Five Gateway wrestlers punch tickets to WPIAL tournament
Gateway senior A.J. Wilkins was up to speed after a tough month-and-a-half stretch away from competition because of a foot injury.
He was the No. 1 seed at 113 pounds at Saturday's Section 1-AAA tournament, and he hoped to capture the section championship and add it to the section title he won earlier in his varsity career.
After breezing through his first two matches — he pinned his two opponents in a combined 3:39 — he met up with No. 2 seed Kyle Berk, a sophomore from Franklin Regional.
When the dust settled, Berk came out on top in the closest of margins with a 7-6 victory over Wilkins.
“A.J. looked good, and he came very close to winning the section title,” Gateway head coach R.J. Santilli said.
“He had the lead (against Berk), and he kind of let up at the end and gave up a late takedown. He was really disappointed, but I think it will motivate him. His goal all along is to make it to states, and that is still in front of him.”
Wilkins now is 11-2 on the season, and he is one of five Gateway wrestlers to punch tickets to the WPIAL/Southwest Regional Tournament, set for Thursday through Saturday at Norwin High School.
The top five finishers in each weight class in the four AAA sections will wrestle at WPIALs.
The top three at WPIALs will move on to states March 7 to 9 in Hershey.
Also moving on to WPIALs are senior Jaymar Parrish at heavyweight, sophomore Jalen Key at 138, junior Cody Pawlowski at 195 and senior Malik Shuman at 182.
Parrish took third, while Key, Pawlowski and Shuman survived in fifth-place matches.
Parrish had to fight his way out of a preliminary bout in the heavyweight bracket. He won that match by pinfall and then battled top seed Shane Kuhn, a Kiski Area junior, in the quarterfinals.
Kuhn defeated Parrish, 3-1, and went on to win the section crown and remain undefeated at 34-0.
Parrish, meanwhile, advanced through the consolation bracket and then dominated Norwin senior Rusty Casteel in the third-place match. He pinned Casteel at 2:00.
The consolation matches were five minutes — one minute for the first period and two minutes for the second and third periods.
“Jaymar wrestled Kuhn in the quarterfinals, which wasn't fair to either wrestler,” Santilli said.
“I didn't think Jaymar should've been seeded there, and I didn't think Shane should've had a match of that caliber in the quarterfinals, being that he is a returning state place winner. Jaymar shouldn't have had a state place winner in the quarterfinals. He should've been on the other side of the bracket. But it is what it is, and Jaymar looked good. He was strong and aggressive the whole day. He did what he needed to do to get to WPIALs.”
Key scored a decision win over Kiski Area's Garrett Fitzsimmons, 7-4, in the fifth-place match at 138, and he will enter the WPIAL tournament with a 16-15 record.
Pawlowski improved to 14-16 on the season with a 5-0 victory over Penn-Trafford's Michael Pifer in his fifth-place bout at 195.
Shuman avoided the end of his varsity career, as he defeated Lou Maser from Hempfield in the do-or-die fifth-place contest at 182. Shuman now is 16-14 overall.
“We were 3 of 4 in that fifth-place match, which is a great percentage,” Santilli said.
“Each of the guys who won, we had talked to them about what they needed to do if they got into that situation. Jalen had gotten beat by Fitzsimmons, 20-5, in December, and it's hard to avenge a tech fall loss. But he really controlled the match the whole time. That was a great experience for him. He showed his mental toughness.
“Cody and Malik also showed a lot of mental toughness. Malik had beaten Maser twice before, and winning a third time over the same opponent is sometimes tough. Cody and Malik didn't score a lot of points in their (fifth-place) matches, but they scored enough to get the wins. They were never in danger of losing.”
Junior Austin Davidson came into his tournament at 170 with a team-best 22 wins on the season (22-10), but he suffered a pinfall loss to Greater Latrobe's Justin Short in the quarterfinals, and then he defaulted because of injury in his first consolation bout.
Davidson had been battling through a knee injury in the weeks leading up to the section tournament.
“He had been wrestling with a torn meniscus, and it happened a couple of weeks ago,” Santilli said.
“His choice was to finish the season and have surgery after the season. He was doing well with it. He suffered the injury before the Butler match, and he went 3-1 afterwards, even though he was limited. It's very unfortunate, and Austin is disappointed. But he's one of the hardest workers in this program, and I know he will get the surgery, rehab it and come back stronger for next year.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.