With two sub-section matches — today at Gateway and next week at home against Penn Hills — remaining to be wrestled, Greater Latrobe head coach Mike Ciotti doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.
But if things shake out as they should the rest of the way, then Wednesday night’s 46-21 win over visiting Greensburg Salem should — emphasis on should — put Greater Latrobe into the WPIAL team playoffs for the first time since 2016.
“I’m pretty confident we’re going to beat the next two teams,” Ciotti permitted. “It’ll be kind of nice to be able to get into the playoffs this year and see what we can do. We should finish in second place.”
Hempfield Area still has to wrestle Greensburg Salem next week, but already owns a win — close, four points (37-33) — over Greater Latrobe back when it was ranked No. 1, and will likely finish atop WPIAL Class AAA Section 1-B.
So, in all probability, last night’s match between GL and Greensburg Salem will decide the runner-up spot — and the district’s automatic playoff berth that goes with it — in the sub-section, and the one that will have to wrestle its way in between the two third-place teams.
Last year, it was Greensburg Salem getting the best of Greater Latrobe and knocking the Wildcats into the third-place play-in match that they lost to Franklin Regional.
This time, it’s GL that’s expected to automatically qualify for the four-team section tournament and then the WPIAL playoffs after its victory over Greensburg Salem.
The Wildcats will then face the winner of sub-section 1-A, which is probably going to be Kiski Area, in a crossover match and then either Norwin or Hempfield Area — both on Jan. 22 — to determine the order of the four teams for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs while Greensburg Salem drops into that third-place match to settle the section’s fifth and final playoff participant.
“We knew it was going to be tough for us to beat them,” Greensburg Salem coach Randy Parsley allowed. “So, you know, it is what it is.
“They’re better than us. Disappointing on the score, but they’re a better team than we are. We just got to go with that.”
The match began at 126 pounds and went back and forth over the first five weight classes.
The Wildcats got a pin from Ricky Armstrong in 4:49 at 145 against Luke Willett, and an 11-0 major decision by Gabe Willochell vs. Cody Kaufman at 132 while Nico Williams (126), Colt Rubrecht (138) and Ian Weing (152) had respective 5-3, 2-0 and 3-0 decisions for the Golden Lions over Enzo Angelicchio and Payton Henry.
That made it 10-9 in favor of Greater Latrobe. Then came the turning point of the match...three successive falls by the Wildcats.
First was 160-pounder Mitch Tryon in 5:34 over Cooper Phillips. Tryon was leading, 6-2, when he put together a pinning combination — takedown and fall — in a matter of five seconds.
“His was big,” Ciotti said of Tryon’s fall. “We weren’t sure how that match was going to end up. That was, like, nice bonus points there.”
That was followed by first-period pins from Logan Zitterbart (170) and Corey Boerio (182) against Wayne Clark and Christian McChesney. Their times were 1:13 and 1:28, respectively.
“That’s what happened in the Hempfield Area match, too,” Ciotti recalled of the stretch that gave GL the lead — temporarily — by eight points going into the final four weight classes. “We just couldn’t hold onto it back then.”
“I thought at 60, we could win the match and we got pinned. I was really disappointed with that,” stated Parsley, who also said that his team was simply “outgunned” at 170 and 182.
Those three pins but the Wildcats up, 28-9. But Greensburg Salem got back into the match with wins at 195 and 220, a 4-2 decision by Caleb Chismar over Tyler Lynch, and a forfeit to John Meyers to make it 28-18.
Then came another bout that kept the ’Cats in control, even though they didn’t win it. And it wasn’t so much the points that Tyler Lynch registered at 285, but the ones he didn’t give up.
Wrestling at 825 despite weighing in at 218, Ross kept it close against GS’s Billy McChesney, who was ranked No. 2 in WPIAL Class AAA heading into the match, and lost only a one-point decision (6-5) when it first appeared that it could’ve been at least a major decision the other way.
McChesney was winning, 6-0, when Ross reversed and nearly pinned him to end the second period. But Ross was awarded three near-fall points right as the buzzer sounded to halt the period, and that’s the way the match stayed.
“That was a big match, too,” Ciotti confirmed. “We didn’t know how that match would go, either.
“He (Ross) wrestled really well. That’s a winnable match for him, and he needs to know that now come the end of the season, whether he sticks at 220 or goes to 285.
“Even though he lost, there’s a lot of things that we can learn from that match. But we felt that was a better matchup for us, and it kind of worked out for us there.”
“I was just a little disappointed (in that),” Parsley added. “Read today where he was ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL, so he thinks everybody’s going to roll over and play dead. And they didn’t.”
It meant that Greater Latrobe was able to maintain a seven-point lead at 28-21. And when Vinny Kilkeary received a forfeit at 106, the Wildcats — barring anything like a team point being deducted at a later time — had the match wrapped up at 34-21 with only two bouts remaining.
And GL won those by fall, as well. Lucio Angelicchio (113) and Nate Roth (120) pinned Kaidyn Gonder and Riley Stoner (120), who is a defending state girls’ champion, in 2:41 and 3:23, respectively.
“The bad thing about this year for us is, we’re going to have our best lineup after our dual meets are over,” Parsley explained. “We’ll get (220-pounder Trent) Patrick in the lineup and everybody will drop down.
“It’s a whole different match if we do that.”
As for the Wildcats and Ciotti, they’re looking forward to the upcoming playoffs. They’ve come a long way over these last three seasons
“We’ve just kept improving,” Ciotti remarked. “The team is working really well together.
“We have that atmosphere in the room that, when everybody’s pushing hard, it’s contagious. They’ve all had their share of success, and they’ve been able to keep it rolling from week to week.
“I’m excited to finish out these next two dual matches and then enter the playoffs.”
Greater Latrobe travels to Gateway today (7 p.m.) in a sub-section match that was pushed back from Monday. The Wildcats then host Penn Hills next Wednesday (Jan 15, 7:30 p.m.) prior to the start of the playoffs.