WILKES-BARRE — He just escaped the grasp of Hanover Area’s JJ Hooper. Looking to the sky, Justin Joseph let out a primal scream that was probably heard all the way back in West Pittston.
Yes, the Wyoming Area senior fulfilled the promise he made to himself and his late grandmother.
Joseph was one of five champs from the Wyoming Valley Conference Saturday at the District 2 Class 2A tournament held at the Kingston Armory. Berwick’s Nick Yule and WA’s Corey Mruk defended their title, while Joseph, Hanover Area’s DJ Erickson and Lake-Lehman’s Kaleb Konigus earned their first district golds.
Honesdale won the team title with 225 points, while Lehman finished second with 186 points. Western Wayne (163), Scranton Prep (136.5) and Wyoming Area (123) rounded out the top 5.
“All I wanted when I started this sport as a freshman was to win districts once,” Joseph said. “I told my grandma who passed away that I wanted this so much, and she told me that I had it. I’m a nervous person, so I always thought it wasn’t going to happen. But she kept telling me that I was going to win. I guess I didn’t have to worry.”
Hooper and Joseph certainly weren’t strangers to each other. As a matter of fact, the duo had already squared off three times in 2017-2018 with Joseph winning all three bouts, each one closer than the last.
That’s why it came as no surprise each one could only garner an escape in regulation, sending the match to overtime. Again, it was knotted at 3-3 – forcing a 30-second ride-out spot.
Joseph chose down. Hooper tried to lock in a cradle to keep the Warrior pinned to the mat. And the WA senior slipped right out seven seconds into the ultimate tie-breaker.
“I’m really short and I sweat a lot,” Joseph said. “I’m always wrestling tall kids, and they always look for that cradle. As soon as they lock it in, I shrug it off. It’s worked so far, so I was hoping it would work one more time. It was go big or go home.”
And the first one to greet Joseph on the mat after his victory was Mruk, a sophomore who just won his second district gold.
Mruk, who kind of flew under the radar last season, put together a dominating tournament with two falls, one major decision and a solid, 7-2 victory over Scranton Prep’s Alec Buttner, who entered the finals match with a record of 18-1.
“I think this tournament was harder for me this year,” Mruk said. “Last year, a lot of people didn’t know who I was. I was just another freshman. But this year, there was a target on me. It was more pressure, but that’s OK. It’s nice that people knew who I was this year.”
Konigus was in a tight bout in his championship with Valley View sophomore John Shnipes. Each recorded an escape, but the difference turned out to be a penalty point award to Konigus because of an illegal hold by the Cougar as the Lehman senior won 2-1.
“That’s my wrestling style. I’m a hand fighter, and I’ll go all three periods and overtime. I feel confident that I can win because I’m in good shape,” Konigus said. “As long as you get the win, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter if it’s by one point or a pin.”
Two who didn’t surprise were Yule and Erickson.
Both regional qualifiers in 2016-2017, the duo put on stellar performances to punch their tickets to Williamsport.
Yule, who won 106 as a freshman, had no problems with the bump-up in weight to 113. The Berwick junior pinned Honesdale’s Pete West in the semifinals, and earned a rematch with Hanover Area’s Joe Rowley. Yule built a 3-1 lead, and allowed a late escape for the 3-2 victory.
“It’s pretty special to win a second one, for sure,” Yule said.
Erickson’s tournament was dominating.
The Hanover Area junior, after recording a second-period fall in the quarterfinals, continuing his pinning ways Saturday. After sticking Lehman’s Jake Trumbower in the semifinals, Erickson built a lead and locked up Blue Ridge’s Adam Roe for a fall in 3:40.
Erickson, a fourth-place regional finisher and state qualifier one season ago, needs one more victory for his 30th win of his junior campaign.
“I felt pretty good this weekend, but I know that I can make improvements,” Erickson said. “I wasn’t as aggressive as I normally am. I should have shot more. For me, the district title feels great, but it’s another step for me in the postseason. It provides me more momentum going into regionals.”
Lehman will send eight to Williamsport — Zach Stuart (120), Bob Long (126), Garrett Kolb (132), Hunter Burke (138), Jake Trumbower (145), Nick Zaboski (152), TJ Meehan (195) and Konigus (285).
Wyoming Area’s Jaryn Polit-Moran and Damon Barhight will round out the four Warriors at regionals, while Hanover sends three — Erickson, Hooper and Rowley. Meyers’ Jason Carver rounds out the WVC group heading to the Magic Dome.