Gabriel going for the gold

HERSHEY – Bedford coach Brian Creps says 113-pounder Jonathan Gabriel has been on a roll ever since he won his weight class at the Thomas Subaru Tournament.

Gabriel has carried that momentum right into the state finals.

Gabriel breezed into the finals of the PIAA Class AA Championships with dominating wins on Friday before 5,572 fans at the Giant Center, ringing up a 23-8 technical fall in 6:00 over Jamestown’s Faris Messai in the quarterfinals and pinning Reynolds’ Seth Hogue in 3:50 in the semifinals to become the second Bison in as many years to make the finals.

“I knew I was going to be a contender [for a medal] as high as possible, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure whether I’d make the finals,” Gabriel said. “When I saw the bracket, I knew I had a really great chance to make the finals. I came out here and showed everybody what I was about.”

“He’s been wrestling really well for about the past month,” Creps said. “He really showed everyone he has been wrestling well, and he’s healthy right now, so that’s real big.”

His finals opponent will be Bethlehem Catholic’s returning state runner-up Luke Karam, who reached the finals with a 6-0 win over Brookville’s Taylor Ortz. The finals are scheduled for 2 p.m. and will be aired live on PCN.

Gabriel is the only area finalist as Central Cambria’s Max Murin and Chestnut Ridge’s Aaron Burkett lost their semifinals at 106. They actually lost again in the consy semifinals and will wrestle each other in the fifth-place bout. Burkett provided some fireworks in the quarterfinals when he cemented Lancaster Catholic’s Joe Lobeck to his back late in the bout and won, 8-7.

“I think that may be the first cement job he ever hit,” Ridge coach Greg Lazor said. “I know we haven’t seen one on varsity. But, he kept wrestling until the end, kept fighting and pulled one out for himself.”

Ten area wrestlers have placed in the top eight of their weights. Huntingdon freshman Jacob Oliver (145) and Cambria Heights senior Aaron Gill (285) will wrestle for third at their respective weights, while Huntingdon’s Collin Glorioso (113), Cambria Heights’ Levi Niebauer (160) and Everett’s Devin Reed (285) will join Murin and Burkett in the fifth-place bouts.

Bedford’s Ryan Easter (132), who was a runner-up last year, became the first wrestler in school history to earn four state medals, but he’ll go for seventh today, as will teammate Garrett Thomas (138).

“We’d like to be going higher than seventh for the two seniors,” Creps said, “but sometimes the momentum doesn’t go your way.”

Gabriel, who took fourth at the Southwest Regional, was only up 8-6 in the second period of his quarterfinals when he turned it up a notch, escaping, taking Messai down and scoring three nearfall points for a 14-6 lead. He outscored Messai 9-2 in the final period, including reversing him to his back for a five-point and a technical fall.

Not many expected to see Hogue in the semis, but he was there after a 2-0 win over Southmoreland’s regional champ Austin Griffiths, who later forfeited to Glorioso because he was having breathing problems and was being taken to the hospital.

“I had to wrestle Hogue, and I was kind of excited about that,” Gabriel said, “because I always wrestle better when I don’t know the kid.”

Gabriel took Hogue down in the first period and then reversed him to his back in the second period. When the referee slapped the mat, the Bedford celebration began.

“At that point, I just wanted to end the match as fast as possible,” Gabriel said. “I threw double grapes in, lifted up his head as hard as I could and stuck him.”

“He was there a long time before he finally got it,” Creps said smiling. “In my mind, I thought he was pinned sooner, but you know how a coach’s mind goes.”

Karam’s closest bout of the tournament was a 3-1 preliminary round win over Glorioso. Gabriel (29-5), who was a 2012 Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling champion, and Karam (39-2) wrestled earlier in the year at the King of the Mountain, and Karam beat him, 11-0, but that was a long time ago, and Gabriel is looking forward to the challenge.

“I know that he’s coming to come out and he’s going to be really aggressive,” Gabriel said. “All kids at this level usually are. So, I’m going to try and match that. Last time, he was a lot more aggressive than I was, but that was at the beginning of the year. I’ve gotten a lot more aggressive, a lot more physically fit, and I’m just going to go out and push the pace like I always do.”

“We wrestled Karam earlier in the year, and he put it to us pretty good,” Creps said, “but we’re wrestling a lot better than we were then, so we’ll see what happens.”

Oliver went 3-0 on Friday, pinning Beth-Center’s Tony Welsh in 4:16, beating Piux X’s Michael Communale, 5-0, in his next bout and reaching the third-place finals with a 6-1 win over Muncy’s Dakota Nixon. Oliver (41-4) will wrestle Brookville’s Zach Vroman (33-6) for third place.

“Jake wrestled great,” Huntingdon coach Jon Mykut said. “He’s had a great tournament so far. He’s been really active on his feet. He had a nice high-crotch [shot] and a good finish to win that last match. He obviously has good mat sense, and he has good hips. He’s a little dangerous, so that’s definitely a good thing to have as a wrestler.”

Gill has come the whole way back through the consolations after an opening-bout 9-0 loss Pen Argyl’s Brady Mutton, who is wrestling Lakeview’s returning state champ Sam Breese in the finals.

“Coming back is awesome,” Gill said. “This is probably one of the toughest tournaments I’ve ever wrestled in.”

Gill has gone 4-0 since then, including three wins over Boiling Springs’ Noah Davis, 2-0, Reynolds’ Gene Ringer, 3-2 in the ultimate tiebreaker, and Southmoreland’s regional runner-up Jake Beistel, 5-2, in the consy semis. Gill (35-4) will wrestle Burrell’s regional champ Allan Beattie (43-6) for third.

“I feel amazing avenging my loss at regionals,” Gill said. “Winning here is a lot better than winning at regionals is. I’ve won tournaments this year and last year, but nothing is better than coming here and winning these matches.”

“This is the best tournament Gill has wrestled in his life,” Heights coach Mike Eckenrode said. “He picked a right time to do his best.”

Notes: Bethlehem Catholic leads the team standings with 123.5 points, while Brookville is second with 65.5. … Southern Columbia, which is in third place, brought three wrestlers, and they’re all in the finals. … The 220-pound finals is a regional rematch between Avella’s Jake Temple and West Branch’s Buzzy Maines, both of whom had to win in tiebreakers in the semis.