It was, without question, one of the main events. If not the main event, even.
After getting the Henlopen Conference wrestling finals started with the 195-pound bracket, seniors Lucas Hudson and Zeke Marcozzi had to wait 13 long championship bouts before getting to the 182-pound title match at Sussex Central High School on Saturday, Feb. 19.
And so did the crowd.
With Marcozzi entering the tournament as the No. 1 seed for Indian River and Hudson as the No. 2 seed for Central, the highly-anticipated matchup would eventually give fans their money’s worth, and then some, as the longtime rival wrestlers from longtime rival schools finally took the mats and Hudson finally took the championship title, in a hard-fought 8-5 decision, for the tournament’s grand finale.
“Best match of the year,” said Hudson after the victory. “To finish like that, it was great. There was a big crowd here for us, especially with it being our home gym, so it was just incredible.”
The three-point margin was the largest points differential between two of the state’s top-ranked wrestlers this season.
While they’ve gone ear to ear during countless other off-season tournaments and practices since their days as eighth-graders at Selbyville Middle School, they’d only faced each other two other times during their senior campaigns prior to Saturday. Hudson had taken the first meeting in a two-point overtime decision at the Battle of the Beach on Dec. 30, and Marcozzi had evened the score with a two-point victory of his own at the Delcastle Invitational on Jan. 7.
“Those two have wrestled three times, and it’s been a point or two difference each match,” said IR head coach Jeff Windish. “Lucas wrestled well. Zeke’s gotta be a little more offensive, and I think we’ve got some things that we need to work on. I’m sure they’re going to see each other again at state finals next week.”
“I knew I had to push the pace more. I didn’t really do that in our last match,” said Hudson. “The crowd was behind me the whole time — that helped a lot. I was just waiting for the perfect shot. Zeke’s strong, he’s a good defensive wrestler.”
Considering how well they know each other, as both good friends and bitter rivals, Marcozzi got a feeling about how the title match might end up when Hudson took a one-point lead heading into the second period.
“It can always go either way with us, but for some reason, whoever’s winning going into the second period — 9 times out of 10, they win the match,” Marcozzi said of the trend. “Lucas wrestled well. He’s definitely been working on my shrugs, and he definitely defended them well from the last time we wrestled.”
The conference championship was Hudson’s second in his career, having earned his first title as a junior in the 170 bracket last season. He cashed his check to the 182 finals this year with a 3-2 semi-finals decision over Smyrna’s Hunter Moyer and quarterfinals pin against Dover’s Daimere Wilson-Turner.
Marcozzi got to the title match with a semi-finals pin over Polytech’s Vincent Tascione, starting off the tournament by making school history with his 128th career victory during the quarterfinals on Friday, Feb. 17.
“It felt great,” said Marcozzi of surpassing IR alumni Mike Magaha’s previous school record of 127 career wins after setting out to hit the mark earlier this season. “It felt great, but at the same time I wanted to win this tournament to get the No. 1 seed for states.”
“Zeke’s had an outstanding season,” added IR head coach Jeff Windish. “Going into the tournament, he was one win away, so he surpassed that, and that’s another accomplishment for him in a season full of them.”
Other top finishes for the Indians included freshman Will Rayne earning the school’s first HAC Conference title since 2010, at 106, sophomore Christian Lopez taking seventh at 113, freshman Ta’Jon Knight finishing sixth at 120, senior Jessie O’Neal placing sixth at 126, senior Jared Arlett taking fourth at 132, senior John Keller earning the eighth-place spot at 195, sophomore Zach Shultz taking eighth at 220 and freshman Ramon Turner rounding things out for the Indians at heavyweight with an eighth place finish as well.
Coming off a state championship title at team duals last week, the Golden Knights on Saturday saw three others wrestlers clinch individual Henlopen Conference titles, in addition to Hudson.
Junior Rashad Stratton took the 126 crown, while senior Blake Chambers earned the title at 170, and senior Johnny Morris took the top spot at 220. Junior Yony Morales placed second for the Knights at 113 after getting bested by defending conference champ Robbie Rosser from Milford, and senior Brandon Bautista made it to the 160 finals before getting edged by defending conference champ Cory Lawson from Cape Henlopen in a 5-4 decision at 160.
As for Hudson and Marcozzi, the rivalry could very well continue when Hudson enters the DIAA Individual State Tournament this Friday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 25, as the No. 1 seed at 182, and Marcozzi takes the bracket’s No. 2 spot.
“Zeke’s hungry for a state title,” said Windish of Marcozzi, who’s finished third at states for the past two seasons. “We just have to make sure we get ready to go and get another accomplishment checked off his list. He’s put the work in. Now we’ve got to clean a few things up and get ready to go on Friday.”
The DIAA Individual State Tournament will be held at Dover High School on Friday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 25.