By Frank Dimon
For The Daily Item
The collective gasp of nearly 3,000 die-hard wrestling fans followed the roar of recognition that something big had happened on the mats in Williamsport’s stuffy old gym came midway through the morning semifinals of the District 4 Class AA tournament Saturday. This time the uproar shook the building when a talented freshman pinned a senior with state runner-up finish on his sparkling resume.
Southern Columbia’s Blake Marks caused the clamor in his semi with Kyle Barnes when he caught the Hughesville veteran at the end of a close match and pinned him in 5:59. Unfortunatley, Marks couldn’t elicit a similar explosion of sound in his final with Milton’s Ryan Preisch. The Milton junior ranked third in the state — just behind Barnes — hung a 9-1 defeat on Marks for the second straight week and collected his second district title.
Benton earned another district title with three champions and 127 points, outlasting the district duals champion, Central Columbia (119).
Mifflinburg rode Cole Walter, Ty Walter, Nazar Mironenko to a third place finish (84 points) over Warrior Run (83). Southern’s Kent Lane won at 126 to help the Tigers to a a solid sixth place (78). Milton, with champions in Preisch and Ryan Solomon, was seventh with 76.5 points.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who thought that I could beat (Barnes) and that gave me confidence,” Marks said. “I thought I wrestled smart in that match and I didn’t try to force anything. But when I got the opportunity to stick him on his back, I did.”
His finals rematch against Preisch was a virtual replay of their South Sectional final, though Preisch couldn’t turn the Tigers’ freshman this time. Preisch converted four takedowns and dominated Marks from the top position.
“I’ve felt great the past couple of weeks,” Preisch said. “I’ve got a goal (of a state championship) and I am trying to get there. I knew his match with (Barnes) was going to be closer than people thought it was going to be. I wasn’t surprised. I was expecting Barnes but I wasn’t surprised Marks made it to the finals.”
Preisch has converted seven takedowns against Marks over two tournaments.
“If you don’t win the battle on you feet you’re not going to win the match,” Preisch said. “Being on your feet is the most common spot to be so it’s important to be good there.”
Milton coach Mike Snyder said Preisch, who qualified for the PIAA tournament last year as a sophomore but went a disappointing 1-2, is clearly focused on a return trip to Hershey.
“He has one goal and right now he’s very focused on that,” Snyder said. “Ryan works hard at being good in all three positions and he’s at a point right now where’s he’s confident in all three positions. He’s a difficult kid to wrestle.”
“He might be the best (152-pounder) in the state,” Marks said. “He’s extremely tough in all positions. I thought I wrestled a little better against him this week but there’s still a big deficit to overcome. It’s going to be challenging.”
Preisch’s teammate Solomon enjoyed his second consecutive three-pin weekend, pinning Wellsboro’s Chad Daugherty in 3:48.
Mifflinburg’s Cole Walter won his second district crown with a 9-2 decision over Jesse Shannon of Central Columbia in the 132-pound final. Walter converted three first period takedowns.
“I just go out and wrestle every match like it’s the state finals,” said Walter, who finished third at 120 last year. “This year I am going out completely relaxed with no pressure. I just go out and wrestle.”
The older Walter brother, Ty, managed just one takedown in his 160-pound final against Jeric Kasunic of Benton, but reversals in the second and third periods powered his 6-1 decision. One year ago Walter lost in the finals to Kurt Meske of Central Columbia.
“It feels good to win another district championship,” Walter said. “I won as a sophomore and then lost a tough match in the finals last year. It’s nice to be back on top. I just want to open up and be confident, something I haven’t done that past couple of years and that’s probably cost me a chance at a state title, or two.”
Mironenko again looked solid after injuring his should late in the season. He used a second period takedown to fuel a 3-1 decision over Central Columbia’s Alex Shiber in final at 285. It was Mironenko’s 100th career victory.
Warrior Run’s Zack LeBarron and Eric Hunt both grabbed district titles for the Defenders. In the final at 103, LeBarron escaped in the second period and then took down Muncy’s Angelo Barbario for a 3-0 victory. He advanced to the finals with a wild 11-9 win over Midd-West’s Corey Stauffer in the semifinals.
“I wanted to make sure that I made it my match in the final,” the unbeaten (32-0) LeBarron said. “I wanted to score early and keep it like that the rest of the match.”
Hunt followed a similar strategy at 113 when he edged Central’s Taylor Johnson, the No. 1 seed, 4-3. Hunt converted a first period takedown and added a pair of second period escapes.
“I practiced hard all week and got it done here today,” Hunt said. “I was confident because I had a good week of practice. Everything worked for me.”
The Defenders other finalist, Garrett Moser, who knocked unbeaten Garrett Wesneski, 6-4 in sudden victory in one of the 182-pound semis, ran into Columbia-bound Troy Hembury of Muncy and lost 16-1 (2:44).
Southern’s Lane beat a familiar foe in Williamson’s Logan Everett, 7-2, to win at 126. Midd-West’s Alex Leiberman, at 170, earned at title when he edged North Penn’s Ben Minnich, 5-3. Lewisburg’s Brandon Smith blanked Wyalusing’s Dylan Otis, 8-0, for the 220-pound championship.
Line Mountain’s only finalist, Seth Lansberry, lost to former teammate, Zain Retherford of Benton. Retherford used two takedowns and an escape for a 5-0 win.
Also advancing to the Northeast Regional tournament which starts Friday night back in Williamsport were: Line Mountain’s Cameron Newman (3rd at 106), Lewisburg’s Brian Friery (4th at 106); Midd-West’s Stauffer (5th at 106); Mifflinburg’s Cooper Wagner (4th at 113), Sourthern Columbia’s Brett Shepard (5th at 113); Midd-West’s Tanner Ebright (4th at 126); Milton’s Zack Bennett (4th at 132); Mt. Carmel’s Blake Panko (5th at 138); Midd-West’s Zach Heeter (4th at 145); Lewisburg’s Max Reed (5th at 160); Shamokin’s Zach Biddiscombe (4th at 220); and Southern Columbia’s Jake Becker (3rd at 285).