Fight to the finish

ROOTSTOWN – It was hard for Girard wrestling coach Jim Cardiero to be upset about losing to Rootstown in the Division III, Region 19 semifinal.

Disappointed? Sure he was. After all, this is one of the best teams in Cardiero’s 23 years of coaching, and a trip to Columbus for the State Dual Team Tournament, now in its second year of existence, wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

That didn’t happen, but Cardiero wasn’t mad about the way his team wrestled in a 34-27 defeat to the Rovers at Rootstown High School.

“My guys wrestled with a lot of heart,” he said. “I’m disappointed we’re not going on, but I’m proud of them all. We went out there, we toed the line, we wrestled everybody hard. Some of those kids lost matches to (Rootstown) earlier in the year and got pinned, but they went out there and battled tonight in some close matches.”

The Indians, who saw Rootstown earlier in the season at the Jackson-Milton Invitational, were without a few starters because of injuries and were forced to forfeit the 220-pound weight class. Unfortunately, that proved to be the difference in a match that came down to the final three weight classes. The biggest win came when Rootstown’s Jacob Elam beat Moufid Sayej, 5-3, at 195 pounds. The victory was critical because it gave the Rovers a 28-21 lead, and since Girard had to forfeit at 220, the lead stretched to 34-21 and put the match out of reach.

“We had a couple guys out of the lineup – the story of my life,” said Cardiero, referring to Ryan Leasure and John Sorvillo, both senior captains who are dealing with knee injuries. “I think that ended up hurting us, but what are going to do?”

Rootstown won three of the first four weight classes, including an important pin at 126 pounds that gave the Rovers the biggest lead of the match for either team, 12-3. Girard senior Zane Chase swung the momentum back to the Indians as he secured a pin in the first period. Girard then rattled off two more victories to take a 15-12 lead. Rootstown responded by winning three of the next four matches for a 25-21 advantage. That put all the pressure on Sayej, a sophomore in his second year of wrestling. He kept the match close and nearly won it the closing seconds, but the Indians needed a major decision (winning by eight to 14 points) to even have a chance at a tie.

“They’re tough,” Rootstown coach Craig Wise said of Girard. “They have a lot of seniors, a good coach and they had some nice wins. Really, not having a 220 was a big deal.”

The Indians hope to have Leasure, who is ranked as high as ninth in the state at 182 pounds, back by the sectional tournament, Cardiero said. The extent of Sorvillo’s injury, which occurred just last week, is not yet known.

Rootstown went on to beat Beachwood, 37-32, in the regional final and is one of eight remaining teams in Division III. The finals begin at 11 a.m. on Feb. 8 at St. John’s Arena on the campus of the Ohio State University. The Rovers’ opponent has yet to be announced.