JOHNSTOWN - Penn Cambria's Evan Link got what he had wanted since the Thomas Subaru Tournament - a bout with North Star's Nick Roberts in the finals of the Southwest Regional Class AA Tournament.
But it wasn't easy for Link.
Burrell freshman Zack Kelly pushed Link to the limit, coming from 4-1 down and getting a stall call on him in the third period, before the Panther senior 112-pounder won, 6-5, and avoided an upset on a long first day at the Cambria County War Memorial.
Photo for the Mirror by Jim Butler
Penn Cambria’s Evan Link attempts to turn Burrell’s Zack Kelly in the semis.
"Give credit to the Burrell kid. They came at us," PC coach Todd Niebauer said. "He showed no respect for Evans and came after him. It was not our top performance. Evan is not happy about it. Maybe it's a good thing. He hasn't been in a close match in a long time.
"All of a sudden it's 4-4 and it's a little bit of a battle. It was a confidence boost for Kelly, and Evan went into a panic mode. It's a good thing it happened there. At states, the stakes are a little higher."
Link, who pinned Mount Pleasant's Nick Hough in the quarters, is one of seven area wrestlers who will wrestle in today's championship finals, which are set for 10:15 this morning.
Bedford's Ryan Easter (103), Claysburg-Kimmel's James Dodson (119), Central Cambria's Ben Rager (125), Tyrone's Ronnie Garbinsky (135), Portage's David Kephart (189) and Northern Bedford's Joel Suter (215) also reached the finals.
Garbinsky hadn't had a close bout all season, but he found himself in one against Jeannette's Michael DePalma in the semifinals after a pin of Beth-Center's Erik Bolin in the quarterfinals. Garbinsky made a second-period escape stand in a 1-0 win over DePalma to earn a finals bout with Burrell's Jeremy Landowski.
Landowski, who pinned Juniata's Brandon Rowles in the semis, defaulted to Garbinsky in last year's tournament, and a Burrell assistant accused him of using a jujitsu move. That bout should be interesting to say the least.
Dodson beat North Star's Tayte Mostoller, 5-0, in the quarters before pinning Bellwood-Antis' Jared Woomer in 2:31 in the semifinals. Woomer was on a Cinderella run up until then, knocking off Shady Side Academy's returning champion Philip Elias, 1-0, in the first round and Meyersdale's Stephen McKenzie, 2-0, in the quarterfinals.
Woomer even got the first takedown in the semifinals, but Dodson hit a headlock from the bottom position for a five-point move and a 5-2 lead. He used a half nelson to put Woomer on his back and pin him in the second.
"James has turned it up a level," C-K coach Dave Marko said. "He's looked good so far. Woomer has always had close matches with him. James really stepped up. Even the takedown in the first period came off James being aggressive."
The win earned Dodson a finals spot acrosss from Derry's Jimmy Gulibon, who won two Class AAA state titles before the program moved to Class AA.
The Bulldogs are tied with Northern Bedford for second place in the team standings with 55 points. Burrell (108) has the team title all but locked up as it leads C-K and NBC by 53 points.
C-K was rolling along until the evening session. Josh Brown (103), Ty Dively (125), Cole Claar (130) and Corey Aungst (145) all lost in the semifinals. Dively had the biggest task, facing Shady Side Academy's Geoff Alexander, who will be going for his fourth Southwest title after pinning the Bulldog junior in 1:20.
"We had our ups and downs," Marko said. "That's sort of the name of the game here. We started out 8-for-8 and getting five guys into the semis is an accomplishement. [Second place] is nice to see, but the ultimate goal is to get as many as we can to states."
Northern Bedford started the day with nine wrestlers, but the Panthers have three left. Dan Sollenberger (189) and Quinton Hixson (285) are wrestling in the consolation semifinals, which are set for 9 this morning. The top five qualify for the PIAA Championships.
"We lost too many heartbreaking matches," NBC coach Jan Clark said. "There were about four matches we lost in the last few seconds. It's a tough way to go out, especially with some of these seniors who worked so hard."
Suter (24-0) missed most of February with mononucleosis, but he won a District 5 title, pinned Ligonier Valley's Clayton Nanassy in the quarters and beat Forest Hills' Jeff Meier, 3-2, in the semis with a first-period takedown and third-period escape. He gets Burrell's Brian Beattie (43-5) in the finals.
"It's a relief that I don't have to worry about coming back for third, fourth or fifth," Suter said. "Now, I'm just looking to get first."
"He does enough to get by right now," Clark said, "and every match he wrestles he's going to get stronger and stronger."
Easter majored Marion Center's Brandon Heberling, 15-4, in the quarters, and he earned a 1-0 win over South Allegheny's Russ Losteter in the semis to set up a finals bout with Kittanning's unbeaten Jason Nolf (39-0), who pinned Brown in 58 seconds.
"Ryan Easter has been wrestling a real nice tournament so far," Bedford coach Brian Creps said. "He wrestled really tough in the semifinals. The kid he wrestled is really strong."
Rager, whose teammates Tony Risaliti (152) and Shane Morris (285) lost in the semis, earned a wild 12-9 win over Chaleroi's Aaron Toth in the quarters and a 10-3 win over Jeannette's Sean LaVella. Rager's last two points came off of unsportsmanlike conduct whistles againstan irked LaVella.
"Rager wrestled outstanding," CC coach Bob Nikolishen said. "He put the heat on right from the beginning of the match. He had his big fish, and he made sure he controlled that the whole way through."
Regional veteran Kephart had a pin of Burgettstown's Darren Reed in the quarters and a 4-3 win over Jefferson-Morgan's Joe Phillips in the semis, getting a reversal and a two-point nearfall in the third off of a low-leg cradle.
"I was really looking forward to wrestling him," Kephart said. "He's a tough kid."