IRWIN – What began four years ago in the Fox Chapel gymnasium came to an end at Norwin Friday night.
Canon-McMillan High School’s grip on the WPIAL Team Tournament title was pried loose by Latrobe with a 42-20 victory in the semifinals of the Class AAA event.
The Wildcats (12-1), No. 2 in the Observer-Reporter Wrestling Ratings, take on top-ranked Franklin Regional (18-1) in today’s 6:30 p.m. finals at Chartiers Valley.
The Big Macs won four consecutive WPIAL Team Tournament titles, a record for Class AAA teams. They are also the two-time defending PIAA Team tournament champion.
But to continue in this tournament, the Big Macs (16-1) must defeat North Allegheny in the third-place dual meet at 2 p.m. today also at Chartiers Valley. A win there, plus a victory over the District 8 (City League) champion would allow the Big Macs to defend their state titles in Hershey beginning Thursday.
“I told the kids that now the pressure is off,” said Canon-McMillan head coach Jason Cardillo. “Now, we have to go out against (North Allegheny) and have some fun. I don’t know if the pressure got to them. We’ll leave this in the past and learn from it. We’ll take the positives from the loss.”
The match started at 113, a bout the Big Macs needed to win. But Ethan McCoy, who had a one-point victory over Brendan Price at the Powerade Wrestling Tournament, came away with a 6-2 decision that gave Latrobe a 3-0 lead. Even more important, it gave the Wildcats momentum.
“It could have been the best (place to start for us),” Cardillo said. “The first match was huge. Their kid smothered Brendan on top. I’m not disappointed in him. (McCoy) wrestled a good match. I felt everything started going their way, and I’ve seen that before when it happened for us.”
Defending state champion Luke Pletcher made it 9-0 when he pinned Matt Oblock in 13 seconds. Oblock remained on the mat for a few seconds after the pin, not moving, but Cardillo said he was OK.
“I think he was just stunned at what happened,” he said.
Ethan Staas continued Latrobe’s dominance when he decisioned Josiah Hritsko, 2-1, in three OTs at 132. Staas came in with a 10-13 record; Hritsko 21-9. That win put Latrobe up 12-5.
The Wildcats got another big win at 145, where Ethan Smith stopped Malachi Krenzelak, 7-4, to make it 15-8.
“We won four out of five (in the lighter weights), and that was the key to winning,” said Latrobe head coach Tad Harbert. “I had this match scored to where we came out like it did, and I had it scored where we came up a couple points short. Our seniors got the job done. There was no playing around. This was the best total team effort we had this season.”
Defending state champion Solomon Chishko got the Big Macs as close as they would come, 15-14, at 152 after pinning Matt Lesko in 1:34. But Latrobe won the next six, including pins by Jake Shaffer (160), Zack Zavatsky (182) and Logan Carns (220) to make it 42-14.
The Big Macs never led.
“I know they are four-timers, but I don’t look too much at that,” said Harbert. “These wrestlers wrestle each other all year long, and they know each other. If it were 10 or 15 years ago, I might have been worried about it. I worried more about the kids wrestling in the spotlight.”
The Wildcats passed out Hershey chocolate bars after the win. Canon-McMillan is two victories away from also making the trip.
“Once you get to Hershey,” Cardillo said, “who knows what can happen?”