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Rigerman, Smith Lift Panthers to Victory

Just like the 2018 football season, Pioneer’s Mike Rigerman and Trevor Smith led their team to victory. This time, it was victory on a mat for the WNY #2 Panthers wrestling team. Instead of the gridiron, this victory was in a gym, under ‘mat lights,’ and in much closer proximity to an extremely loud crowd.

Down by eleven points, 30-19, to the #3 Iroquois Chiefs with two bouts left in the match, Pioneer head coach Chris Edwards knew that he could rely on his senior studs to get the job done.

Rigerman earned a first period pin at 220-pounds and six team points to set the stage for Smith to do his part. Smith went out at 285-pounds and earned a first period pin and another six team points to give the Panthers the 31-30 victory over a tough Chiefs squad led by head coach Troy Almeter.

“It means a lot to get a good win against a well-coached team like that” stated Coach Edwards after the win. “Their kids are tough and I think it was a great testament to both groups of fans…it was loud, and it was awesome.”

Indeed, the gym was packed it was in fact loud for two of the area’s top wrestling teams and traditional wrestling powerhouses.

The dual started at 99-pounds and in favor of the Panthers after Xander Kirsch earned a 4-2 decision to put three team points on the board for the home team. Iroquois’s Donovan Bukaczski matched the Panther’s three with a 5-2 decision win at 106-pounds.

The Panthers sent ECIC champion Daniel Kirsch out at 113-pounds to earn a hard won 11-4 decision over Iroquois’s Michael Schiffhauer. The next three weights (120, 126, and 132) were won by Chief grapplers (in order), Tristan DeGrace, Ryan Sweeney, and Jake Jozwiak. All three were winners by decision. Sweeney gutted out a tough win, 5-0, against Pioneer’s Alex Miley. The Panthers’ Frank Ras pushed the 132-pound bout into overtime tying the match 4-4 with little time left in the third period. However, Jozwiak found himself on the right end of a scramble in OT to earn the takedown and near fall points to win 9-4.

In a matchup of two talented wrestlers, Pioneer’s Ather Phommatha was a 2-1 decision winner against Tyler Barry. After seven bouts the team score was Iroquois 12, Pioneer 9, as all seven matches ended in decision and were wrestled to a full six minutes.

2018-2019 NYS tournament wildcard Jake Vergien earned the first pin of the entire evening at 145-pounds to give the Chiefs six points and the 18-9 lead. However, Kam Riordan responded with a 4-2 decision win at 152 to help the Panther team effort. Josh Oun was winning 8-2 with short time left in the 160-pound bout. With encouragement from the Panther bench, Oun shot on his Chief opponent and earned a critical takedown that ultimately gave him a 10-2 win and an extra team point for an 8-point major decision win whereas an 8-2 victory would’ve been worth only three. Alex Schenk followed up with another critical win for Pioneer at 170-pounds earning a 3-1 decision and the 19-18 lead for the Panthers.

Defending Section VI champion and NYS place winner Cory Day had to settle for a forfeit at 182-pounds for the Chiefs. Teammate Nate Marion earned a pin at 195-pounds to extend the Iroquois lead to 30-19 with only Rigerman and Smith left to wrestle. The defending Section VI champion and state place winner Rigerman pinned, as did Smith, their Chief opponents for the only Pioneer pins of the night and at the most crucial time to seal the match for Pioneer, 31-30.

After the match, Coach Edwards stated “I thought the guys came out and wrestled really well. Everybody, all fifteen kids, were out there battling. We had kids whose job it was to pin, we had other guys who had to win close matches.”

The Panthers (5-0 ECIC II, 19-3 overall) are ranked #2 in WNY small schools and 7th in NYS in the January 1st NYSSWA small school poll. Pioneer is in command of the ECIC II division with only two league duals left. Currently, the Panthers are on a 42-0 league unbeaten streak over the past six seasons and are looking for a sixth straight league title.

“Our first goal every year is to be the division champion” said Edwards. “Our second goal is to be the section champion as a team, and our third goal is to get as many guys on the [postseason] podium as possible”.

Iroquois (4-1 ECIC II, 12-2 overall) is the #3 small school squad in WNY and ranked 20th in NYS by NYSSWA. The Chiefs won the league title last season while Pioneer was league champion in ECIC III.

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