BETHLEHEM – Throughout his career, Connor Martinez has always played second fiddle, with more second-place finishes than anyone would want.
It’s starting to pay off for the Dallas senior now.
After falling into the consolation bracket on Friday night, the 170-pounder won four times on Saturday at the Class 3A Northeast Regional Tournament at Liberty High School to take third and reach the PIAA Championships for the first time.
Martinez is one of five Wyoming Valley Conference wrestlers to reach the Class 3A PIAA Championships, which begin Thursday at Giant Center in Hershey. He’s joined by his teammate Ryan Monk (285 pounds), who finished first, Hazleton Area freshman Jimmy Hoffman (120), who took third, and Wyoming Valley West teammates Nathan Cheek (145) and Cody Cordes (160), who finished third and second, respectively.
“I knew coming back (in consolations) that I had to work hard and press the whole five minutes instead of six, and I had to keep going and wrestle my match and not his,” said Martinez, who won his third-place match against Liberty’s Noah Klingborg 3-1 by getting awarded two points for a takedown as the final buzzer sounded.
The officials talked it over and gave Martinez the points.
“I was relieved, definitely. Even if it did go into overtime, it still could’ve went either way. But it was nice.”
Martinez, who had runner-up finishes at districts and the Wyoming Valley Conference Tournament in his career before breaking through and winning championships this season, won his first three matches during the day via fall.
He wasn’t the only Wyoming Valley Conference wrestler to have accomplished the feat as Hazleton Area freshman Jimmy Hoffman also won four bouts on Saturday. But the 120-pounder, who became the first freshman in school history to reach the state tournament, didn’t win with as much ease as Martinez.
After two pins to start his day, Hoffman needed to hit a switch move and get back points with about 20 seconds left in his consolation semifinal match to win 5-2, before holding on for a 1-0 win over Abington Heights’ Greg Pascale to claim third-place.
“I’ve never felt something like this before especially since I am the first freshman ever from Hazleton to go out to states,” Hoffman said. “It makes it a ton more sweeter. I feel great right now.”
Cheek finished third, but only had to win twice to do so after he lost his semifinal bout, 1-0. But the senior didn’t let that hard loss affect him, as he rebounded to reach states for the first time. He defeated St. Joseph Prep’s Bobby Endy for the second time in the tournament in the third-place match, 5-2.
“I was just hoping that I was good enough to beat him two times,” said Cheek, who was shedding joyful tears for finally breaking through and getting to Hershey. “I’m crying a little bit and jumping with joy. I set a goal this year to make it to states and I did it. I’m so happy. ”
Monk, who defeated Nazareth’s Brandon Lance, 3-2 for his first regional title and 99th career win, had two pins to reach the regional final. There was not much drama during his final. But when he secured his spot at states after his semifinal win, he was plenty ecstatic jumping in excitement and screaming with joy to qualify for the PIAA Championships for the first time.
“I’ve been waiting for the day a long time and it feels great. I gotta thank the man above for everything. It’s awesome,” Monk said. “I wanted to go to Hershey since I was (little). All that time of the extra couple hours in the room…it just felt great.”
Cordes was equally impressive as Monk in his tournament picking up a pair of pins and a major decision along the way, which includes a pin in the semis. He fell one point shy against Northampton’s Bobby Fehr in the finals, losing 3-2.
“It feels good to get to states but I wish I would’ve won that last match,” Cordes said. “I just gotta work harder now to get to that next level. ”
Two WVC standouts – Valley West’s Travis Roper and Coughlin’s Bobby Hawkins – fell in their third-place match. Delaware Valley’s Jalen Palmer defeated Roper for the third time this season, this time 7-3. Hawkins was in a heart-breaker as he held a 10-4 lead heading into the third period before falling 12-10 in overtime. Hawkins is a junior and picked up career win No. 100 in his consolation semifinal bout.
Roper, a senior, sees his stellar career come to a close with three regional appearances, a showing at the PIAA Championships last season and more than 100 career wins.
Palmer defeated Roper last weekend at districts in controversial fashion, but made sure there was no controversy this time, winning 7-3 and leading the entire match.
“He’s a hell of a wrestler and he’s gonna succeed greatly at the next level,” Cheek said about his good friend, Roper.
Three wrestlers from the Lackawanna League round out District 2’s eight state qualifiers. Joining Palmer is Abington Heights’ Matt Carr at 160 and Wallenpaupack’s Jared Wehrmann at 182.