pit’ the Terriers have the top home-gym advantage in the lehighvalleylive region and one of the best in the state. Del Val is simply a different team at home, and the advantage is worth a point or three, which may well make the difference.
In this particular matchup, it is more than enormous that the Terriers are at home, because Raritan’s home gym is a massively intimidating environment that ranks in the state’s toughest places to wrestle. The site might represent a 5-point swing in Del Val’s favor.
“Our student (section) was great (Wednesday) and I am looking forward to seeing them pack the place Friday night,” Fitz said. “They’re going to see a very competitive match.”
When Delaware Valley and Raritan wrestle it's never anything but.
Brad Wilson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.
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