Franklin Regional wrestling team stopped in WPIAL final
Though it wasn't the one the team wanted, Franklin Regional wrestling can be proud of adding another piece of hardware to the trophy case.
The Panthers pushed three-time champion Canon-McMillan to the final bout but ended up settling with the runner-up trophy, 31-26, in the WPIAL Class AAA final at Chartiers Valley High School on Friday.
It was the first appearance in the team final for Franklin Regional, which already achieved program firsts this season with county and section titles. The Panthers didn't go down without first putting a scare into their opposition, as the five-point final margin was the closest of the Big Macs' four straight district final wins.
“We were one match away. That's what it came down to,” Franklin Regional coach Eric Mausser said. “We told our guys before it started that this one was going to be tight, but if we believed in ourselves, we could pull out a few of these matches. It turned out that we came up a little short, but it's been a great season so far, and we still have (the state tournament in) Hershey to go to next week.”
Franklin Regional stayed alive with a pair of narrow wins in the final four bouts.
Heavyweight Luke Fleck, the only senior in FR's lineup against Canon-Mac, broke a 20-20 tie in the team score by escaping from Canon-Mac's Alex Campbell at the end of the ultimate rideout overtime period for a 3-2 win.
Fleck and Campbell traded points in the second and third regulation and overtime periods to set up the final rideout. After a near escape for Fleck carried the action out of bounds, he finally shook Campbell off his leg and freed himself for the winning escape with 4.5 seconds left.
Canon-Mac retook the lead, 25-23, on a 15-0 technical fall by 106-pounder Brendon Price over Andrew Marshall, which set up a must-win 113-pound battle between FR's Kyle Berk and the Big Macs' Josh Minor.
Berk scored two takedowns and a reversal to take a 6-3 lead in a fast-paced first period, but in the second, Minor nearly scored a winning pin after Berk left himself vulnerable trying to escape.
“He caught me off my feet (in the second period), but as I was on my back, I told myself this is a team thing, and I have to keep fighting,” Berk said. “I wanted this more than anything, so when I got off my back, I took my time and just made up the points.”
After falling behind, 7-6, when Minor escaped in the third period, Berk took control again from the neutral position and scored two more takedowns to lock up a 10-8 win and put FR ahead, 26-25.
“I feel most comfortable in the neutral position with how he wrestles and I wrestle,” Berk said. “I had never been a part of anything so exciting and nerve-racking in my life than when I was trying to get off my back, but they're a great team and Josh is a really good wrestler.”
Canon-Mac clinched the win in the 120-pound match, where Dalton Macri scored a pin of FR's Dan Turner at the 1:01 mark of the first period. The Big Macs scored the only two pins of the final through Macri and Cody Wiercioch, who pinned Justin Rose at 195 pounds, and those additional points played a big role in a match where each school got seven wins.
FR led off the match with its strength by sending WPIAL champ Michael Kemerer to the mat for the opening match at 126 pounds. Kemerer scored a technical fall, 20-5, over Josiah Hritsko, as the Big Macs saved Stanford recruit Connor Schram, who defeated Kemerer by default in the final of the Powerade Tournament.
“We were sending out Mikey first, no matter what,” Mausser said. “If they were going to send out Connor, we weren't going to move away from him. Mikey wanted him, but I guess we'll have to wait until WPIALs to see Round 2.”
Franklin Regional won four of the first five bouts to take an early 17-5 lead. Tyler Smith scored a 15-0 technical fall Nick Oberhaus at 138 pounds, Josh Maruca won by 6-0 decision over Alec Hutchin at 145, and Josh Shields won by a 13-4 major decision over William Pihiou at 152.
Nate Painter also scored a 4-3 decision win for FR at 170 pounds on the strength of a first-period takedown and second-period reversal against Nick Konyk.
In the end, the Big Macs' depth and experience — Canon-Mac used seven seniors to FR's one in the final — were too much for Franklin Regional to overcome, but now the young Panthers get a chance to try their hand in the PIAA Class AAA tournament in Hershey this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“Before this year, matches like this didn't happen for us,” said Berk, a sophomore. “We're excited to go to Hershey, and we're going to come back even stronger (in the WPIAL tournament) next year.”
“I'm looking forward to next year, too, but we've got a long way to go this year before we're done,” Mausser said.
“The biggest thing is that we're still putting team trophies in the trophy case this year. Getting to the WPIAL final is a great accomplishment. The guys have been working their tails off, and they're doing a fantastic job.”
The Panthers reached the WPIAL final with wins earlier last week over North Hills, 48-24; Belle Vernon, 60-16; and North Allegheny, 28-27. North Allegheny defeated Kiski Area in the third-place match, 44-20, which means it will join FR and Canon-Mac in Hershey this week.
Franklin Regional's first-round match in the state tournament is Thursday against District 4 champion Jersey Shore. The winner of that match advances to Friday's quarterfinal round, where it will face District 1 champ Owen J. Roberts or District 2 champ Delaware Valley.
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.