4 state champs from area

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Jack DelGarbino of Girard has his hand raised after winning the state title at 285 pounds in Division II on Saturday at the State Wrestling Individual Tournament.

COLUMBUS — If there were questions as to which wrestling league was the best in the state of Ohio, they were answered — resoundingly — Saturday night at the Schottenstein Center.

The Eastern Ohio Wrestling League crowned four state champions Saturday, setting a league record in a convincing manner.

Girard’s Jack DelGarbino, Canfield’s tandem of David Crawford and Tyler Stein and Pymatuning Valley’s Gaige Willis all won individual titles. The closest match was a 5-3 victory by Crawford, who became the Cardinals’ first two-time state champion.

“Our league is the best league in the entire state from top to bottom,” Canfield coach Steve Pitts said, “and tonight proved that.”

The EOWL had 34 participants in the state tournament, making up more than 5 percent of the 672 wrestlers competing in the three divisions. The league’s four champions made up nearly 10 percent of the 42 champs from all divisions.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon David Crawford, top, laces an arm-bar on David Heath of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary during their Division II 182-pound state championship match last weekend at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. Crawford won, 5-3, to become Canfield's first two-time state champion.

DelGarbino’s title may have stuck out the most, and it wasn’t just because he became the first Indian to earn a crown in the program’s 44-year history.

The junior used an acrobatic throw known as a jap-whizzer to pin Steubenville’s Tyler Ely in just 38 seconds. His tossing of the 285-pound Ely brought the crowd to its feet and stunned Ely.

“He was pushing really hard at me, thinking I’d probably fall to my back,” DelGarbino said, “but him pushing opened up a throw I like.”

DelGarbino, who said he used that move a lot during off-season wrestling, matched his father John “JT” DelGarbino, who won a state title for Liberty in 1991. JT was in his son’s corner along with Indians head coach Jim Cardiero. The elder DelGarbino said he was more nervous for this match than his own.

“This was significantly harder,” JT said. “I’m proud of him. He bought into what Jim’s teaching and what’s going at Girard, and really never questioned what we asked him to do. He just blindly trusted his coaches.”

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon LEFT: Pymatuning Valley's Gaige Willis puts up two fingers after he claimed his second-straight state title with an 11-3 victory over Chris Kuhn of Sandusky St. Mary.

DelGarbino has the chance to one-up his pops next year, as he’s only a junior.

Two-time champs are becoming pretty regular in the league. Crawford and Willis both earned that distinction. Crawford won the 182-pound, Division II title with a 5-3 victory over David Heath of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, while Willis earned an 11-3 major decision over Chris Kuhn of Sandusky St. Mary Central Catholic in the 220-pound Division III championship match.

Crawford, a Pitt recruit, said refocusing after winning last year wasn’t always easy.

“There were definitely days that, say you’re training during the season and nothing’s really going on, you’re just waiting for the state tournament,” he said. “You’ve already achieved the goal, so you don’t have (the motivation) as much. I tried to block that out as much as possible. At practice, chasing that same thing, looking at all the brackets on the wall, trying to get another one (was motivation).”

Willis became the Lakers’ first champ last year. He ended an illustrious career by being a four-time state placer, a three-time finalist and a two-time champ.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Tyler Stein of Canfield reacts after winning the state title at 220 pounds in Division II on Saturday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. Stein won, 7-3

An Edinboro University signee who finished his career on a 90-match winning streak, Willis said he hopes his accomplishments pave the way for others in Andover.

“It gives something for the kids to look up to,” he said. “Anything is possible if you work hard enough for it.”

The finals dominance continued with Stein, another junior who was ready from the first whistle.

He secured a takedown within the first 15 seconds and never let up, leading 4-1 after the first period. Only a brief injury slowed down a relentless approach. He shook it off and finished his 7-3 victory at 220 pounds, giving the Cardinals two state champions in the same year for the first time in school history.

“I can’t describe it. I don’t know what’s going on right now,” said Stein, still delirious from winning his first state title. “I was tired, and it was all a blur, and coach told me to just take a shot and hang on with nine seconds left. I don’t even know how to explain it. It feels great.”

If the league is the best in the state, Canfield is the best team in the best league in Ohio. Aside from winning the EOWL Tournament, the Cardinals finished as state runner-up for an EOWL-record third straight year (no other team has done it once).

They were trailing CVCA midway through the finals, but the victories by Stein and Crawford gave them 77 total team points, edging CVCA’s 73.5. St. Paris Graham won the title for the 18th straight season.

“To be honest, I think a lot of people around the state doubted us during the year,” said Pitts, in his first year leading Canfield. “Our kids were motivated, and they wanted it bad. … On the van ride over here, I had David in the car, and he said, ‘We’re going to go do it.’ There was never even a doubt. He said, ‘Coach, don’t worry about it.’ I didn’t worry about the team race the entire night. When a kid like that says you got it, you’re going to believe in him.”

The league, which consists of 27 teams, had 20 placing overall.