Franklin Regional tops rival Latrobe for 1st state wrestling title
HERSHEY — The Franklin Regional wrestling team closed one chapter of its season. Now it's starting a new one.
The Panthers completed their team goals by capturing their first state title with a 37-23 victory against section rival Latrobe at the PIAA Class AAA team championship Saturday at Giant Center.
Now the Panthers will change their focus to winning some individual crowns.
It was the first time that two WPIAL teams have met in the state finals. Latrobe (16-3) finished second for the first time.
It was the third time in the past three weeks the teams have met on the mat. Franklin Regional won all three, but this was the closest.
And it turned out to be a great day for wrestling from Westmoreland County as Burrell (17-4) finished third in Class AA, defeating three teams Saturday, capped by a 45-20 win over District 3 champion Boiling Springs (15-3).
It is the third consecutive year a WPIAL team won the AAA state title, following Canon-McMillan in 2012-13. Connellsville is the only other WPIAL team to win a state title. That was in 2005.
“We had the big target on our backs all season,” Franklin Regional coach Eric Mausser said. “Latrobe gave it their best today. It was awesome and a heck of a match. Both teams wrestled well, and it came down to the end.”
Top-ranked Franklin Regional (23-1) won five consecutive matches from 126 pounds to 152 to grab a 31-9 lead.
But Latrobe still had a chance beginning at 160 when Dom Scalise defeated Brandon Yant, 5-2, to stop the run.
Franklin Regional senior Nate Painter ended the Wildcats' upset hopes with a 5-3 victory against Justin Short at 170 to clinch the title.
“Nate had a great match and sealed the deal,” Mausser said. “I don't think he's ever lost to Short, and I had a lot of faith in him. Nate did a good job stepping up in and getting the win.”
Latrobe and Franklin Regional exchanged pins to start the match. Tyler Mears got a second-period pin for Latrobe, and Devin Brown a 17-second pin for Franklin Regional.
Spencer Lee earned a 19-3 technical fall over Ethan McCoy at 113 pounds to give Franklin Regional the lead for good.
Latrobe sophomore Luke Pletcher held on to edge Gus Solomon, 4-3, at 120 to cut the lead to 11-9, but the Panthers put together one of their patented runs.
Dom Giannangeli (126) edged Joel Cawoski, 3-2; Tyler Smith (132) and Mike Kemerer (138) earned major decision wins; Josh Maruca (145) recorded a pin; and Josh Shields (152) topped Jake Shaffer, 5-0.
“My hat's off to Eric and his team,” Latrobe coach Tad Harbert said. “They're very well coached. They deserve to be hoisting the trophy. I'm proud of my guys because we scrapped hard.
“We were in the underdog role, and the wrestlers were pretty loose. We wanted to improve on every performance we had, and we did that. This team gave me and coach (Chad) Schmeling a fantastic ride this season.”
Franklin Regional junior Michael Kemerer said the hard work finally paid off in a state title.
“We've been training for this since we were little kids,” he said. “It's always been a dream and to finally come through and win is awesome.”
Mausser called it a great weekend for Westmoreland County wrestling.
“Same section, Section 1, baby,” Mausser said. “We have the toughest section in the state of Pennsylvania and the toughest county in the state. The county teams did a very good job. We battle-test each other and prepare for situations like this.”
Harbert added: “It's a good kick in the pants for Westmoreland County fans. We have great wrestling in our area.”
North Allegheny's bid to finish in the top four ended in the fourth-round consolations with a 31-28 loss to Cumberland Valley. The Tigers (16-3), with starters Jesse Rodgers and Layne Skundrich missing for the lineup, lost two close matches: Latrobe on Friday and Cumberland Valley on Saturday.
North Allegheny coach Jamie Kyriazis, however, did not use the missing wrestlers as an excuse.
Burrell did what coach Josh Shields had hoped, placing in the top four in the state. How the eight-time defending WPIAL champion Bucs accomplished their goal was different than Shields had planned.
After losing to Hamburg in the opening round, Burrell won five consecutive matches, including three Saturday to finish third.
Prior to the win in the third-place match, the Bucs defeated District 6 champion Huntingdon, 31-27, and District 6 runner-up Hamburg, 42-22.
That win avenged Thursday's loss.
“It was my job as a coach to light a fire under the guys,” Shields said. “I told them we were as good as these teams. We can do this. I told them it was do or die.”