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Settles keeps on winning titles

| Sunday, March 4, 2001

Even by Troy Letters' lofty standards, this was a performance that prompted people to leave their seats.

The All-American senior wrestler from Shaler Area pinned previously undefeated Norwin junior Dave Gardner at 1:23 on Saturday night to cap a dominating run to a fourth consecutive PIAA Class AAA Southwest Regional title and earn a standing ovation from the crowd at Robert Morris College.

'I've not gotten a (standing ovation) before,' he said. 'It was amazing.'

While most of the 3,785 in attendance were on their feet, Letters' opponents at the two-day event were left flat on their backs.

Letters (34-0), the defending PIAA Class AAA champion at 152 pounds, pinned all four opponents this weekend, never needing more than 2:38.

The Lehigh recruit disposed of North Allegheny senior Eric Cassidy at 2:38 in the semifinals before handing Gardner (33-1) his first loss in 34 bouts this season.

'I caught him off-guard and I got lucky,' said Letters, who is 141-5 for his career.

Chris Lape of West Allegheny also defended his Southwest Regional title, winning at 119 pounds, as the top four finishers in each weight class will advance to the PIAA Class AAA wrestling championship.

Shaler, which also had 189-pound champion Brandon Lehmeier, won the team title with 85.5 points.

Connellsville and West Allegheny each won two individual championships. DeWitt Driscoll (38-2 at 135) and Ron Doppelheuer (36-2 at 140) won for Connellsville. Lape (33-1) and senior Ron Tarquinio (37-4 at 130) won titles for West Allegheny.

Waynesburg freshman Coleman Scott won the 112-pound title with a 6-4 victory over top-seeded Jeff Breese of McGuffey.

The most intense bout of the night involved Letters' younger brother, Taylor, who lost to Doppelheuer, 8-3, in the 140-pound title bout.

In a rematch of Doppelheuer's 6-5 victory in the Beast of the East semifinals, the defending PIAA Class AAA champion turned a choke-and-twist move by Letters into a five-point reversal and near-fall to break open a close bout.

'I've been working on that roll for about a week, and I thought I had it,' Letters said. 'But I missed it.'

Said Doppelheuer, 'I'd tried to take him down, but he's like a gumby doll and it wasn't working. I knew (his move) was coming, and I was just hoping that I could roll through it.'

Sophomore Mark McKnight (30-3) became Chartiers Valley's second consecutive 103-pound regional champion with a 7-2 victory over surprise finalist Mike Ciotti of Latrobe.

McKnight, who wrestled at 112 pounds last year and didn't even advance past the sections, defeated Ciotti for the second time this year to join current Colts teammate Scott Hutton as a 103-pound regional champion.

'The kids were too big last year and they threw me around,' he said. 'I got hammered. I dropped down and I own this weight class now.'

Seneca Valley senior Shawn Cully won the elusive gold medal by pinning Latrobe junior Jon Stovich (29-4) at 3:01 in the 125-pound title bout.

Cully, a high honors student who will wrestle at Brown University next year, had placed fourth in the Southwest Regionals each of the past three years.

'It's a lot better to go as a champion,' Cully said. 'When you're fourth place you always feel kind of unwelcome. We're the only region that sends four, so you're the odd man out.'

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