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Barons send five to District Championships
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Up until Sectionals, Manheim Central’s AJ Votano probably wasn’t having the type of season that he would have liked.
A two-time District qualifier, the Barons’ senior fashioned a 24-9 mark, but he was a combined 1-4 in the Manheim Holiday and L-L League tournaments.
Last Saturday, though, Votano delivered.
Needing to place in the top three in the 138-pound weight class to extend his high school career, Votano pulled off a 1-0 victory over Solanco’s Kyle Hammond for the bronze medal at the PIAA District Three Section Three Tournament at Hempfield High School.
"To be able to qualify to Districts at the same weight that he was wrestling (at the Manheim Holiday and L-L League tournaments) is a pretty big accomplishment," Manheim Central coach Troy Sunderland remarked. "You could see the progression."
It wasn’t only Votano who made progression for the Barons. Although MC finished 0-for-2 in the finals, they nonetheless sent five into the District Three Triple-A Championships, set for this Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24 and 25 at the Hersheypark Arena.
Senior Ben Wise and sophomore Aaron Lefever reached the championship matches at 152 and 285, respectively, and took home silver medals, while sophomore Ben Metzler (126), senior Cody Bucher (132) and Votano took bronze to lead the Barons. Sophomores Kyler West (25-17) and Rey LaSanta (9-7) also reached the bronze medal matches at 106 and 195, but fell one win short of Districts.
As a team, the Barons earned a solid third-place finish with out of 12 squads with 102 points. Solanco easily captured the crown with 163.5 points and Manheim Township was runner-up with 139.5.
"I thought overall, we had a lot of improvement throughout the season to this point," Sunderland said. "And there were several matches that we avenged that we lost during the season too, so that’s what we were looking for improvement-wise. The key right now is moving on … placing in the top three. So that’s what we’re looking for."
Wise (27-16) was the 3rd seed at 152, but knocked off number-two seeded Zach Bankus (24-10) of ELCO in the semis, decking him in a time of 3:10. In the finals, however, the MC senior met a tough customer in Solanco’s Joe Welk (33-5), who took a 5-0 lead in the first period and won the gold with a 9-1 decision.
"(Ben) was sort of up against a great kid and … (Welk) was just a little bit better in all three positions," Sunderland said. "The way he wrestled today and to lose to a tough competitor who I’d think would place pretty highly in the State tournament is a good step for him."
Second-seeded Lefever (26-7) also took a good step, riding back-to-back falls in his first two bouts, including a pin in 4:33 over Solanco’s Elijah Groff, to punch his ticket to the finals. There, top-seeded Tom Devenney (29-2), a Warwick junior, got a first-period takedown and defeated Lefever 3-0.
"I thought the flurry at the end of that first period where Devenney ultimately got the takedown, it looked for a second or two like Aaron might be able to spin behind and get the takedown and I thought that would’ve been a huge step," Sunderland said. "We were hopeful Aaron would be able to do a little bit more on top, but Devenney is tough and wrestled in positions where he needed to be."
The Barons nearly had a third finalist, as 3rd-seeded 126-pounder Metzler (31-10) took a 5-3 lead on Township’s 2nd-seeded Scott Lopez on a reversal with 1:01 left in the third. It appeared then that Metzler would ride him out to seal the win, but Lopez got a reversal with :08 left and then added two back points to pull off the 7-5 victory.
To his credit, though, Metzler bounced back strong, decking ELCO’s Austin Ruepell in just 14 seconds and then majoring McCaskey’s Adam Peris 12-0 in the third-place match to punch his first trip to Districts.
"If you look at the match against Lopez and Metzler in the semis, that could have easily, and probably should have been, the finals match," Sunderland said. "That was a real close, down-to-the-wire match."
Bucher (23-15) had a long road ahead of him after losing by fall in 4:43 in his opening match to MT’s Alex Smith, the eventual 132-pound gold medalist and Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament. But he took care of business, winning three straight, including a 42-second fall over Warwick’s Matt Mousetis in the bronze-medal match.
"Coming back and getting third, that’s a big step," Sunderland said. "With the pressure on as a senior, he did a nice job."
Votano (27-10), seeded fourth at 138, also might have been feeling some pressure, but he answered the ball after losing by fall in 3:35 in the semi-finals to MT’s Adam Smith (28-4), the eventual champ. After majoring Donegal’s Adam Naqvi 12-2, Votano broke a scoreless tie vs. Hammond with a third-period escape and held on for the 1-0 win to clinch his third trip to the District Championships.
Asked if he expected that to be a low-scoring match, Sunderland said laughing, "Not as low as 1-0. I thought we’d get a little bit more offense going. I thought AJ could get to the legs a little bit, but just wasn’t able to capitalize."
In the 106-pound third-place match, West and MT’s Danny Graves traded escapes through regulation, and then the Streaks’ freshman won a tight 2-1 match on a stalling point in triple OT.
Later, LaSanta gave McCaskey’s CaTray Parker (29-10) all he could handle for the 195-pound bronze after being pinned by the Tornado junior at Leagues. But Parker ended up winning by a 9-4 decision. More BARONS, page B-4