WEST LAWN – Northern Lehigh reached a milestone during Saturday's Southeast Class AA Regional tournament.
Three Bulldogs advanced to the PIAA State Championships, including Regional champions Zane Heller (125) and Colin Hedash (171), as well as Ty Herzog (145), who placed fifth.
No. Lehigh now has a total of 101 State qualifiers in the program's history.
The Dawgs' trio is part of a contingent of six from THE TIMES NEWS area that qualified for this week's State Meet at Hershey's Giant Center, following Regional competition between Districts 1, 3 and 11 at Wilson West Lawn High School.
Tamaqua's Garth Lakitsky (215) joined Heller and Hedash as a Regional champion, while Lehighton's Anthony Farole (140) and Northwestern's Bobby Clymer (152) picked up bronze medals.
Bethlehem Catholic emerged as Southeast AA team champion, crowning five champions and advancing all nine of its wrestlers to States.
District 11 ended up winning 11 of the 14 gold medals, with District 3 taking the other three.
No. Lehigh ended up in fifth place and narrowly missed qualifying two more grapplers for States, as Lucas Dise (119) and Nikko Stevens (135) both finished sixth, one spot away from a PIAA berth.
"We brought five here, and all five came away with medals," said Dawgs coach Todd Herzog. "We wanted to get the other two to states, and it's always tough when they are seniors and their careers end like that. As a coach, it tears out a part of your heart."
'Dawgs' junior Heller (28-5) was in that position last year, placing sixth, so he was determined not to let it happen again.
Heller dominated his two bouts Saturday, rolling to a 13-2 major decision over Saucon Valley's Paul Sloand and cruising past Becahi's Jaydon Rice 16-3 in the final.
The bout with Rice was a rematch of the D-11 final, during which Heller rallied from a 7-1 deficit to pull out a 9-8 win. This time, there was no suspense.
"He (Rice) came out fast like he did last week, so I could either ride it out or look to be aggressive myself," said Heller. "I came out aggressive, and once I got an early takedown, I just went from there.
"It feels real good. I trained hard for this all week. I tried to build off the momentum I got at Districts, and I was able to continue it here."
Second gold for Hedash
While Heller picked up his first Regional crown, Hedash (30-2) captured his second; the other came as a sophomore, while he earned a Regional bronze last year.
The Dawgs' senior 171 pounder took down Wyomissing's Julio Arredondo with a fall at 1:50 in the semis. He polished off Trinity sophomore Adam Geiger by a 4-2 count in the finals.
Geiger tried to dump Hedash for an early takedown, but missed and Hedash countered for a takedown of his own for a 2-0 lead after one period.
In the second period, Hedash started on the bottom and slipped out the back door for a reversal and a 4-0 edge.
All of Geiger's points came in the final period, as he escaped and earned a penalty point when Hedash brought him to the mat hard, causing a slam call.
"When I brought him down, I thought he'd come over the top more, and I set him down a little hard," explained Hedash.
Hedash, who placed fourth at States as a sophomore and fifth a year ago, is looking to contend for the title this time out.
"I want to keep peaking," he stated. "Right now, I feel I'm wrestling better and better with each match."
No pins, but wins
Tamaqua's Lakitsky remained unbeaten at 38-0, although he had to wrestle the six full minutes in both the semifinals and finals, the first time he has gone the distance this season.
It hardly mattered to the Blue Raiders' 215 senior stalwart, who racked up wins against Bermudian Springs' Matt Wolf (8-5) and Wyomissing's Tyler Rank (a 12-3 major in the final).
"I felt great in the third period," said Lakitsky, who had 31 pins, four forfeits and a medical default before Saturday. "It didn't bother me, not doing it all year."
Lakitsky had flattened Rank in their regular season bout, and he dominated once again, this time on his feet, as he took down Rank three times in the first period for a 6-2 advantage.
Lakitsky started the second period on top and used a half-nelson to add three nearfall points. After Rank escaped, Lakitsky yanked him back down for another takedown and an 11-3 lead.
After Lakitsky escaped to start the third period, Rank appeared to have had enough and kept his distance, with Lakitsky shoving him away on a number of occasions.
"I don't expect these kids to come at me 100 percent, because that's when I score my points," said Lakitsky.
Lakitsky adds the Regional title to a second place a year ago and a fifth place as a sophomore.
"It was my goal to be District and Regional champion. Now I'll fight for the next step," he remarked.
Farole, Clymer and Herzog all earned their State berths in the consolations.
Farole (35-7), a junior, just missed out on States with a sixth place last year. He dropped a tight 2-1 decision to Pen Argyl's Luciano Burriesci in the semis before wrestling back for third with wins over Biglerville's Jesse Gardner (his second of the tourney) and Mahanoy Area's Nathan Fegley, who he beat 13-5 for the bronze.
"It's fantastic," said Farole. "Last year I felt if I had done a little better here, I could have gone to States. Now I don't have to worry about that, I can just go there and work for a medal."
Northwestern senior Clymer (31-5) lost to Annville-Cleona's Dylan Killian 7-2 in the semifinals but bounced back to beat Brandywine Heights' Adam Mackey 4-2 to clinch his first State berth. Clymer capped his day by pinning Becahi's Kyle Dehaut for the second straight week, this time in 4:14, to take third place.
Herzog (30-7), a sophomore, was sixth at 112 a year ago. He jumped up to 145 to place fifth, scoring a 14-6 major over Hanover's Steve Laughman in the fifth place bout to punch his State ticket.
Dise (28-9) lost his fifth place bout to Trevor Hernandez of Biglerville on a 17-2 tech fall, while Newport's Eric Kemble avenged a 9-3 quarterfinal loss to Nikko Stevens (25-10) with a fall in 2:46 for fifth place.
Northwestern sophomore Michael Ortiz (25-9) settled for sixth when he lost 6-4 to Becahi's Richard Cruz in the fifth place bout at 130.
Palmerton freshman Josh Evans finished at 2-2 for the tournament when he lost to Church Farm School's Balfour Atakora-Bediak 4-0 in the 112 wrestlebacks.