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Garbinsky, Schopp on the way to Chocolate Town for PIAA wrestling

Struggling to get free Tyrone 103-pounder Ronnie Garbinsky tries to get an escape against Geoff Aleander from Shady Side Academy in the championship finals of the Southwest Regionals. Alexander won 9-1, but Garbinsky moves on to the PIAA meet at Hershey this weekend. (The Daily Herald/Amanda McIlroy) Making the turn Eagle sophomore A. J. Schopp tries to turn in against Keystone Oaks Anthony Zannetta during the Regional final at 112. Zannetta edged Schopp 4-3, but Schopp advances to the PIAA State Tournament. (The Daily Herald/Amanda McIlroy)

It wasn’t a good feeling following the 112-pound championship finals match for Tyrone wrestling fans at the Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown on Saturday evening. With two wrestlers in the finals, just minutes before, hopes and anticipation ran high.
Then, first freshman Ronnie Garbinsky at 103, and after that, returning Southwest Regional champ A.J. Schopp at 112, fell to District 7 champions to open the 2008 Regional finals.
Garbinsky (36-3), in his first Regional, pinned Keith Cornman of Kittanning, in 5:58, and took wins by decision over Andrew Lucarini of Fort Cherry 9-6 and District 5 champion Trey Easter of Bedford, 3-1 to earn his bid for the finals.
In the 103-pound finals however, Garbinsky ran into fellow ninth grader Geoff Alexander of Shady Side Academy, who looked visibly bigger, despite the weight limit. Alexander notched a first-period takedown for the only scoring of the first two periods, riding tight and controlling Garbinsky throughout the first two periods, never allowing the Tyrone freshman to do much of anything from the bottom. Choosing the neutral position for the third period, Alexander, clearly stronger, took Garbinsky down twice and added a three-point nearfall to win a 9-1 major decision.
“He is the real deal, he was strong, very strong,” said Tyrone wrestling coach Blair Packer in describing Alexander. “He just kind of manhandled Ronnie. He gave away those points there at the end, because he was behind and trying to throw Alexander to get back into the match. Even up to that point, Alexander proved himself to be a contender, a wrestler to be dealt with next week at the state championships. It will be interesting to see how far he goes. He is probably the best in the state that I have seen.”
At 112, A.J. Schopp (36-4), was referred to all weekend and at the previous week’s district tournament by his first given name, Aaron Schopp, probably providing many of the Tyrone faithful the answer to that unspoken trivial question, what does the “A” in A.J. stand for.
Schopp followed a 4-0 Friday victory over Jeremy Landowski of Burrell, with a 3-0 win over Shady Side Academy, and returning PIAA state champion Frank Martellotti to get into the finals against 2007 Regional champ Anthony Zannetta of Keystone Oaks. Last year, Schopp decisioned Martellotti 11-4 in the Regional finals, before Martellotti reversed the decision to win in the state finals.
Neither wrestler scored in the opening stanza, and after choosing the bottom position, Schopp reversed Zannetta to take a 2-0 advantage going into the final two minutes. Schopp got a little sloppy taking two bad shots and Zannetta (37-0) capitalized on both to score takedowns, the second with 15 seconds remaining for the 4-3 triumph.
“Those are little mistakes that need to be cleaned up,” explained Packer. “In the end there, that last takedown was a mistake that needs to be cleaned up. We will take a look at the films and check it out and try to clean it up. That’s what it’s all about.
“I thought we carried the match through the first five minutes and 50 seconds, and even in the last 10 seconds,” acknowledged Tyrone wrestling coach Blair Packer. “We had beaten him on the same move through the first and second period, the first period mostly, we had no reason to believe we couldn’t beat him on it in the last 10 seconds, but that’s the way wrestling is.”
Tyrone 171-pounder Shayne Tate (24-11) dropped into the consolation bracket with an opening round loss to Ryan Watson of Burgettstown, but battled back to beat Aaron Delano of North Star 3-0 and P.J. Brett of Bedford 9-7 in overtime, but then ran into an old nemesis in Zach Hicks of Mount Union. Hicks downed Tate, 3-1. This is the fourth time the two have wrestled this season and Hicks has won all four, 5-3, 3-2, 3-2, and 3-1.
Anthony Romano (30-11) dropped out of the double-elimination tournament with a pair of 3-2 losses on Friday, to North Star’s and to Mount Pleasant’s Allen Park.
The sour taste of losing both Regional finals, has to be overcome, however, by the realization that both Garbinsky and Schopp had already punched their tickets to the top step on the high school wrestling ladder.
The PIAA State Tournament is the ultimate achievement of every high school wrestler who slips on a singlet, who steps out on the mat. Only 16 athletes at each of the 14 weight classes qualify for this Best-of-the-Best Tournament to see who are the best in Pennsylvania, and that means more than all but a few of the other states in this nation.
The Southwest Regional encompasses more than 60 schools in Districts 5, 6 and 7, and is arguably one of the toughest regionals in the state. Eight of the 14 state champs came from the Southwest Regional in 2007, and 31 wrestlers from the Regional claimed state medals.
District 6 will take 29 wrestlers to the state tournament, which will begin on Thursday morning and continue through Saturday afternoon for the Class AA championship finals.
Only two 2007 Regional champs repeated-Zanetta at 112, and Burrell 140-pounder Jordan Shields, who earned his third Regional title. District 6 was just one-for-nine in District finals involving other districts. Glenn Winslow of Cambria Heights, scored an escape in the third overtime to win a 3-2 tiebreaker over Robert Blotzer of South Allegheny, at 130, and in al all District 6 final, at 171, Marco Pecora of Richland repeated a District final victory over Bobby Mort of Huntingdon, 8-2.
Four wrestlers entered the Regional undefeated, but only Zannetta emerged with a perfect record.
Shady Side Academy won the team race with 141.5 points, followed by Burrell with 138. Mount Union was a distant third with 83, Westmont-Hilltop was fourth with 64, Cambria Heights was fifth with 62 and Bedford was sixth with 55. Tyrone finished in ninth place with 40 points.