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Hoffman, Batkowski leads Warriors to runner-up finish

February 22, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
Laying flat on his back next to his Montoursville coaches, Garrett Hoffman clutched his left biceps with his right hand, pounding the soles of his feet into mat. It wasn't a great time – up five points with a minute to go – to suffer an injury to elicit such a response, but Hoffman gathered himself shook off the stinger and finished what he started.

Hoffman recorded three more points in the final minute of his 170-pound final with Midd-West returning state qualifier Alex Lieberman to win his first career District 4 Class AA wrestling championship. The Warriors' sophomore was one of seven local district champions, and one of 35 total wrestlers from the Sun-Gazette coverage area to finish in the top five and earn a spot in next week's PIAA Class AA Northeast Regional Championships.

Benton won the team title with 123 points, despite going 0 for 4 in the finals. Montoursville, which advanced four to regionals, finished second in the team standings with 102 points. Williamson was third with 95 points.

For the first time since 1995, Montoursville had two district champions in the same year as Keith Batkowski (132 pounds) joined Hoffman with a gold medal. Warrior Run's Zack LeBarron (120), Williamson's Billy Barnes (145), Milton's Ryan Preisch (160), Montgomery's Isaiah Bobotas (182) and Canton's Garrett Wesneski (195) also won championships.

Williamson's Tyrus Hamblin (120) and Trevor McWhorter (138), Sullivan County's Shawn Nitcznski (126), Milton's Zack Bennett (145) and Montoursville's Ben Cerney (220) all finished second. McWhorter took second because of injury default. He was hurt when he shot in on Southern Columbia's Kent Lane in the finals and hit Lane's knee.

McWhorter, a returning state qualifier who was undefeated this year until being hurt in the finals, had his head and neck stabilized and was taken out of the Magic Dome on a stretcher. Williamson first-year head coach Kevin Mowrey said it was too early to determine the extent of McWhorter's injury, and how it may affect his spot in next week's regional tournament.

“He's a big part of what we accomplished. He's one of our captains,” Barnes said of McWhorter. “Without him, you're missing one of your brothers. Hopefully he can come back and wrestle with us next week because he's a big part of us.”

Hoffman's injury in the third period of his match with Lieberman was more of a stunned moment than an actual moment of injury for the sophomore 170-pounder. As the two scrambled out of bounds, Lieberman's knee hit Hoffman's left biceps in an awkward manner causing numbness to course through Hoffman's left arm.

After about 30 seconds, he was calm and climbed back to his feet to finish his first appearance in the district finals.

“It was just a little stinger,” Hoffman said. “It shocked me at first, but that's it. I wanted to get back out there and hurry up. I didn't want to give him any breaks and I wanted to keep pushing it.”

Hoffman surely pushed the pace in the match with the returning District 4 champion. He recorded two first-period takedowns by with nearly perfect precision on his shots.

With a primarily defensive wrestler like Lieberman, who loves to capitalize on his opponent's mistakes, Hoffman knew he had to be crisp with how he approached his offense. And those two first-period takedowns allowed Hoffman to continue to push the pace the way he did to a Central Sectional title last week.

“Once I got that first slide-by, I started to get the hang of it, and when I got the second slide-by, I knew I had it,” Hoffman said. “He stays back on his heels, so it gave me time to set up my shot, but when I shot I knew I had to make it count. I know if you take one bad shot on him, he'll counter it and he'll throw you on your back.”

Hoffman has quickly, in the last two weeks, asserted himself as the favorite in a stacked and balanced 170-pound weight class. He scored six unanswered points in the sectional final last week against Bloomsburg's Brandon Conrad after giving up the first takedown, and he gave up just one point in his three matches this weekend at districts against three wrestlers with a combined 85 wins this year.

“Last year getting fifth, losing to (Milton's Taylor Porter) the first night and having to wrestle back was tough,” Hoffman said. “This is a lot bigger for me. Winning this tournament is a big ego boost.”

His teammate, and fellow sophomore, Batkowski continues to beat the top wrestlers in an absolutely loaded 132-pound weight class. The two combined to be the first Montoursville teammates to win district titles in the same season since Ryan Gardner won the 171-pound title and Jamie Yonkin won the 189-pound title nearly 20 years ago.

Batkowski battled a bloody nose for much of his first two matches which seemed to throw him a little out of rhythm, especially for a wrestler who likes to work fast. But he followed Friday's five-point win over Williamson's Carl Gorg with a 3-1 win in the semifinals over Midd-West's Tanner Ebright.

He needed extra time Saturday in the finals to beat Wyalusing returning state qualifier Collin Edsell, 5-3. It was the second time in as many weeks Batkowski has beaten a returning state qualifier in the finals of a postseason tournament. Last week he beat Hughesville's Zach Fry, 3-1, in the Central Sectional finals.

The win likely puts Batkowski as the No. 2 seed for next week's regional tournament, but it puts him on the opposite side of the bracket as Lake-Lehman returning PIAA fourth-place finisher Austin Harry. Batkowski said with a weight class containing a state medalist, two state qualifiers and himself, that it doesn't matter where he is in the bracket because he's going to have to beat good wrestlers to advance to Hershey for the first time.

Batkowski, though, has at least a little bit of the upper hand now that he's already scored wins over Fry and Edsell.

“Those are probably two of the best kids I'll see at regionals. So even if things don't go my way at regionals, I know there's still that good road you can find that will still get you to your goal,” said Batkowski, who was a regional fourth-place finisher last year. “Even if it's not where you wanted to be, it still gets you (to Hershey), and you can make up for it once you get to states.”

The way Wesneski walked off the center mat last night, you would have thought the Canton senior had lost his 195-pound final with Benton state qualifier Logan Womelsdorf. The returning state eighth-place finisher had his headgear in hand, hands on hips as he shook his head side to side while going to shake the hands of the Benton coaches.

The 2-1 win over Womelsdorf wasn't what the offensive-minded Wesneski had in mind. He likes to score points at will. Having just five of his 33 matches prior to the district tournament going 6 minutes can attest to how offensive Wesneski wants to be.

But he struggled to get past Womelsdorf's hands defense. He carried a 2-0 lead into the third period where he struggled to hold down Womelsdorf and even gave up a stalling point, drawing the ire of his head coach and father, Lyle Wesneski.

“It's my first time winning the district, so that's the good part. But that's not how I wanted to win it,” Wesneski said. “I couldn't get through his hands defense. I think I overthought the match. With the long break (for McWhorter's injury), I overthought it. I need to relax, have fun and just wrestle.”

Wesneski said getting his wind tested for six minutes was a good thing, but he didn't like the results. He said he became tired in the third period, but he thought it was because he was nervous for the match.

He was a first-time finalist last night, but he said it was a learning experience.

“It's the district finals in a tough district, you have to expect a tough match like that,” Wesneski said. “That's definitely good that I got pushed like that. In Hershey, every match is like that, or it goes to overtime.”

 
 

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