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Injuries catch up to Kittanning in loss to Clarion

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 11:21 p.m.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Kittanning wrestler Nick Croyle (right) works to get away from Clarion's Prince Brooks in the 138-pound bout on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, at Kittanning. Croyle won the bout with a late takedown and fall at the 5:56 mark, but Clarion won the match, 40-31.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Kittanning's Nate Vukovich tries to escape the grasp of Clarion's Jake Troutman in the 160-pound bout Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, at Kittanning. Troutman won the bout, 4-0, and Clarion won the match, 40-31.

Bonus points can make all the difference in a wrestling match, and for a couple of reasons, Kittanning gave away too many.

A short-handed Wildcats lineup lost 18 points by forfeit, and that made up more than the difference in a nonsection loss to visiting Clarion, 40-31, on Wednesday.

The match was the second of three nonsection matches this week for the Wildcats, who are looking to stay sharp ahead of the Section 3-AA team championship Wednesday. But perhaps the biggest thing the Kittanning lineup needs is to get wrestlers back and avoid conceding six points at multiple weights.

“The No. 1 thing with us right now is that we're trying to get healthy,” Kittanning coach Brandon Newill said. “It's really tough to wrestle when you're giving a team 18 points. That's tough to ask any team to do, but to be honest, this team has been pretty resilient, and we've been able to come back and win a few. Our goal is to get healthy and be ready for next week.”

Brendon Malia started the match well for Kittanning by getting a 2-0 decision over Caleb Bailey at 113 pounds. Kittanning had to forfeit the next three weights, however, which turned a 3-0 lead to an 18-3 deficit in less than a minute.

The Wildcats were unable to recover from that hole, despite winning six of 11 contested matches and getting four wins by fall. Jason Nolf (152) and Cade Hepner (182) both recorded first-period pins, while Nick Croyle (138) and Jacob Shaner (106) got third-period pins, with Croyle's coming with 4 seconds remaining in a 6-4 bout.

Jacob Robb had the Wildcats' other win, a 13-1 major decision over Zach Sintobin at 220.

Having so many wrestlers unavailable hasn't just hurt the Wildcats in matches, but it also makes things more difficult in the practice room. As an example, Newill pointed out his two lightweights — Shaner and Malia — have been each other's only practice partner for weeks without a wrestler at 120, 126 or 132 available.

“It's tough without so many kids in practice and having to give up so many forfeits,” Kittanning senior co-captain Austin Cox said. “I feel like we're getting closer (to full strength), but it's been tough.”

But while forfeits have hindered Kittanning, the team was able to overcome one in a win over Valley and three each in wins over West Shamokin and Marion Center.

Newill's biggest concern from the loss to Clarion was the wrestlers on the mat giving away additional points. That happened in the form of falls by Clarion's Alex Burkhart (195) and Zack Huet (285), and a 12-0 major decision for Riley Gunter (145).

“You can't give up pins, and you can't give up bonus points. We talked about that before the match, but we didn't do that,” Newill said. “Those are the keys to a match, and when you do give up pins, that's how you lose against good teams.”

The Wildcats have their final tune-up before the section championship Friday when they visit Kiski Area for a nonsection match.

In the Section 3-AA championship, Kittanning, as the B subsection runner-up, will face A subsection winner South Allegheny. A win would put the Wildcats in the final for the second straight year, and the most likely opponent will be reigning WPIAL champ Burrell, which beat Kittanning in last year's section final and in their match earlier this season.

“It motivates us, for sure, since we lost to (Burrell) the first time we wrestled them,” Cox said. “It would be nice to wrestle them again and try to get revenge the next time.”

But whether the Wildcats would be 100 percent for a rematch with the Bucs is a question that is still up in the air.

When asked if he thought his injured wrestlers would be ready for the section championship, Newill simply shrugged and said: “I hope so.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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