Wildcats seek positives after PIAA duals defeat

FRANK DIMON/For The Sun-Gazette Central Mountain's Johnny Shreffler tries to escape the grasp of Bethlehem Catholic's Dillon Murphy at the PIAA Team Championships at Hershey Thursday.

HERSHEY — With under 30 seconds to go, Central Moun­tain’s Tanner Riggle just went for it. Throwing caution to the wind, the 195-pounder locked up two overhooks and threw his opponent.

Riggle and Bethlehem Catho­lic’s Andrew Balukas crashed to the Giant Center mat Thursday night near the edge of the circle. Riggle still had those overhooks and laid on top of Balukas until the official slapped the mat. Riggle’s fall was one of the few bright spots in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA Team Wrestling Championships for Central Mountain last night.

The Wildcats won just three bouts in their first match at the state tournament since 2002, and defending state champion Beth­lehem Catholic cruised to a 49-12 win. Central Mountain falls to the consolation bracket where it faces District 3 third-place finisher Central Dauphin this morning at 10 in an elimination match.

“For the most part the kids went out and battled and fought,” Central Mountain head coach Biff Walizer said. “Coming into a situation like this, you’re the underdog so there’s no pressure. You can go out and focus on wrestling your match.”

Geo Barzona was victorious in his first bout of the year at 113 pounds, beating ninth-ranked Kenny Herrmann, 4-2. Caleb Turner picked up Central Mountain’s only other win, an 8-3 decision over Robert Spezza at 182 pounds.

Walizer, though, didn’t judge last night’s match by the final score. That would be unfair to a Central Mountain team which was outmanned by a BECA team ranked second in the state and ninth in the country. The reality going into Thursday’s opening-round match was the Wildcats were likely favored at only 113 pounds, and even that was a toss-up when you consider Barzona was making weight at 113 for the first time and Herrmann has already posted 19 wins this year wrestling one of the most demanding schedules in the country as a freshman.

So when the Wildcats had moments last night like Riggle’s fall, there was reason to be excited. Walizer walked out of the Giant Center relatively happy with how his team wrestled. But nothing brought a smile to his face quite like Riggle’s win.

The sophomore was down 4-1 early to Balukas. He got back within striking distance with an escape to start the third period. And with under 30 seconds to go, trailing 5-3, he went for a big move and hit it.

“The team score wasn’t a factor, so at the end of the match if you’re down, there’s no reason to end the match standing on your feet and looking at that guy. He pulled the trigger and went for it and it paid off for him,” Walizer said. “It was there. When he went with it, he went hard. That’s the biggest thing when you go with something is don’t hesitate. He got it and I was happy for him.”

Barzona scored Central Mountain’s first points in the third bout of the night. He opened with a takedown midway through the first period and added a reversal midway through the second period to take a 4-0 lead.

Herrmann cut that lead in half with a pair of escapes and Barzona played strong defense over the final 45 seconds to pick up the win, 4-2. It was the 27th win of the season and 113th of his career, tying him with Tyler McCall for seventh on the Wildcats’ all-time wins list.

“He was a little tight, I thought,” Walizer said. “He knew he had a guy ranked Top-9 in the state at 113, so it was a tough bout out of the gate. He didn’t finish a couple periods out very well. He kind of hung out and almost got himself into some trouble. So that’s something that’ll be addressed and he’ll have to focus on it.”

After Barzona’s win cut Bethlehem Catholic’s lead to 9-3, the Golden Hawks won the next eight bouts. Six of those wins went for bonus points for BECA. Only two of them were falls and they came at the hands of second-ranked Ryan Anderson at 126, and top-ranked and defending state champion Mikey Labriola at 170 pounds.

Other than that, Walizer saw his team battle. Nine of the 14 bouts last night went the full six minutes, and that’s something Walizer said is going to be beneficial for his team as they inch closer to the individual postseason in two weeks.

“It’s just a good experience,” Walizer said. “For all but two of our kids, this is everyone’s first match at the Giant Center. To get this one out of the way is big. To have a team like BECA and face them, it’s an experience and I think it’s going to pay dividends. They’ve just seen some of the best kids in the state, if not the country, and I think it’ll help them.”

285: Niko Camacho, BC, pinned Richie Thompson, 1:39. 106: Dillon Murphy, BC, dec. Johnny Shreffler, 8-5. 113: Geo Barzona, CM, dec. Kenny Herrmann, 4-2. 120: Zach Glenn, BC, maj. dec. Dalton Bechdel, 17-6 126: Ryan Anderson, BC, pinned Cody Coleman, 1:11. 132: Jarred Papcsy, BC, maj. dec. Seth Andrus, 8-0. 138: Luke Carty, BC, maj. dec. Logan Long, 13-5. 145: Luca Frinzi, BC, dec. Colton Weaver, 6-2. 152: Ryan Zeiner, BC, maj. dec. Asher Corl, 9-0. 160: Tavion Banks, BC, dec. Tanner Weaver, 3-2. 170: Michael Labriola, BC, pinned Brandon Miller, 1:13. 182: Caleb Turner, CM, dec. Robert Spezza, 8-3. 195: Tanner Riggle, CM, pinned Andrew Balukas, 5:43. 220: Jody Crouse, BC, pinned Mahlik Houtz, 3:44.

Records: Central Mountain (14-1); Bethlehem Catholic (17-4).