Close bouts doom Girard; Canfield cruises
GIRARD — Momentum can go a long way in wrestling dual meet, and losing it can be just as crucial.
Girard was on the verge of grabbing that abstract force during a Division II Region 12-A quarterfinal against West Branch on Wednesday, but it slipped through the Indians’ fingers.
It seemed like Canfield, the top seed in the region, was bottling up all the energy in the gym anyway.
Girard lost two key bouts in a regional quarterfinal of the OHSAA Dual Team State Tournament and lost, 44-30, to the Warriors, while Canfield dominated Jefferson, 68-5, to advance to the semifinals. The Cardinals and West Branch, both members of the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League, meet next Wednesday at a site to be determined.
The Indians, another EOWL team, looked like they might be the ones to tangle with Canfield, but an overtime loss at 138 pounds deflated those chances.
Girard’s Shawn Thomas nearly earned an escape in the final seconds of regulation a couple different times, which would have given him the lead, but he couldn’t break free from Gage Bickley grasp. Bickley secured a takedown in the extra period for a 4-2 win.
“I knew we needed to get some momentum, which we did,” said Girard coach Jim Cardiero, whose team won its first-round dual against Geneva and led, 24-6, after the first five matches against West Branch, “but I think if we would’ve won at 138, who knows … You just never know what could’ve happened different. Momentum is a big thing in a wrestling match.”
The Warriors, instead, pulled away after the victory, winning the next seven matches, including another close bout at 145 pounds in which Michael Johnson was pinned in the third period of what had been a close match.
West Branch must now face a Canfield team that is on quite a roll. The Cardinals, now 16-0, beat Conneaut, 68-3, in its first-round match before manhandling the Falcons. With six state-ranked wrestlers, including returning state champion David Crawford, Canfield is brimming with confidence as the Cardinals take aim at their first regional title in school history.
“We’re going to wrestle whoever goes out there, and we’re going to steam roll whoever goes out there,” said Canfield senior Daniel Kapalko, who’s ranked in the top 10 in the state at 285 pounds and won both of his matches Wednesday, including an impressive 18-3 victory over Alan Christine of Conneaut (ranked 22nd in the state). “A lot of my teammates are a little bit more humble than me I guess, but I think confidence in wrestling is a must. You’ve got to have the mindset you’re going to beat whoever you wrestle, even if it’s the No. 1 kid in the nation.”
Things might not be so easy for the Cardinals.
West Branch also possesses a number of highly ranked competitors, and if Canfield does get past the Warriors, they’ll face the winner of the Beaver Local-Louisville dual — two more formidable teams.
Canfield coach Steve Pitts is well aware of the task at hand, in part because several of the Cardinals train with West Branch wrestlers in the offseason and also because all four of the remaining teams are part of the EOWL, one of the state’s strongest leagues.
“That makes it a little bit of a rivalry, but to be honest, there’s a lot of respect,” Pitts said. “All these programs know how hard the others are working. There’s no cheap ones. You’re going to have to go earn victory.”
The four teams start wrestling at 5 p.m., Wednesday, with the regional final following 20 minutes after the conclusion of the semifinals. The winner advances to St. John’s Arena in Columbus, where the final eight teams in each division meet to decide a dual meet state champion.
While Girard may be out of the tournament after the loss, it wasn’t all bad for the Indians.
Senior Michael Belcik earned his 100th career victory Wednesday. His pin of Geneva’s Donald Evans made him the 15th wrestler in school history to earn the distinction. It was a special moment for Belcik, also a star receiver on the football team, and his coach.
“He’s my nephew, so that make’s it even more exciting,” Cardiero said. “He’s a three-sport athlete, and he’s really excelled at football and track, and sometimes it was like wrestling was his third sport, but he’s shown that he can have success there, too.
“I’m happy for him. That’s a big accomplishment.”