LEHMAN TWP. – Facing the top seed of the 182-pound bracket in his home gym, Hazleton Area’s Steve Longazel seemed like a big underdog going against Lake-Lehman’s Brady Butler.
But that’s why the matches are wrestled.
Longazel, the Cougar’s sophomore, pulled off the biggest upset on the first day of the Wyoming Valley Conference Tournament, topping the Black Knight senior 6-5 thanks to a late reversal to reach the finals of a tournament for the first time in his high school career.
Longazel got a reversal with about 10 seconds left then held Butler, a defending District 2 Class 2A champion, down for the final seconds to earn the upset.
“He was getting gassed and I just did what I had to do to get the win,” said Longazel, who will face Wyoming Valley West’s Jamaar Taylor in the finals, which will begin at 1 p.m. today and run simultaneously with the third- and fifth-place bouts.
“I noticed he had his hips in a little bit and his knees were right there so I just reached around, sucked it in and got the two. It was tough at the end. It wasn’t easy.”
Taylor had to avoid an upset of his own earlier in the tournament when he was trailing late to Chris Cummings from Pittston Area. He used a takedown and two sets of three back points to pull out a 12-8 victory to advance to the semifinals where he then topped Coughlin’s Adam Giovanelli 6-3 to reach the finals.
While Butler was the only top seed to not reach the finals, six No. 2 seeds didn’t advance. In an expected upset in the 120-pound semi, Longazel’s freshman teammate Jimmy Hoffman, a highly-regarded grappler throughout the state, pinned Wyoming Area’s Pat Heck in 3:43 in the semis. Hoffman, who had two pins during the day, will face 2013 state qualifier in GAR’s A.J. Luton in the finals. Luton, a senior, picked up three pins on Saturday with none going longer than 1:20.
“He’s a great kid. He works really hard and he deserves everything he’s getting so far,” Longazel said about Hoffman. “He’s a good kid to have in the room and could turn out to be a future leader for the team.”
Heck may have fallen in the semis, but his teammates were part of a few upsets in knocking off No. 2 seeds. Charlie Johnson (126) and Kenny Beyer (132) won their semis bouts over Coughlin’s Bobby Hawkins and Tunkhannock’s Jake Richards, respectively.
Another second seed to fall in the semis was Valley West’s Ian Moran at 220 when he dropped a 6-3 decision to Pittston Area’s Jake Vaxmonsky, a defending champion.
Vaxmonsky will look to repeat as champion when he takes on GAR’s top-seeded Zac Faust in a rematch of last year’s final.
“I don’t have an advantage I have a target right on my forehead. They’re coming to get me,” the junior Vaxmonsky said about being a defending champion. “I feel like they all know what they have to do to beat me and it’s just tough for me to come back when they already know my strategy. Faust is going to be a tough match.”
One of the second seeds to win was Dallas’ Connor Martinez, who is a defending champion. Martinez handed Pittston Area’s Kevin Wesolowski his first loss of the season with a 9-3 win in the 170-pound semis. Martinez, who wrestled up a weight last season and now is at a closer weight, faces Lake-Lehman’s Derek Dragon for the gold medal.
“It feels great. Winning is the best,” Martinez said. “I’ll definitely get a good night’s rest and then (today) give it even more than I gave right now.
“I think it will be a really good match (with Dragon).”
The race for the team title could already be in hand as Wyoming Valley West (187) is holding a commanding lead over Pittston Area by 37 points and has seven wrestlers in this afternoon’s finals. The seven finalists tied for the most in tournament history with Hazleton Area in 2010. Pittston Area and Lake-Lehman each have three finalists as 13 of the 14 teams are represented in the championship bouts. Nanticoke, which will have five medalists, does not have a finalist.
“We’re happy with seven (finalists). Our goal was nine,” Spartans coach Drew Feldman said. “It’s impressive. We were hoping for a little more, but (today’s) a new day.”