Fleck's OT win clinches FR's section title
A week earlier, Luke Fleck wasn't even allowed to have full-contact practice. But in the section wrestling championship, the Franklin Regional senior found himself on the mat with a chance to put the title away.
Fleck came through in dramatic fashion, as the FR heavyweight clinched a 2-1 overtime victory to secure the Panthers' first section title in school history with a 38-27 win over Kiski Area in the Section 1-AAA title match.
The Panthers needed just one win in their final six matches to secure the win over Kiski Area, but they were going through the strength of the Cavaliers' lineup, 170 pounds and above. After pins by the Cavaliers' Kyle Skelly, Tyler Worthing, Matt McCutcheon and Shane Kuhn, FR's lead was cut to 32-27.
That was when Fleck, who has been recovering from knee surgery, made an unexpected trip onto the mat.
“It was a bit of a surprise. I wasn't expecting to wrestle tonight,” Fleck said. “Because of the situation and how things ended up happening, it was best for me to go out there.
“It all worked out for the best. It felt really good to get back in there wrestling full speed again.”
That Fleck would be called into action wasn't even a sure thing when Brett Zanotto headed to the mat to face Kuhn in the 220-pound bout. Franklin Regional coach Eric Mausser quickly left the coaching area to speak with Fleck's father in the crowd, just to confirm that everyone was OK with the senior being called into action.
“Our goal was to not even have him wrestle this week, but he came to me to get in there,” Mausser said. “He was cleared to practice this week with no restrictions, but we wanted to kind of ease him back in. I didn't want to put him in there, but he said he wanted to go.”
Fleck's bout was scoreless through two periods after the senior chose to start the second period from the neutral position. When McClarnon escaped from down for a 1-0 lead in the third, it appeared Fleck's choice would cost him, but by remaining the aggressor, McClarnon conceded a penalty point for stalling with 25 seconds left in the period.
The first overtime period also was scoreless, but from the down position in the second extra period, Fleck managed to escape with :07 left on the clock.
“I wasn't really certain, with my knee, if I could go down,” Fleck said. “I haven't really practiced that, yet, so I was hoping to get the takedown (in the second period) from neutral.
“It didn't work out, and it just came down to where I had to take bottom. When it got to that point, I knew what I had to do and just executed.”
Fleck rode out McClarnon in the final 30-second overtime period to clinch the win, and when the final horn sounded, the Franklin Regional bench erupted in celebration.
Fleck wasn't the only senior making a first-time appearance in FR's lineup, as 120-pound senior Connor Medlang also hit the mat for the first time in the Panthers' semifinal earlier that night against Latrobe.
Medlang, who worked all season to drop to 120 pounds after being stuck in a backup role at higher weights, finally qualified to compete at the lighter class in the section tournament, where he scored wins of 11-1, over Latrobe's Eric Mills, and 10-4, over Kiski Area's Ryan Hardaway.
“This was the first time cutting all the way down. It was tough. I lost about 10 pounds,” Medlang said. “I finally got the last pound off today, and it felt good getting out there and beating these guys. We complete the lineup when I'm in there, and getting the first section title feels great.”
Medlang, Fleck and 160-pounder Matt Green, who wrestled in the semfinal but not the final, were the three FR seniors to compete on the historic night for the program, which comes on the heels of FR's first county championship, earlier this month.
“It's our senior year, so it was great for me and Luke to get back and make great contributions to this,” Medlang said.
“It feels great because me and Connor have both been on a bit of a hiatus,” Fleck said. “It feels good to be back out there as a senior helping the team.”
Many of the usual suspects also helped Franklin Regional along to the win over Kiski Area.
Kyle Berk (113), Tyler Smith (132) and Josh Shields (160) all scored falls, and Michael Kemerer (126) added a technical fall for FR. Max Kubas (138), Brandon Yant (152) and Andrew Marshall (106) all won by decision for the Panthers.
“Our goal has always been to beat Kiski and to win this section championship,” Mausser said. “We've always had some very good individuals, but we're turning this thing into a whole team effort. It feels great to finally win this.”
In the semifinal win over Latrobe by a score of 39-33, Dom Giannangeli (132) and Shields (152) pinned their opponents, and Berk and Kemerer both won by technical fall. Smith was the wrestler of record to receive a forfeit at 138, while Medlang (120), Josh Maruca (145) and Nate Painter (170) also won for the Panthers, who forfeited at 220 and 285 after the team clinched the win.
The section title earned Franklin Regional the No. 3 seed and a home night for the WPIAL Class AAA tournament, which began earlier this week.
The Panthers were scheduled to face North Hills — a 46-28 play-in round winner over Waynesburg on Monday — in the first round. The winner was then to face the winner between Latrobe and Belle Vernon in the quarterfinals, both on Wednesday, after this edition's deadline.
The team to emerge from those matches will face the surviving team from second-seeded North Allegheny's site in a semifinal at Chartiers Valley on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and then wrestle again at Chartiers Valley on Saturday in either the third-place or championship match.
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.