Franklin Regional finishes season with strong performance at PIAA tournament
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Franklin Regional wrestling coach Eric Mausser admitted it's easy at times to “get greedy” in his position.
The Panthers took six wrestlers up to the PIAA Class AAA Individual Championships last weekend in Hershey, with two becoming state champions, two finishing as runner-ups and two taking third place in their respective weight classes. While Mausser said he would have loved to have seen six state champions, he thought his team acquitted itself very well.
“Any time you can take six guys to states and place all six of them in the top three, that's a great showing,” Mausser said. “I know some of them didn't place as high as they wanted to, but I thought they wrestled well. I didn't think the matches we lost we wrestled poorly; I thought we wrestled a good state tournament. A couple matches didn't go our way. It happens, but overall they have to be proud of themselves and what they accomplished.”
Junior Devin Brown (106 pounds) and freshman Spencer Lee (113) won the state championship in their weight classes, capping off undefeated seasons. The two joined Nico Megaludis (2009-11) and Tyler Smith (2013) as the only state champion wrestlers in school history.
Brown (37-0), who won the 106-pound Class AA championship while attending Saegertown last season, prevailed in some tight matches to win his second title. He beat New Oxford's Zurich Storm, 8-7, in the first round; Liberty's Luke Werner, 7-1, in the quarterfinals; and Exeter Township's Brett Kulp, 6-4, in the semifinals before prevailing 7-6 over Northampton's Dan Moran in the championship match. He never trailed in the final bout, building a 5-1 lead before Moran made a late run.
“I didn't think it'd be that close,” Brown said. “I knew that I'd worked too hard to not win, so I just kept going at it.
“(This title) doesn't really compare much; this one was kind of tougher than last year because I had a lot of close matches. A lot of people say Class AAA is harder than AA, and I mean, it is what you make of it.”
Lee (49-0) capped off a perfect freshman season with what Mausser called a “dominant” performance in Hershey. He beat Upper Perkiomen's Dustin Steffenino and Parkland's Jacob Lizak by technical fall in the first round and quarterfinals, respectively, then pinned Central Dauphin's TyShawn White in the semifinals. He beat General McLane's Joe Wheeling by a 15-5 major decision in the final.
“I wrestled OK,” Lee said. “My goal was to tech or pin everybody, and I didn't do that. I won; that's all the counts.”
Two Franklin Regional juniors finished as runner-ups: Michael Kemerer at 138 pounds and Josh Shields at 152.
Kemerer (43-3) beat West Chester Henderson's Brad Patton, 7-3, in the first round; Mifflin County's Hayden Hidlay, 7-4, in the quarterfinals; and ES South's Colby Ems, 9-1, in the semifinals to set up a WPIAL tournament rematch with Central Catholic's Vincenzo Joseph in the state final. The bout went into overtime, where Kemerer got caught in a “scramble situation” after going for a pin and ended up getting pinned himself.
“I think that's what makes it harder, when you're right there and you're able to see that you could have won that match,” Mausser said. “I know that's going to be harder for him, but he had a great season leading our team and being a great wrestler. He's a three-time state runner-up, and next year we're going to get that monkey off our back, and he's going to be a state champion. I know he will be, and I know he'll put the work in to be a state champion.”
Shields (41-5) beat Will Finkey of Garden Spot, 4-1, in the first round; Josh Ortman of Parkland, 13-2, in the quarterfinals; and Michael Springer of Norristown, 9-2, in the semifinals. In a finals matchup against Cumberland Valley's T.C. Warner, Shields gave up an early takedown but rallied in the third period, cutting his deficit to 4-3 and coming close to a takedown before the final buzzer sounded.
“T.C. came out firing in the first period, and he got his takedown and hung on to keep Josh down for the rest of the first period,” Mausser said. “In the second and third period, Josh just pushed the pace. If there was even three or four seconds left in that match, he's a state champion.”
Senior Tyler Smith (132 pounds) and junior Josh Maruca (145) each finished in third place, falling in the quarterfinals before winning three matches in the consolation bracket.
Smith (37-2) lost to Chase Zemenak of Nazareth, 3-0, in the quarterfinals before rallying to beat Big Spring's Greg Warner, Delaware Valley's Jalen Palmer and Central Dauphin's Zach Elvin in the consolation bracket to take third place.
“Tyler being a defending state champ, we knew we were going to have a tough quarterfinal match with Zemenak,” Mausser said. “(Smith) beat him earlier in the year in the team tournament, 1-0, so we knew it was going to be a grind of a match. ... After he got that loss, his next two matches he opened up and really was on fire and wrestled very well. Then his last match he was down 3-0 going into the third period and was able to tie it up and won in overtime.”
Maruca (40-6) lost to defending state champion Joe Galasso of Father Judge, 5-3, in the quarterfinals. He rebounded with wins over Great Valley's Shane Ruhnke, Spring Grove's Michael Hartman and Big Spring's Chad Wickard to claim third place. The win over Hartman came by a pin in 23 seconds.
“Josh did a fantastic job coming through the consolation round,” Mausser said. “He's been a two-time fifth-placer, and after he lost in the quarterfinals, he was in the consolation semifinals. It was a big pin (against Hartman) ... that was a huge monkey off his back, just being able to wrestle for third and fourth place.”
The state tournament officially ended Franklin Regional's best season in program history. The Panthers won their first WPIAL and PIAA team titles and doubled the number of state champion wrestlers in team history.
The team will lose six seniors, who make up many of the middle and higher weight classes. Nate Painter, Justin Rose, Smith, Zach West, John Wohlin and Brandon Yant will all graduate.
“You don't get too many talented groups like this,” Mausser said. “I don't believe it's a once-in-a-lifetime group; I hope not. I know we have a fantastic program at Franklin Regional, from our elementary all through our high school. We have great boosters (and a) great coaching staff. I'm hoping we're building a tradition. I'm hoping we're going to be the next Canon-McMillan, North Allegheny or Kiski Area that every time you wrestle, you know it's going to be a tough match.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib. Staff writer Paul Schofield contributed to this story.
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