Zalar, Rockets prove their mettle

January 29, 2014
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter Jefferson-Morgan’s Trevor Kniha works to turn Valley’s Chris O’Sullivan in the 145-pound bout Wednesday in the WPIAL Class AA Team Tournament. Kniha scored a pin in 5:30.
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter Jefferson-Morgan’s John Demaske prepares to pin Valley’s Gabriel Davis in the 132-pound bout Wednesday in the WPIAL Class AA Team Tournament. Demaske pinned Davis in 1:13.

JEFFERSON – Jefferson-Morgan senior Ryan Zalar had so much tape on his left shoulder for the Rockets’ first-round matchup with Valley in the WPIAL Class AA Team Tournament, he could have been an extra in an Egyptian mummy movie.

After pushing through the pain and past Valley’s Noah Kankoski for an 11-1 major decision in the Rockets’ 46-36 victory, Zalar added more tape for the Rockets’ quarterfinal match against Yough.

This time, he showed no ill effects of the shoulder injury suffered over the weekend at the Bedford Tournament, pinning Yough’s Damian Davis in just 1:02 during Jefferson-Morgan’s 45-26 victory Wednesday.

With the victory, Zalar and the Rockets advanced to Friday’s WPIAL semifinals at Norwin High School. Jefferson-Morgan, the Observer-Reporter’s No. 2-ranked Class AA team, will face top-ranked South Fayette, a 47-21 winner over Avella, at 7:30 p.m., with Burrell meeting Burgettstown at 6 p.m.

The winners of those two matches wrestle at 4 p.m. Saturday at Chartiers Valley for the WPIAL Class AA championship.

The trip to the semifinals is the third consecutive for Jefferson-Morgan. The top three finishers at the WPIAL tournament advance to the PIAA team championship.

“Let’s hope it pays off for (our seniors),” said Rockets head coach Mike Lesko. “They really want to. The first time we went (2012), we were the first Greene County team to go. We want to go back.”

That was evident in Zalar’s effort. The Observer-Reporter’s No. 2-ranked Class AA wrestler at 160 pounds, Zalar dropped out of the Bedford Tournament over the weekend after suffering the shoulder injury.

But with so much on the line for his team, he wasn’t about to skip wrestling Wednesday.

“He won’t quit,” said Lesko. “He’ll go out and wrestling against anybody, even if they try to rip it off. He’s in a little pain, but he’ll be all right.”

Zalar showed Wednesday he was more than all right.

Despite being in obvious pain against Kankoski, he dominated the mat, building an 11-0 lead before finally allowing an escape as time expired.

Against Davis, he continued his dominance, making quick work en route to his 23rd win of the season against just four losses.

“My shoulder is not feeling the best right now, but I’m doing everything I can to make it feel better,” said Zalar.

“I’ve been in the situation in the past, where we were in the finals. We lost. But that’s in the past. We’re looking forward to this trip.”

Yough kept things interesting for a while, but Jefferson-Morgan’s talent and ability to pin made the difference.

Damon Belford got things rolling with a fall in just 14 seconds at 106, and Brendan Howard, who picked up his 100th career win at Bedford, followed with another pin. Yough trimmed the lead to 12-9, with wins at 120 and 126, but a John Demaske victory at 132 put the Rockets ahead 15-9.

Yough got a technical fall at 138 to close the gap to 15-14, but Jason Miller received a forfeit at 145 and Trevor Kniha and Zalar followed with pins to give the Rockets a comfortable, 33-14 lead.

Bill Bowlen and Ian Wolfe also recorded pins for the Rockets to help send them into the semifinals and another tough matchup against South Fayette.

“They’re all tough now,” said Lesko. “These two teams gave us a battle. But you know what? We need that right now. You can’t just walk through teams; you need to battle.”

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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