(This article was written and released by KEN WUNDERLEY of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The original article can be found by clicking here. )
It was quite appropriate Canon-McMillan was the team to end Waynesburg’s three-year reign in the WPIAL Class 3A team wrestling finals, held Saturday at the AHN Arena at Peters Township High School.
“They were going for their fourth (consecutive) title. We are the only (Class 3A) team to win four (consecutive) titles,” Canon-McMillan coach Brian Krenzelak said. “I would be lying if I told you that didn’t mean something to me. We didn’t want Waynesburg to tie our record.”
Krenzelak was referring to Canon-McMillan’s streak of four titles from 2010 to 2013. The Big Macs are the only Class 3A team to have won four straight titles since the WPIAL adopted the team tournament format in 1979.
“This season is dedicated to Manuel Pihakis,” said Krenzelak, referring to one of Canonsburg’s most iconic residents, who passed away on Nov. 5. “The suit I am wearing was one of his favorite suits. This win was for him and the Canonsburg community that he loved so much.”
The title match actually ended in a 28-28 tie. After applying the PIAA’s tiebreaker procedure, Canon-McMillan was awarded an additional point for having the most bout victories, as the Big Macs won seven of the 13 bouts.
“It feels great,” said Big Macs senior Gabriel Stafford, who posted a 10-5 victory in the 189-pound bout. “I knew coming into this event that we were going to win. I’ve seen all the work our guys and coaches have put in this season with this title as one of our goals. I knew there would be ups and downs, but I knew we would prevail.”
It’s the 10th overall WPIAL team tournament title for Canon-McMillan and marked its 19th appearance in the finals, which ranks first in both categories in Class 3A.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said senior Brandon Dami, who posted a 14-1 win in the 121-pound bout. “Gabe (Stafford), Matt (Furman) and I have been starting since our freshman year. Our coaches told us when we were in sixth grade that we would win a WPIAL title. It’s great to finally win.”
The title match started at 172 pounds with Waynesburg’s Rocco Welsh and Canon-McMillan’s Matthew Furman, the top two wrestlers in the state at that weight class, facing off. Welsh posted a 14-8 victory.
Canon-McMillan won seven of the next nine bouts to take a 28-12 lead. Stafford’s win at 189 began the rally. Collier Hartman (107) and Ryder Joseph (127) registered pins during the rally. Josiah Gardner capped the rally with a 15-11 win at 139.
Canon-McMillan forfeited at 145 to Mac Church, which closed the gap to 28-18. That meant Waynesburg would have to score 11 points in the final two bouts to pull out the victory. Raiders sophomore Brock Evans followed with a 17-8 major decision of Giuseppe Juliani at 152, but it wasn’t enough as Waynesburg needed at least five points in that bout to stay alive.
With the Big Macs holding a 28-22 lead and a 7-5 advantage in bout victories, Krenzelak forfeited the final bout because his squad had clinched the match victory.
Canon-McMillan, the No. 2 seed, earned its title berth with a 37-36 semifinal win over No. 11 seed Hempfield, but the match was not as close as the score indicated. The Big Macs built a 37-6 lead, then forfeited the last five bouts.
“We didn’t want to take a chance on getting anybody hurt,” Krenzelak said. “It also gave us some time to get ready for the title match.”
Waynesburg, the top seed, advanced to the finals with a 45-25 semifinal win against No. 4 seed Connellsville. The Falcons then dropped a 32-31 decision to Hempfield in the consolation for third place.
Canon-McMillan, Waynesburg and Hempfield qualify for the PIAA team tournament, which begins Monday. The Big Macs and Raiders receive a bye into Thursday’s first round.
First Published February 4, 2023, 6:30pm