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Inspired Finnegan rolls into semis

Altoona 126-pounder junior Damion Finnegan, like many in the school district, had a tough week after learning his friend and 15-year-old teammate Devon Pfirsching was killed in a shooting just before midnight on Tuesday.

Finnegan was feeling a little bit better on Friday night at the AAHS Fieldhouse after the first night of the Northwest Regional Class 3A Tournament.

Finnegan, who placed fourth at the District 6 Tournament, won both of his bouts to reach today’s semifinals.

“I feel good,” Finnegan said. “I’ve never been here before, and this feels amazing. I just lost a friend. I grew up with that kid. I’m doing this all for him.”

Finnegan’s teammates Matt Sarbo, who is looking for his third regional title in as many years, and Trevor Manley (285) are joining him as semifinalists. Hollidaysburg’s Campbell Walls (160) is also in the semifinals after two wins.

“I feel pretty good,” Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. “The boys wrestled pretty tough tonight. We were real close to having four (Colin Allmond lost, 9-8, at 182). I was really happy with their performances today. Hopefully we can do it again tomorrow.”

The tournament resumes at 10 this morning with the first round of consolations. The semifinals will follow at around 12:30 p.m. The finals and consolation finals are set for 6 p.m.

After earning a 9-1 major decision over Bradford’s Lucas Laktash in the first round, Finnegan defeated Warren’s Ryan Madigan, 10-4, in the quarterfinals.

Madigan scored the opening takedown, but Finnegan escaped and used a chin whip to take Madigan to his back for a five-point move and a 6-2 lead after the first period.

Madigan made a charge with a second-period escape and third-period takedown, but Finnegan escaped in the third and got a late takedown.

“That kid was strong,” Finnegan said. “I just grabbed on and threw (the chin whip). That’s pretty much what won the match.”

Finnegan will face Bellefonte’s District 6 champion Jude Swisher (34-3) in the semifinals.

“Coach Gilbert said I was hot and cold this year,” Finnegan said. “He said I would be tough to beat if I’m hot. I believe I’m hot right now.”

“He’s hot this weekend,” Gilbert said, “and sometimes it’s the best time to get hot, if you ask me. I’m real happy with the way he performed. He needs to perform that way tomorrow.”

Gilbert said it’s been a tough week dealing with the death of Pfirsching, who went 2-2 on varsity this season.

“All the wrestlers knew him. The coaches knew him,” Gilbert said. “It’s a sad situation. I think our team has dealt with it well. The coaches have dealt with it well. It’s something I’m sure that’s resting in their minds. I’m sure they carry the time they spent with the young man with them.

“I think maybe it’s giving them a little bit of passion this weekend.”

Sarbo (33-2) got a bye in the first round and then rolled to a 21-5 technical fall over Punxsutawney’s Brady Smith to set up a semifinal against St. Marys’ Lane Dellaquilla (12-11). State College’s Owen Woolcott and DuBois’ Trenton Donahue face off in a big semifinal on the other side.

Manley earned a 3-1 overtime decision over DuBois’ Alex O’Harah in the first round. He followed that with a pin of Carrick’s Justin Burns in 2:16 in the quarters. Manley (17-11) faces Meadville’s 32-0 Thomas Pollard in the semifinals.

“He’s wrestling pretty well right now,” Gilbert said. “In the first match, he had never beaten O’Harah. I think that’s the first time in three or four tries that he’s beaten him. He wrestled a real smart match, scored when he had the opportunity. We’re happy with where he’s at right now. Hopefully he can continue that roll.”

Walls rolled to a 16-4 major decision over Williamsport’s Sebastian Robinson in the first round. He followed that win with a 4-1 victory over Cathedral Prep’s Kelyn Blossey in the quarters.

Walls was losing 1-0 in the third quarter when he scored a reversal and put Blossey on his back for two points.

“It feels very good,” Walls said. “I’m coming off (being) upset last year. I’m trying to get to the state tournament this year and show everyone what I can do. I want to prove myself to everybody. I wouldn’t say I wrestled as tough as I usually do (against Blossey) but I wrestled smarter. Wrestling smart is what wins big matches.”

“Campbell executed when he had to late in the match,” Hollidaysburg coach Christian Harr said. “He got to that near-sided cradle for four points.

Walls (23-7) will wrestle Selinsgrove’s Coy Bastian (33-2) in the semifinals.

“He might be ranked ahead of me, but I’ll give him everything I have,” Walls said. “If everything I have isn’t enough, then I guess it’s not enough.”

Altoona’s Allmond (182), Adam Zerbee (152) and Ray Boose (220) are still alive in the consolations. Allmond won by fall in the first round before suffering the one-point loss

Hollidaysburg’s Colin Smilnak (113), Nicholas Burkey (145) and Aaron Sleeth (152) are also alive in the consolations. Sleeth beat Warren’s Kyle Swick, 7-2, but he was pinned by DuBois’ state champion Ed Scott in the quarters.

Smilnak got by DuBois’ Brendan Orr, 3-0, but he suffered a 4-2 overtime heartbreaker to Cathedral Prep’s Philip Stark in the quarters. Stark escaped with 18 seconds in the bout to tie the score, and then he took Smilnak down with 22 seconds left in OT.

“We talk about these positions and understanding where we are in a match, how we need to go out there and win,” Harr said. “I thought (Smilnak) was going to squeeze one out, and he wound up losing in overtime. I’m looking forward to him competing tomorrow.”

Notes: Altoona is 11thin the team standings with 20.5 points, while Hollidaysburg is tied for 16thwith 9 points. … Mifflin County leads the team race by six points, 52-46, over Bellefonte. … Bellefonte and Cathedral Prep have the most in the semis with seven apiece.

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