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Pioneer Takes Down Defending Champ Falconer In Battle of WNY Wrestling Heavyweights

Two of western New York’s finest traditions and perennial powerhouse teams met on Thursday at Falconer High School in a wrestling showdown featuring the #2 Panthers and the #1 ranked and defending NYS small school champion Falconer Golden Falcons.

The anticipation leading up to the showdown between two WNY heavyweight programs was not lost on the teams, schools, and wrestling community alike, as attention focused to what would be the biggest dual of the shortened spring 2021 high school wrestling season.

The powerful Panthers, led by nine returning Class B champions, four sectional place winners, and two NYS tournament place winners upended the defending champions, 29-24 after trailing the entire match and claiming victory in the final bout of the night to improve to 5-0 this spring.

“We went into the match thinking it was probably the first time in a really long time that we had been the underdog in a single dual,” said Panthers head coach Chris Edwards after the win. “It was kind of a neat feeling…we were really juiced and ready to go.”

Falconer jumped out to an early 15-0 lead after four weights courtesy of decision wins by Brock Johnson and Collin Beichner at 215 and 285-pounds, respectively. At the bottom of the lineup, Evan Newman accepted a forfeit for the Golden Falcons at 102 before Karsen Lundgren added to the Falconer lead with a decision win at 110-pounds.

Defending Section VI champion and NYS tournament 4th place finisher Dan Kirsch got Pioneer on the board at the start of the strongest part of the Panthers lineup. Kirsch was a 6-5 decision winner over returning sectional finalist and state tournament qualifier Brayden Newman at 118-pounds, good for three team points. Xander Kirsch followed up at 126 with an 11-0 major decision to contribute to the comeback.

At 132-pounds, Austin Chase earned Falconer’s only pin of the match to extend the lead to 21-7, however Pioneer responded with decision wins at 138 and 145 courtesy of Brandon Doyle and returning NYS 5th place finisher Kam Riordan at 145-pounds.

“We went into it knowing that we had to win the matches we were favored in and to win a match we weren’t supposed to win,” said Edwards. “At 138, Brandon Doyle came up with a huge win. That was a match that Falconer was favored to win, but Brandon, in the third period, turned it on and came out with an 8-5 win. That’s a six point swing in the dual…we won by five.”

In the fourth to last bout of the night, Falconer’s Joey Pillittieri took on a lot of extra weight but earned a big overtime win at 152-pounds to give the Golden Falcons an eleven point lead.

For Pioneer, the match would be in excellent hands in the last three weights as the powerful trio of Donald Bennett, Zack Russell, and Alex Miley were on tap and expected by Edwards to seal the win for the Panthers.

Bennett started off the final run at 160-pounds with a 10-0 major decision. Zack Russell followed up with a pin at 172-pounds to bring the Panthers to within one point of the Golden Falcons. Finally, senior captain Alex Miley completed the comeback with a second period pin at 189-pounds to close out the dual with a final score of Pioneer 29, Falconer 24.

“We still needed bonus points from either Miley or Russell at the end. Zack went out right away and put his guy to his back…he’s been waiting two and a half years for that,” said Edwards. “It was awesome for Russell. He’s battled back from injuries for two and a half years. These kids have been around the program since 7th grade. To come up with three bonus point wins at the end of the match was huge for us.”

Both the Panthers and Golden Falcons are currently on unprecedented league title streaks in their respective leagues and both are responsible for all four of the Section VI Division II Dual Meet Championship titles (Pioneer one, Falconer three) in the short history of the event.

“Falconer is a great program,” stated Edwards. “We’ve wrestled six times in the last five years and both teams are 3-3 in those duals. Last night’s match was only the second biggest win margin in all those duals. It almost always comes down to the very last match. Their program is well run and well coached. Those are the matches that we are in this for.”

Pioneer will visit southern tier rival Fredonia on June 16th followed by a road test at Olean on the 17th before hosting the Section VI Division II championships on Saturday, June 19th.

Falconer travels to Chautauqua Lake on the 16th for a CCAA I league showdown with the Thunderbirds before the sectional championships at Pioneer. The Golden Falcons will pay a visit to Fredonia on June 22nd in what will most likely be for the CCAA I dual meet title.

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