JEFFERSON – Competing in the mid-to-upper weights as a freshman wrestler is hardly an enviable position, but Jefferson-Morgan’s Billy Bowlen has a built-in advantage.
Bowlen, who normally wrestles at 160 pounds, practices every day with Dustin Conti, who won a WPIAL Class AA title at 170 last winter.
“He has a choice,” Jefferson-Morgan coach Scott Rhodes said. “He either gets better or gets beat on.”
Bowlen has been picking the former all season, and it helped him avoid the latter during Wednesday’s Section 2-AA championships.
Bowlen’s pin of Paul Mizia at 170 pounds gave Jefferson-Morgan a much-needed boost before Conti took care of Tanner Severns – two pins by a pair of practice partners that produced a 43-22 win for the Rockets.
“It felt good,” said Bowlen, who’s now 18-5. “Got the team going. I knew we had some pretty good heavyweights coming up.”
The section title came after Jefferson-Morgan topped Mt. Pleasant, 41-30, in the earlier semifinal match.
It’s the third consecutive section crown and eighth overall for Jefferson-Morgan, which will await today’s announcement of pairings in the WPIAL Team Tournament.
“We knew it was going to be exciting,” Conti said. “We wanted to get a third section championship. It was exciting. I love wrestling at home.”
Bowlen’s pin came after Ben Carlisle decisioned Jason Perkins, 3-1, in overtime at 160 pounds to cut the Jefferson-Morgan lead to four at 22-18.
But with Conti waiting – pretty much a slam-dunk win considering he’s now 20-0 and has faced little resistance this season – Bowlen’s win turned out to be a rather large momentum swing.
“We thought we had a chance to win that one because our kid had lost either 7-6 or 7-5 to that kid in the regular season,” Bentworth coach Mike Shrader said. “We had a shot to win that one, but that’s a nine-point turn right there. That was big.”
The championship started at 106 pounds, and Jefferson-Morgan’s Brendan Howard opened with a 15-5 decision over Hunter Neely.
But Jake Rothka earned a pin and Matt Vickless and Vince Vahaly won via decisions to push Bentworth ahead, 12-4.
Jefferson-Morgan’s John Demaske, who missed the regular season meeting against Bentworth, following with a pin of Ty Mitchell at 132.
After Trevor Wood decisioned A.J. Agnew at 138, Jason Miller put the Rockets in front to stay with a pin of George Liberatore in 2:29.
Ryan Zalar (152) made it back-to-back pins, taking down Ethan Tush in 1:20, before Perkins’ loss to Carlisle set up Bowlen’s heroics.
“He came through for us,” Conti said. “He’s a freshman, and he did his job.”
One that Conti could’ve predicted, too.
“He likes to run bars on the top,” Conti added, talking about Bowlen’s preference for a chicken wing. “He’s pretty good at them, and he came through with a pin that gave us some fire.”
Though Jake Fordyce decisioned Anthony Patterson at 195, Nate and Ian Wolfe won at 220 and 285, respectively, Nate via forfeit and Ian with a 2-1 decision over Mason Shumaker in overtime.
“Our kids wrestled their butts off tonight,” Rhodes said. “Every kid that lost even fought.”
Bentworth earned a 40-31 victory over Yough in the semifinals. The Bearcats built a 37-0 lead and nearly squandered it before getting a key decision from Fordyce at 220.
“We’re strong down low. That’s no secret,” Shrader said. “We’re strong down low, and we’re strong up at the top. In the middle, our kids are getting better; they’re getting matches, and that’s the best thing we can do.”
Mt. Pleasant finished in third place after a 35-27 win over Yough in the consolation match.