Wilson wrestling hosts Pen Argyl on Jan 6, 2023
The match matched the cause.
On a night when the Wilson and Pen Argyl communities came together to show their support for a needy one of their own, the Warrior and Green Knight wrestler put on a show worthy of the event.
With both teams wearing shirts in tribute to 2002 Wilson state medalist and Pen Argyl assistant coach Bryan Eckhart, a packed house saw the Green Knights edge the Warriors 35-27 in an absolute classic of a Colonial League East dual meet Friday night.
Pen Argyl's Alex Moser celebrates the decisive pin at 152 pounds in the Green Knights' 35-27 win over the Warriors Friday night.Dave Dabour | lehighvalleylive contributor
The match came down to the final bout, at 152 pounds, winner take all, where Pen Argyl junior Alex Moser came from behind to pin Wilson sophomore Jackson Millen in the most dramatic of circumstances in 1 minutes and 57 seconds to unleash a tsunami of noise from the sellout crowd.
“I couldn’t hear anything,” Moser said. “The crowd was ringing in my ears. It’s probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”
An exaggeration? Perhaps not. What Moser’s pin did was take a night that was already special – a night that drew tears and applause from everyone in the gym – and make it into a night no one will ever forget.
At the center of it all was Eckhart, a quiet, unassuming man who inspires warmth and friendship everywhere he goes, a key cog in the 2002 Wilson state championship team that was, perhaps, one of the very greatest Warrior teams of all time in any sport, and now one of Tom Mertz’s staff at Pen Argyl.
And a man who was diagnosed with ALS – what was once called Lou Gehrig’s Disease – in August 2022, a disease for which there is no cure. The night was a tribute to Eckhart and a fundraiser for his family.
“I don’t like being the center of attention, with everybody’s eyes on me,” said Eckhart, which was the same way he approached being a wrestler at Wilson. “But the coaches convinced me I could do this.”
Bryan Eckhart and his wife, center, are joined by Pen Argyl coach Tom Mertz (left) and Wilson coach Jeremy Hartrum (right) cat the fundraiser for ALS awareness at the Pen Argyl-Wilson wrestling dul meet Friday. Dave Dabour | lehighvalleylive contributor
Eckhart, who walks some with some difficulty but still with the directness of an athlete, came to the center of the mat before the varsity match as his mother, Laurie, addressed the crowd.
“On behalf of our entire family, we want to thank (Wilson head coach) Jeremy Hartrum and Wilson and both teams for the outpouring of love and support for my son and my daughter-in-law,” Laurie Eckhart said. “Every one of our families are going to fight and be there for Bryan. We know Bryan will never give up and we will never give up.”
Wrestling makes unusually close friendships, and never was that more on display than on Friday. Hartrum, for example, was Eckhart’s best man at his wedding. Mertz, Hartrum and Eckhart are all old friends.
“Tonight wasn’t really about wrestling,” Hartrum said. “Bryan is a lifetime friend. This was an amazing opportunity for two communities to extend a hand to Bryan.”
Which they did.
“This was amazing,” Eckhart said. “I am almost speechless. The support and consideration I have received has been tremendous. It’s amazing, so many people I have not seen in years came in just for this event. I wrestled with so many of these guys. And Al Hartrum (Jeremy’s dad) is like a second father to me.”
Then the wrestler and coach asserted itself for just a second in Eckhart.
“I know Jeremy would have liked a little better result,” he said.
These teams have a recent history of close contests; last season, Wilson won 35-34 last season on criteria.
“Our kids definitely left this gym really disappointed last year,” Mertz said. “This year, I was proud of everybody who competed – we wrestled hard all the time. It felt good for the kids to perform well on this special night.”
Hartrum spoke in similar terms.
“Our team effort was there,” he said.
Pen Argyl's Mike Culver controls WIlson's Nathaniel Maldonado at 215 pounds in the Green Knights' 35-27 win Friday night.Dave Dabour | lehighvalleylive contributor
Wilson (1-4, 1-2 CL East) fell behind early after the match started at 160 pounds as Pen Argyl (3-3, 1-2) showed off its power up top with falls from seniors Kristopher Kessler (189) and Michael Culver (215) and a major decision from senior Gian Greggo (285). Greggo gave up over 70 pounds to Warrior senior Kevaughn Simpson and still won 12-1 – impressive.
After a pin by freshman Isaiah Adams made it 25-3 Pen Argyl after 107, a Green Knights’ triumph seemed inevitable.
But back came the Warriors – not unexpectedly, either.
“I knew we’d have to win two of the last five to get this,” Mertz said.
Warrior junior Santino Micci, ranked No. 2 by lehighvalleylive at 107, went up to 114 and pinned, and teammate junior Gio DiBiago won 3-1 at 121 to get Wilson within 25-12.
Then came those final five.
Pen Argyl freshman Collin Ramsay, ranked No. 4 by lehighvalleylive at 127, posted a major decision at 127 to expand the Green Knight lead to 29-12 and meaning Wilson needed to sweep the last four to win.
Wilson's Rider Heckman carries Pen Argyl's Luca Albanese during Heckman's win by fall at 133 pounds in the Green Knights' 35-27 win Friday night. Dave Dabour | lehighvalleylive contributor
And the Warriors almost did.
First, junior Rider Heckman pinned in 3:49 at 133. 29-18.
Second, freshman Lance Thatcher gutted out a 10-8 donnybrook over sophomore Hunter Beers that swung back and forth like a seesaw at recess, with the Green Knight coming within inches of a tying takedown, at 139. 29-21.
The last two bouts raised the decibel level off the charts.
At 145, Wilson junior Tristan Minnich dominated Pen Argyl junior Vincent Reto, almost decking him at the end of the first period, but Reto hung on and hung on, knowing anything other a fall or technical fall would make Wilson need bonus points at 152 to triumph.
Wilson's Tristian Minnich celebrates his pin at 145 pounds.Dave Dabour | lehighvalleylive contributor
Minnich came at Reto with everything he had, forcing two stall points, and then taking down Reto with seven seconds, flipping the Green Knight to his back, and decking him at 5:56 as the crowd let loose a hellacious roar. “Go big or go home,” said Minnich of his approach.
That made 152 for all the marbles, with Pen Argyl’s lead down to two, 29-27, and that lead looked really precarious as Millen took Moser down twice in the first period.
Then came one of the moments of the season.
Moser escaped, and with about 30 seconds to go launched himself like a high jumper, or maybe a pole vaulter, into the air, flying over a startled Millen in a wildly rare maneuver that, somehow, led to a takedown.
“I’d never seen Alex do that in practice,” Mertz said. “And I hope he doesn’t do it again.”
Moser admitted it was a novelty.
“I had never done that before in a meet or in practice,” Moser said. “But I decided to go for it.”
Moser got it. The aerial effort led to a headlock that Moser finished off for a fall as, somehow, the noise level increased, with three seconds left in the period.
“As I was dragging his head, I saw the clock and I knew it was really short time and I had to crush it,” Moser said. “I had never had a match come down to me before. I kind of zoned out on the sideline once I realized it was coming down to me. I knew we had to win one of the last matches, and I watched my teammate Hunter fight super-hard (at 139) and that got me pumped-up.”
The whole gym was pumped up. “Special night” isn’t quite a special enough term.
“There was a lot of love in this gym tonight,” Mertz said.
That’s how it was special.
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Wilson wrestling hosts Pen Argyl on Jan 6, 2023