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Gateway's Wilkins concludes senior season at PIAA tournament

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Gateway senior A.J. Wilkins missed a big chunk of his senior season because of a foot injury.

He recovered from the injury and was cleared to compete right before the Section 1 tournament.

Wilkins took advantage of the opportunity to get back on the mat, and that opportunity took him all the way the PIAA meet last Thursday and Friday at the Giant Center in Hershey.

He went 1-2 at 113 pounds and concluded his season at 17-5.

“A.J. performed well all weekend,” Gateway head coach R.J. Santilli said.

“He never stopped wrestling his heart out.”

Wilkins opened his tournament against Parkland junior Ethan Lizak, the 2012 state champion at 106 pounds.

Lizak defeated Wilkins by fall at 3:36 and went on to capture the state title and complete his season at 44-2.

“There are not a lot of wrestlers of (Lizak's) quality in the state,” Santilli said. “A.J. wrestled him hard and gave it his all.”

Wilkins was able to bounce back and pick up a 12-7 victory over Hunter Hendricks, a freshman from General McLane in District 10, in the first round of consolations.

“Winning a match at states was certainly a goal of his, and it was great to see him get that,” Santilli said.

Wilkins' tournament came to an end in the next round with an 11-4 loss to Derek Gulotta, a sophomore from District 1's Owen J. Roberts HIgh School.

Gulotta went on to place eighth.

“Unfortunatly, A.J. came up one win short of placing. But all in all, he had a great experience,” Santilli said.

“It is quite an accomplishment just to make the (state) tournament, and he gained a lot from it.

“He showed a tremendous amount of character being able to bounce back from that injury. At one point, we weren't really sure he would be able to come back. He really had to put in extra time and effort to get back his timing, to shore up a few moves and to get back into overall shape. There were a lot of factors to consider in a short period of time. He was able to put it all together and make a nice run.”

Wilkins compiled a 69-26 run in three varsity seasons.

As a sophomore, he went 27-12 overall, captured the Section 1 title at 106 and split four matches at the WPIAL tournament.

He remained at 106 for the 2012 postseason tournaments and went 1-2 at WPIALs to finish his junior season at 25-9.

“It's always tough to replace a wrestler of A.J.'s ability,” Santilli said.

“The program benefitted a lot from having him there. The younger kids really looked up to him. They see what Gateway wrestling is about by watching him, as well as others like Jaymar (Parrish), Malik (Shuman) and the other seniors. They put in a lot of time and effort. They were leaders by not only what they said but by what they did on the mat, and that will help the program in the long run.”

Wilkins' high school career didn't technically end at states, as he represented Gateway at the Allegheny County vs. Westmoreland County senior wrestling challenge match Tuesday evening at North Hills. He was scheduled to face Valley senior Josiah Hughes in the 113-pound bout.

The match was to be contested past the deadline for this week's edition.

Wilkins plans to continue wrestling in college, and he will make a visit to the University of Pittsburgh on Sunday.

The WPIAL sent 42 wrestlers to the Class AAA state tournament, and 31 of them earned top-eight medals in the 14 weight classes.

Dom Forys from North Allegheny and A.C. Headlee from Waynesburg, placed fifth and sixth, respectively, at 113.

The WPIAL brought home seven state titles, including Tyler Smith from Franklin Regional at 132.

Canon-McMillan crowned three state champions, as the Big Macs took home the team title.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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