Connellsville wrestlers win
HERSHEY -- The Connellsville wrestling program's tradition of winning continues. And this time, the Falcons made some history as well.
Connellsville defeated Easton in a close match to become the first WPIAL team ever to win the PIAA Class AAA championship.
"It feels great. It couldn't feel any better than this," Connellsville coach Tommy Dolde said after the Falcons secured a 34-25 victory over a team which is consistently one of the best in the state.
Dolde said after a slightly lackluster effort in Friday's quarterfinal win, Connellsville returned to Giant Center on Saturday with a different attitude.
"We made a little bit of an attitude adjustment. We talked about being focused," he said. "They're kids, and when you get them on a bus trip, three hours away, they kind of have a tendency to lose focus."
After Friday's discussion, though, the Falcons seemed to have gotten it back.
"The kids made the adjustments and came in with a different attitude," Dolde said. "I've never seen them like that before. They just took it to a different level."
Before Connellsville could get to the finals, they had to make it past a strong Nazareth team. That match started out close, but the Falcons pulled away in the last several bouts.
Thad Frick (160) got the Blue Eagles the early lead with a major decision in the first bout of the day, but Adam Knepper (171) answered with a decision, and Jason Doppelheuer (189) answered with a major decision. Josh Brewer battled past Tim Frey, 4-2, at 215 to give Connellsville a 10-4 lead.
Nazareth won three weight classes in a row, earning two decisions and a major decision to get in front 14-10, but Jake Knepper (119) and Mike Zavada (125) got the Falcons a two-point edge.
Steve Bell took a 14-4 lead over Mike Greck (130) before taking him to the mat in the second period, and Ashtin Primus (135) followed that by putting Tim Darling on his back. Zach Snyder won a 6-0 decision at 140 to put Connellsville in the lead 31-14 with two bouts to go, essentially sealing the win.
Joe Caramanica (145) racked up a technical fall for Nazareth, but Josh Martin finished off the match with a major decision at 152 to vault the Falcons into the finals by way of a 35-19 victory.
A couple of hours later, Connellsville returned to the mat for the biggest match of the tournament. Easton opened the finals with the advantage, getting a pin from Sal Crivellaro at 160. Doppelheuer sliced the lead in half with an 8-3 decision over David Crowell at 171, and Alan Porter survived a small controversy in the 189-pound bout to tie the match at 6-6.
Porter led Cory Rutt most of the way through their bout, until a last-second takedown seemed to give Rutt the decision. But the clock had malfunctioned, tacking on several extra seconds. Referees ruled that Rutt's takedown would have come after the time had expired, awarding Porter the 3-2 decision.
"That was huge," Dolde said. "The referees made the correct call; the clock was defective. That was a big win."
The Red Rovers didn't let it get them down, as Zach Pizarro posted a 13-4 major decision at 215, but the Falcons came right back. Melvin Warrick was leading Mike Varju 8-3 in the heavyweight bout before planking him near the end of the first period.
Jordan Oliver's pin at 103 handed Easton the 16-12 advantage, but Connellsville chipped away at it, with Kody Pujia earning a 12-5 decision at 112 to pull the team within a point.
Brad Gentzle's decision at 119 put the Red Rovers back ahead by four, and Seth Ciasulli's pin at 125 gave the team some breathing room in the form of a 25-15 lead.
The Falcons were far from finished, though. Bell (130) fought hard for a 5-4 lead over Josh Oliver before finally getting the pin with a second left in the bout. Primus (135) racked up 11 points in the second period of his bout against Colin Dailey, eventually winning the 17-5 major decision and tying the match at 25-25.
Snyder decisioned Alex Krom at 140, and Martin got the better of a 4-2 decision over Andrew Goldstein (145) to put Connellsville up 31-25.
With just one bout left, Easton could do no better than a tie, but Braylin Williams tried his best to get them one. He trailed Buddy Sines (152) just 4-3 after two periods, but Sines stayed strong for another couple of minutes, posting the 7-5 decision to clinch the Falcons' state championship.
Amid congratulations and cheers from both team members and fans, Dolde said he'd expected no less than a win when the match was down to its last few bouts.
"I thought we could win four (of the last five)," he said. "We won all five. The kids really stepped up."