HERSHEY – Nick Gavazzi didn’t have to guess at what people were whispering as they left the War Memorial in Johnstown last week.
“What’s wrong with that Charleroi wrestler?”
Gavazzi came into the Southwest Region Tournament undefeated and as a top seed. But the junior was handed his first two losses of the season: a 3-1 to Sean Heggs of Juniata in the semifinals and 3-1 in overtime to Steven Edwards of Burrell in the consolation round.
Suddenly, Gavazzi was forced to fight for his postseason life against Beth-Center’s Anthony Welsh for the fifth and final qualifying spot for the state tournament.
It was natural to wonder what was amiss. Gavazzi shrugged it off as just a bad weekend, but others wondered.
Gavazzi showed he was right by pulling off arguably the biggest upset of the first round of the PIAA Class AA Championships Thursday morning at the Giant Center in Hershey when he pinned Ryan Todora of Bethlehem Catholic, a Southeast champion, in 3:03.
The victory moved Gavazzi into today’s quarterfinals (9 a.m.) and punctuated a strong first round for Washington-Greene County wrestlers. Joining Gavazzi in the quarterfinals are Seth Carr (113), Jared Walker (160) and Mike Fetchet (170) of South Fayette; John Demaske (126) and Dustin Conti (170) of Jefferson-Morgan; Tanner Sutton (145) and Garrett Vulcano (195) of Chartiers-Houston; Cody Jacobs (220) of West Greene; and Jake Temple (220) of Avella.
Semifinals are at 6:30 tonight and finals are at 2 p.m., Saturday.
“Those losses were a blessing,” said Gavazzi, who is 35-2. “It got me motivated. I just had to clear my head. Right after the (tournament), I just went back to work. It’s over, and you can’t do anything about it.”
Except put on a stunning performance in the state tournament, and he is well on his way to doing that. Gavazzi wrestles Seth Lansberry (NE-2, 36-4) of Line Mountain in the quarterfinals. A win there would assure a medal.
Gavazzi was leading Todora 2-0 when he turned him with a power half and pinned him. It brought a roar from the crowd, and sent a shiver through the Bethlehem Catholic fans who feel their team can win the Class AA team title.
“It feels good, but it’s only one win,” said Gavazzi. “There is a lot more work to be done.”
South Fayette’s great start began with Carr’s 8-3 decision over Stephon Maloney of Bethlehem Catholic, was followed by Walker’s 5-4 win over Isaiah Bobotas of Montgomery. It was capped by Fetchet’s 6-1 decision over Alex Lieberman of Midd-West.
Carr (37-4), who gets Dave Pipa (39-7) of Bishop McDevitt in the quarters, got the first takedown and never looked back.
“That was pretty big,” he said. “I just build from that. I kept shooting, pushing the action as I always do.”
Walker (32-7) was reversed with about 26 seconds remaining but got one of his own with four seconds to go for the one-point win.
“I get put in that position a lot during practice,” said Walker of the final scramble. “I thought there was a little more time than there was. I went two-and-out last year. I was a little nervous for this match. Hopefully, the nervousness won’t come back.”
Walker gets Ty Schoffstall (SE-1, 31-3) of Tri Valley in the quarterfinals.
Demaske (27-4) took a 6-0 decision from Nick Monico of Saegertown and looked strong in doing so.
“I never wrestled him before, but I knew I had to win that first bout because it gives me a better chance of placing,” Demaske said. “(Monico) came to one of our practices in December, but I didn’t work out with him.”
Demaske takes on undefeated Kent Lane (38-0) of Southern Columbia in the quarters.
Conti (38-0) battled hard for a 3-1 decision over Nick Cortopassi of Bethlehem Catholic. Alexander Gular (NW-3, 31-5) of Port Allegheny waits in the quarters.
Temple (38-1) and Jacobs (35-6) won by nearly identical scores: Temple 9-5 over Cal Barrick of Boiling Springs and Jacobs 9-4 over Eric McCracken of Central Columbia. Temple gets Jaykup Durlin (NW-3, 34-6) of Youngsville and Jacobs meets Ray O’Donnell (SE-1, 41-3) of Saucon Valley in the quarters.
Sutton (43-6) throttled Zach Homan of Schuylkill Valley 14-6 and gets Blake Bowman (36-8) of Tri Valley today. Vulcano (43-2) manhandled Austin Bashore of Hamburg, 10-1, and meets Connor Rosensweet (NE-3, 34-9) in the next round.