JOHNSTOWN – Before the start of the PIAA Class AA Southwest Region Tournament, officials handed out a revised pairings sheet for the 138-pound weight class. The changes were needed because Burrell’s Damon Greenwald pulled out with an injury.
Richie McGinnis decided to shake up the weight class a little more Friday inside the War Memorial in Johnstown.
The senior from Chartiers-Houston had an impressive start to this double-elimination wrestling tournament by winning a wild 21-12 decision over Daniel Croyle of Ligonier Valley, then knocking off District 5 champion Derek Claar of Chestnut Ridge.
Those two wins send McGinnis into today’s semifinals, which get under way at 11 a.m. Finals are at 5 p.m.
The top five wrestlers in each weight class advance to the PIAA Championships, which begin Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey.
McGinnis can assure himself a spot there if he can stop a familiar opponent, Jason Miller of Jefferson-Morgan, in the semifinals. Jake Wentzel of South Park and Garrett Thomas of Bedford wrestle in the other semifinal bout.
“This year, I’ve lost some close matches,” said McGinnis, who has a 34-10 record with six of those losses coming by a combined 14 points. “I am usually wrestling back in these tournaments.”
The win over Croyle produced 33 bout points and were the highest of any bout in the tournament’s first two rounds.
“I was up 13-2, and I got a little tired,” said McGinnis. “I gave up some easy points.”
McGinnis and Claar wrestled in last year’s tournament at 120 pounds. McGinnis came away with a 7-6 win after hitting a five-point throw. This time, McGinnis erupted for four points in the final two minutes to turn a 2-1 lead into a four-point win.
“I’m trying to stay focused and wrestle my best,” McGinnis said.
That’s what Miller did in stopping Brandon Heberling of Marion Center 4-2 in the quarterfinals. Miller opened the tournament with a 16-2 decision over John Fabian of Somerset. The turning point against Heberling came when Miller hit a takedown in the final 10 seconds of the first period to take a 4-1 lead.
“I beat him on my feet every time,” said Miller, now 26-2. “He was tough on bottom.”
After the win, Miller put his camouflaged T-shirt on that the team has been wearing this season. It has the school name across the chest in orange.
“We got them at the beginning of the year,” he said. “Are they lucky? I’ll say. I did really good wearing them. Then I made a mistake in not wearing it, and I ended up getting pinned.”
Miller is one of six J-M wrestlers still alive for a medal, three of whom are in the semifinals. They are Miller, John Demaske (126) and Bill Bowlen (170). That performance gave the Rockets 36 teams and put them in second place behind Burrell and Huntingdon, which are tied at 41.
Demaske, one of four undefeated District 7 wrestlers in this event, moved to 38-0 by shutting out Tom Opdenhoff of Central Cambria, 3-0, in the quarters. Bowlen also wrestled just once and pinned Logan Fisher of Huntingdon in 3:09.
Mike Carr remained perfect, also going to 38-0, with an 11-0 win over Logan Witwicki of Carlynton at 132. Jake Temple of Avella is 37-0 after winning by a 16-1 technical fall over Tom Sever of Yough at 220. The final unbeaten is Jason Nolf (38-0) of Kittanning, who is trying to become the fifth four-time region champion in the tournament’s history.
“I felt pretty good,” Carr said. “I could have been a little less rusty. I just wrestle bodies, not names.”
Burgettstown’s Austin McDermitt looked tough in taking a 9-0 win from Ian Ostrowski of Central Cambria at 113. McDermitt (38-2) gets John Gabriel (25-3) of Bedford in the semifinals.
The 160 semis pair two local wrestlers in Jared Walker (39-1) of South Fayette and Nico Brown (31-13) of Beth-Center.