Move to Division I in the cards

Before making the jump to Division I next season, the Milford Buccaneers left a parting gift in Division II, capturing their sixth straight DIAA Division II Dual Team Wrestling state championship Saturday at Smyrna High.

The finals Saturday saw Milford go head-to-head with the Caravel Buccaneers, who had advanced after victories over Archmere Academy and Indian River.

After a relatively painless time in the quarter and semifinals, Milford kept the train rolling by winning six of the first seven bouts against Caravel to take a commanding lead.

With a chance to put the Buccaneers in the driver’s seat midway through the finals, Evonte Bennett stepped to the mat as an unlikely hero. Though Bennett is a senior, he’s mainly been a reserve on the varsity team throughout. However, on this night, it was his time to shine and he didn’t disappoint, earning a pin-fall victory in 36 seconds over Caravel’s Anthony Ranauto.

“I was a little nervous, but at the same time excited,” Bennett said. “I didn’t want to let my team down, I wanted to make my team proud-it’s amazing, I can’t even describe it.”

A mainstay on the JV, Bennett exemplified perfectly what has made Milford’s wrestling team so special during their six straight seasons as DII champions. To come away with as much hardware as the Buccaneers have, it takes a team, not individuals.

“We always make sure we don’t just wrestle for ourselves,” Bennett said. “We wrestle for each other.”

Milford head coach Don Parsley said the winning never gets old, especially when it comes with a special moment like Bennett’s pin-fall win.

“He’s wrestled for four years, he’s done everything I’ve asked,” Parsley said. “I’ve used him often at times as the extra guy and he got an opportunity to show me why I believe in him.”

Milford advanced to Saturday’s round thanks to an 81-0 quarterfinals win over Mt. Pleasant at A.I. Dupont High School Friday night.

The next obstacle between Milford and a sixth title was a Henlopen South rival, the Woodbridge Blue Raiders. The two teams met days ago, a 49-19 win for Milford in their regular season finale. The Bucs cruised to a 51-18 victory over the Blue Raiders, setting up the championship bout against Caravel.

Caravel was a regular season opponent of Milford’s. The two squads matched up in late January, a 43-24 Milford win at the Legacy Duals.

Milford was expecting a fight.

“Not once did we ever take their team lightly, we always stay focused and we treated them like every team we wrestled,” Bennett said. “We go hard from the start and we finish strong, we do our thing. We wrestle and we leave it out on the mat.”

Early in the bout, Caravel forfeited at 160 to try and set up some more favorable matchups down the line, a test the Buccaneers were able to withstand thanks to a big win by Rafael Mejia and another later by Jake Thode to clinch the title.

“They made it really challenging,” Parsley said. “We lost the coin-toss so I had to send my guys out first, which I didn’t want to do, but Raf went out there and did a really nice job and took care of business and Jack went out and really, from the start, controlled that match.”

Milford will move up to Division I next season, where they intend to keep their winning ways going.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to stay on the Division II side and have this nice stretch,” Parsley said. “But, I have a good group of kids, 11 of 14 starters coming back next year and it’s time to make the move.”

“I think we’re going to be up for the challenge and if you go back early in the season, we knocked off Caesar Rodney, 33-30, they’re in the the championship so that could very well be us on the other side facing Smyrna.”