Solomon, Smith win South Sectional titles

MIFFLINBURG – Milton’s Ryan Solomon wrestled like a senior who is in a hurry to get back to Hershey for the final time. His teammate, Ryan Preisch, wrestled like he’s not ready to take a backseat to a heralded freshman just yet. Lewisburg’s Bandon Smith, a Penn State football recruit, wrestled like he’s not ready to have his mat career end until he climbs atop the podium at the Giant Center in three weeks.

All three enjoyed spectacular days at the South Sectional tournament in Mifflinburg on Saturday.

Solomon earned his fourth sectional championship – his first three came at the West tourney – with lightning quick falls of 16, 18 and 16 seconds. He won the 195-pound crown over Danville’s Gunnar Feldmann. Preisch, a state qualifier a year ago, dominated Southern Columbia’s highly-touted freshman phenom, Blake Marks with three takedowns in a 9-1 major decision for his second straight sectional title. Smith, who lost a heartbreaking decision in the semifinals of the PIAA tournament last season, wrestled only two bouts in the slim 220-pound bracket, pinning Shamokin’s Zach Biddiscombe in 16 seconds.

Mifflinburg, with five champions, won its second consecutive South team championship, outlasting surprise runner-up Midd-West, 134-125. Lewisburg, with Smith as its lone champion, finished third (120 points) and advanced six wrestlers to the District 4 tournament which begins Friday night at Williamsport. After struggling through a two-win dual meet season, Milton was fourth (108.5) and pushed through five wrestlers to the district tournament.

In addition to Smith, the Green Dragons will move Max Reed (runner-up at 160), Brian Friery (third at 106), Jordan Gessner (third at 113), Logan Aikey (third at 145), and Nick Bernstein (third at 170), along the postseason tournament trail.

“It was a good start for us,” Smith said. “For me, it was good to come out and get two pins. The closer it gets to the state tournament, the more I remember getting taken down in the last second of the semifinals of the state tournament last year. That wasn’t a good feeling. I have been buckling down, getting into the postseason grind. I don’t want to feel that again. It’s been on my mind.”

Smith (27-1) opened with a 40-second fall over Robert Clark in the semifinals and then stuck Biddiscombe. Reed was handled by Mifflinburg’s Cornell-bound Ty Walter, 23-6 (4:50).

Solomon’s approach to his final sectional tournament was simple: get on the mat, get off the mat. He pinned Shamokin’s Darris Herrold, then decked Brendon Rennof Line Mountain, before sticking Feldmann.

The Preisch-Marks showdown was the marquee bout of the night, matching the Milton junior, who 23-4 and placed fourth at the Beast of the East tournament, against Marks (29-3) whose first two losses were against Benton stars, Zain Retherford and Colt Cotten. Preisch dominated from the start, though, getting a first period takedown and two back points before escaping in the second and adding a takedown. Preisch was so punishing on top that Marks chose neutral to start the third. But Preisch added a takedown before allowing an escape with 15 second left in the match.

“I was excited for this match all day,” Preisch said. “I just felt that I had to go out there and get it done. I felt like I set the tempo. I set it from the start of the match.”

Three other Black Panthers reached the finals but all three lost. Sophomore Zack Bennett fell to Mifflinburg’s Cole Walter, getting pinned in the first period. Taylor Porter, the top seed at 145, dropped a 6-2 decision to Midd-West’s Zack Heeter. Freshman Gage Heller, a surprise finalist at 182, dropped an 8-4 decision to Shamokin senior Anthony Anonia.

In addition to Solomon, Line Mountain’s Seth Lansberry and Ty Walter also claimed their fourth sectional titles.