When senior Jason Foster returned Concord’s Jaycee Haskell to the mat with 20 seconds to go in the third period of the 220-pound bout, it all started to sink in for the Keene High wrestling team.
Foster’s win clinched the team victory for the Blackbirds, a 41-27 triumph over Concord High School, on Wednesday in Keene.
As Foster rode out the final seconds of his match, the excitement that had been building up all night in the gym overflowed, and the Blackbirds bench — along with the Keene fans — exploded.
“The adrenaline just started running,” Foster said. “All these people — I grew up wrestling with their kids, so when they’re yelling it means a lot more than any other crowd. Definitely a good night for Keene.”
Concord has been a top-tier team in the state for years on end, finishing as runners-up to Timberlane High School in each of the last six seasons.
“Concord is always a really great team, they’re coached very well,” said Keene coach Pete Runez. “We’re just happy to be able to compete with them this year and hopefully give them a good run … at the state tournament.”
“All we did was go up the next rung on the ladder,” Foster said. “This was a big team, and there are bigger fish out there. We need to realize what we did good — and work on what we didn’t do, as well.”
The Blackbirds won nine of the 14 bouts and earned bonus points in six matchups, including three consecutive pins from junior Jack Hebert (160 pounds), senior Gavin Gruber (170 pounds) and senior Austin Morris (182 pounds) which pushed the momentum heavily towards Keene.
“Pins are everything,” Morris said. “We say, ‘Win big, lose small,’ and we won big.”
Sophomore Silas Runez also won his bout by fall at 145 pounds and freshman Peyton Gowell (113 pounds) and junior Jason Canavan (285 pounds) both earned major decisions.
Gowell’s major decision set the tone for the night as the first bout of the day, while Canavan brought things home at the tail end of the match.
Keene forfeited the 106-pound bout to end the night.
Coach Runez had to shuffle the lineup around, bumping a few guys up a weight class to avoid forfeiting any more bouts. That created some mismatches in terms of size, but that didn’t slow the Blackbirds down at all.
“The kids stepped up,” said Pete Runez. “They did a great job. We were undersized, but we had a lot of aggression and good technique. They believe in themselves, they believe in their teammates, they believe in each other.”
The teams started at 113 pounds (leaving Keene’s forfeit at 106 for last) and were back and forth through the first seven bouts. Keene held a slim 16-15 lead through the first half of the match before Hebert, Gruber and Morris all pinned their opponents and the Blackbirds jumped ahead, 34-15, with four bouts to go.
Concord got six team points back in the 195-pound bout, but that still gave Foster the chance to seal the deal at 220, and he got the job done.
“Going out there, I definitely had a game plan,” Foster said. “I wanted to get him tired, work my stuff and that’s exactly what happened. Definitely one for the team more than anything.”
“I told him to wrestle smart and stick to the moves he knows he can score on,” said Pete Runez. “He did exactly that and he stuck to the game plan.”
“He wanted it,” Morris said. “It’s just the fight in him. He’s a competitor, he wants to win. He really pulled it off for us.”
With the win, the Blackbirds move to 9-0 on the year, led by its seven seniors including Morris and Foster.
“It’s paying off now,” Morris said. “All of us working for the last three years, it’s paying off as a team. It feels good.”
“To be out here on the mat for my last year is huge, let alone have a team like we have right now,” Foster said. “It’s really just the camaraderie among the team that drives us home.”
Keene will be hosting an Alumni Night during the home dual meet against Manchester Memorial on Wednesday, Jan. 12. Anyone who has been a part of the Keene wrestling program in the past is encouraged to come to Keene High School for the final home meet of the season. Wrestling begins at 6 p.m.
113: Peyton Gowell (Keene) over Traevon Ling (Concord) (MD, 10-0)
120: Carter Spencer (Keene) over Hunter Richard (Concord) (Dec., 6-1)
126: Griffin Norwait (Concord) over Garret Nichols (Keene) (Fall)
132: Logan Mayo (Concord) over Joshua Sleeper-Seder (Keene) (Dec., 3-1)
138: Carter Trubiano (Keene) over Jamari Arzu (Concord) (Dec., 8-2)
145: Silas Runez (Keene) over Wesley Thompson (Concord) (Fall)
152: Jordan Reyes (Concord) over Matt Peate (Keene) (Fall)
160: Jack Hebert (Keene) over Kaevryel Madison (Concord) (Fall)
170: Gavin Gruber (Keene) over Rumi Mistry (Concord) (Fall)
182: Austin Morris (Keene) over Noah Blake (Concord) (Fall)
195: Kody Rashed (Concord) over Jacob Hutchins (Keene) (Fall)
220: Jason Foster (Keene) over Jaycee Haskell (Concord) (Dec., 7-4)
285: Jason Canavan (Keene) over Hunter Jeffers (Concord) (MD, 10-2)
106: Nicholas Kesseh (Concord), win by forfeit