Every year it seems a wrestler from the WPIAL flies under the radar most of the season and then puts together a solid weekend and qualifies for the PIAA Class AAA Championship at Hershey.
That guy this season was Latrobe freshman Jake Shaffer, who benefitted when the No. 3 seed at 138 pounds, Hempfield's Sean LaVella, was pulled from the tournament for breaking team rules.
LaVella, a senior, had beaten the freshman three times this season.
The sixth-seeded Shaffer (35-9) seized the opportunity. He defeated Central Catholic senior Justin Alexander, 1-0, in the third-place match. Alexander, who became the third seed, needed overtime to defeat Shaffer, 3-1, in the quarterfinals.
“This is awesome,” Shaffer said after his win. “I'm so happy. I knew I had a chance to win when LaVella was pulled out.”
When Shaffer got a second shot at Alexander, he said he knew he could win.
“I gained a lot of confidence in that first meeting,” Shaffer said. “I knew I could hold him down, and I did.”
Freshman Luke Pletcher (106) and junior Zach Zavatsky (160), who both won WPIAL championships, also will compete at the state tournament for Latrobe.
Being overshadowed by Pletcher, the state's No. 1-ranked wrestler in Class AAA, and Zavatsky didn't bother Shaffer. Watching his teammates work showed him what he had to do.
“Jake was often overlooked,” Latrobe coach Tad Harbert said. “I definitely thought he had a chance. The hug he gave me after he qualified is something I'll remember. It was special. When LaVella was pulled it opened things up a little. I could tell from Jake's attitude Saturday that he was ready. He wrestled with a lot of confidence.”
Shaffer said he was in and out of the rankings all season.
“I slumped a little around the Westmoreland County tournament,” Shaffer said. “Then I went on a winning streak. Luke and Zack have made their mark, now it's time I make mine.”
Shaffer opens his first PIAA tournament against one of the top wrestlers in the state: Central Dauphin senior Tyson Dippery (44-2).
Pletcher (37-2) will face Erie McDowell freshman Charlie Lenox (32-14), while Zavatsky faces Conestoga senior Logan Kerin (22-3).
Also in Class AAA, Canon-McMillan senior Cody Wiercioch (170) is going after his third PIAA title, while Kiski Area senior Matt McCutcheon will try to win his second after losing his first bout of the season last week in the WPIAL finals to Hampton's Jake Hart.
Wiercioch (40-1) will face Big Spring junior Cody Seibert (21-5), while 195-pounder McCutcheon (34-1) goes against Bald Eagle Area senior Aaron Varner (28-4).
Also going after his second PIAA title is Canon-McMillan senior Connor Schram (126), who placed second in 2011 and 2012, and won the 103-pound title in 2010.
Franklin Regional sophomore Michael Kemerer (126) and Hart (195) also were PIAA runners-up last year.
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