Garth grabs gold medal
HERSHEY - Wrestling is a sport that can be ruled by emotion.
Garth Lakitsky is a State champion because he kept his poise when it mattered the most.
Neither the pressure of the PIAA Class AA championships, nor the stalling tactics of Milton sophomore Ryan Solomon caused a crack in the Tamaqua senior 215-pounder's determination.
Solomon's slowdown strategy didn't stop Lakitsky from becoming the first Tamaqua grappler to win a State title.
Lakitsky calmly battled through Solomon's ties and lock-ups, forging ahead until he was awarded with a second stalling call and penalty point on Solomon with 32 seconds left that was the difference in a 2-1 decision Saturday afternoon at the Giant Center.
Lakitsky's gold was one of three State medals collected by TIMES NEWS area wrestlers during the three-day AA tournament. Northern Lehigh senior Colin Hedash placed sixth at 171 pounds, although injuries he sustained during Friday night's competition prevented him from wrestling his final match. No. Lehigh junior Zane Heller added an eight place finish at 125.
Lakitsky, a three-time State qualifier who placed fourth at 189 pounds a year ago, capped an undefeated season with a 42-0 record. He was the ultimate finisher, an efficient pinning machine (33 falls) who had just four bouts go the distance all season.
Two other Raiders, Andy Breiner at 145 pounds in 1999 and Matt Benza at 125 in 2001, previously wrestled in the State finals, only to settle for silver.
It was after securing the win over Solomon that Lakitsky finally allowed himself to show some excitement.
"I'm super pumped, and I can't even put it into words," said a happy Lakitsky with a grin. "I won a State championship, and I'm the first to do it from Tamaqua.
"I was nervous five minutes before the match, but once I walked out on the mat, it went away."
Lakitsky's composure was tested at States. He was hit in the face several times by Northern Bedford senior Joel Suter in Friday night's semifinals, but Lakitsky paid him back with a stunning standing cradle, bringing Suter down to the mat hard but under control to gain the fall in 1:41.
While that pin generated plenty of buzz, the battle for the gold was Lakitsky's most reserved bout of the season.
In the final, Solomon (34-3), a sixth place finisher at States a year ago, tried a patient approach to frustrate Lakitsky into a mistake. That plan worked in Solomon's three prior bouts, in which he won 1-0 over Matt Wolf of Bermudian Springs and defeated Seneca's Matt Mongera and Burrell's Brian Beattie in the overtime tiebreaker period.
"They were going after the Rope-a-Dope," said Tamaqua coach Jim McCabe. "They were looking to tire Garth out and go after a point at the end of the match to win.
"People got an idea of how Garth wrestled, and that you had to stay away from him if you want to have a chance. That's what Solomon did, he stayed away."
"He wanted an overtime match, that's all," said Lakitsky.
The first period was scoreless, mostly lock-ups and attempts at shrugs and throws. Solomon went for a single leg once, but Lakitsky countered and shoved him out of bounds.
Lakitsky chose defense to start the second period and escaped for a 1-0 lead. He made several takedown attempts in the period, one at the edge of the mat, another on a snap-down, and one with an attempted headlock, but Solomon got away each time.
Solomon received his first stalling warning with 26 seconds left in the period, then evened the score when he escaped with 1:48 to go in the third. Solomon seemed content to lock up and force overtime.
However, Solomon was whistled for his second stall call with 32 seconds left, putting Lakitsky in front 2-1. Solomon made a last ditch takedown try which Lakitsky fended off as the buzzer sounded.
"I was ready for him to go all-out at the end, so I was looking to keep going at him and hopefully score off one of his mistakes, but then they called that last stall," noted Lakitsky.
"Garth was aggressive and kept going after it," stated McCabe. "I heard some fans screaming that Garth didn't take a shot, but he took more than one shot. He pushed the gamut the whole time."
Even with the gut-wrenching prospect of overtime looming, Lakitsky never let frustration take over, something that might have happened to him in the past.
"I kept my cool this year 100 percent," he mentioned. "My coaches were on me all year about that, and I guess it paid off in the end. I can't ask for anything more."
Third medal for Hedash
No. Lehigh's Hedash suffered a severely twisted ankle in his semifinal bout against Grove City's Wes Phipps, which was a factor in his 7-4 loss to Phipps.
In the consolations, Hedash opened a cut over his eye against Saucon Valley's Ray O'Donnell and dropped a 7-6 decision in the overtime tiebreaker.
After receiving stitches from the Hershey Bears' hockey doctors, Hedash still sported a badly swollen right eye and a bum foot, so Bulldogs' coach Todd Herzog had him take a medical forfeit for his fifth place bout with Bentworth's August Mizia.
"He had 10 stitches in his head and a softball on the side of his foot, so we had to pull the plug on him," said Herzog. "Does he have anything else to prove? No. I was proud of how he battled last night. We want our kids to graduate with character, and he show a lot of heart."
Hedash finished the season with a 32-5 record and became the fifth Bulldog to earn three State medals, adding the sixth place to a fourth place in 2009 and a fifth in 2010.
The Dawgs' Heller (30-8) completed his State run with an eighth place medal after dropping a 9-6 decision to Greenville senior Nate Dias in the seventh place bout.
"I'm really happy for Zane," said Herzog. "He had two near missing getting here and now he has a medal. It's a monkey off his back. He's a hard-working kid who has joined the elite."