JOHNSTOWN – Dustin Conti is so unflappable a firecracker could go off next to him, and it wouldn’t break his concentration.
Try to draw his ire on a wrestling mat by poking him in the eye, and he just gives a little smile and takes you down … hard.
Shove him, elbow him, bend his fingers, and he just turns you over and pins you.
“Dustin is just Dustin,” said Jefferson-Morgan head coach Scott Rhodes during the two-day tournament.
In other words, turn him loose on the mat and watch him win.
Conti did a lot of that this weekend, three times in fact, the final one coming Saturday night in the War Memorial in Johnstown. The 4-3 triple-overtime decision over South Fayette’s Mike Fetchet in the 170-pound finals gave the senior from Jefferson-Morgan High School his second straight title in the PIAA Class AA Southwest Region Tournament.
Conti was one of 16 local wrestlers to qualify for the PIAA Championships, which begin Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey.
Two of Conti’s teammates – John Demaske (126) and Brendan Howard (106) – will accompany him as second- and fifth-place finishers, respectively.
Chartiers-Houston had two champions: Tanner Sutton at 145 pounds and Garrett Vulcano at 195. Avella’s Jake Temple won at 220. And Seth Carr’s upset win over defending champion Josh Patrick of Ligonier Valley at 113 capped South Fayette’s best performance in this event in the school’s history. The Lions finished first in the team standings with 88 points and got to take home a shiny new trophy for the showcase. Burrell was second with 83 points and Bedford was third at 74.
“It was brought up in passing discussion,” said South Fayette head coach Rick Chaussard. “For the program, this is our biggest accomplishment.”
Conti won a thrilling 2-1 three-overtime decision against United’s John Blankenship in last year’s 170-pound finals. Conti’s takedown with four seconds left in the third overtime did in Fetchet.
“I knew it was going to be a close bout, but I’m always prepared for that,” said Conti, who is 37-0. “He’s hard to take down, so I just do what I can to win. I just try to stay calm out there. I can’t ever remember when I lost my composure.”
The wins by Sutton and Vulcano were the first titles since Keith Straight won at 152 pounds in 2000. Sutton got the winning points in a 3-1 decision over Tanner Cahill of Conemaugh Township with a takedown in the second period.
“I just go out for six hard minutes and do what I can,” said Sutton (42-6).
Vulcano didn’t need six minutes. He stuck Zac Croyle of Kittanning in 3:11 to win the 195-pound title and raise his record to 42-2.
“That’s the way I like them,” Vulcano said, referring to quick pins. “I get it over with quick. I’m not tilting kids now because it’s harder. I go for the pin and make sure I have (my hold) tight.”
Besides helping South Fayette to the team title, Carr matched his brother, Nick, as regional champions, the only two in the Lions’ history. He resisted the temptation to punctuate the win with a backflip that he did following a 7-2 decision over top-seeded Josh Brown of Claysburg-Kimmel in the semis.
“The coaches asked me not to do it,” said Carr. “I shouldn’t have done it in the first place. My sister taught me that a long time ago.”
A takedown in the third period cemented Temple’s win and gave Avella its first regional champion since Codie Noga won the 215-pound title in 2007. It also was Temple’s 100th career victory.
“I was counting them down,” said Temple (37-1). “I thought it would come in the semifinals, but I had a bye in the first round.”
In other notable bouts:
• Nick Gavazzi of Charleroi suffered his first two losses of the season and had to win a 2-0 decision over Beth-Center’s Anthony Welsh to take fifth place at 138.
“It was just a bad day,” said Gavazzi (34-2). “Next week, I’ll come back and get a new start.”
• Jake Rothka’s 100th career win – a 5-3 decision over Kale Burket of Central – got the Bentworth junior fifth place at 113 and a trip to Hershey.
• Burgettstown’s Austin McDermitt and Southmoreland’s Austin Griffiths had their rematch from last week’s WPIAL Championships, but it came in the third-place bout at 113. Both were upset in the semifinals.