Nazareth 30, Bethlehem Catholic 29 (ended as 29-29 tie, decision on Criteria D, most bouts won) – PIAA 3A team wrestling final – Rapid Recap
In an all-time classic that may go down as the best PIAA wrestling final ever wrestled, Nazareth and Bethlehem Catholic stood like two great prizefighters delivering the best blows they could up and down 14 weight classes before the Blue Eagles prevailed by the narrowest of margins in front of a fired-up crowd at the Giant Center in Hershey Saturday afternoon.
The two Lehigh Valley powers rode a rollercoaster of emotion, with Becahi up early, then the Blue Eagles with a massive major decision from Ryan O'Grady at 120 pounds, then two huge falls from Jarred Papcsy (132) and Luke Carty (138) putting the Golden Hawks ahead 29-14 with four bouts to go.
And Nazareth (20-1) won all four to take its first state duals title since 2007 and second overall and deny Bethlehem Catholic its sixth state title in seven years.
It came down to the very last bout at 170, with Becahi (18-5) ahead 29-26 entering 170. However, if Nazareth junior Zac Keifer won by decision at 170 to tie the match at 29 the Blue Eagles would win on Criteria D (fifth), most bouts won, 8-6.
That’s just what happened as Keifer topped Becahi freshman Tavion Banks 2-1 via an escape and a penalty point on Banks for fleeing the mat, a call Golden Hawk coach Jeff Karam hotly disputed.
“Coach (Dave Crowell) just told me if I won, we won,” Keifer said. “He told me he knew I could do it. I wasn’t that nervous because I got a good pep talk from (Blue Eagle junior) Sammy Sasso, to go out there, get in his face and push him. And it made it a lot easier that I didn’t have to get a major or pin him.”
Keifer’s triumph set off a wild celebration on the Nazareth section of the stands and on the floor.
“It’s so awesome,” said Nazareth senior Travis Stefanik, who majored Jody Crouse 9-1 at 220. “I love my team. I love my teammates. I love my coaches, the best high school coaches in the world. I love the support we get from the community and our fans.”
Nazareth coach Dave Crowell wept tears of joy briefly afterwards.
“This team has been a tremendous pleasure to coach all year,” he said.
And on Saturday it was a tremendous pleasure to watch as well. What a match.
Turning point: Going into 145 pounds Becahi had all the momentum after the two first-period pins. The Golden Hawks led 29-14; if sophomore Luca Frinzi had won a decision at 145 for Becahi Nazareth would have had to pin out just to tie the match and that was never likely. And Frinzi was facing Blue Eagle freshman Nathan Stefanik, who Frinzi had beaten 3-1 in the District 11 final Feb. 4. This time, though, Stefanik scored a takedown with 23 seconds left in the second period and escaped twice for a 4-2 win that kept Nazareth in the match. “I am so proud of my little brother,” Travis Stefanik said.
Top performer: My goodness, take your pick. Every bout, every point mattered. Papcsy and Carty deserve a major nod for their clutch falls that seemed to swing the match to Becahi. Keifer, obviously. But top of the tops was Nazareth junior O’Grady at 120, where he reversed a 4-1 loss in the D-11 final to Becahi junior Zach Glenn with a resounding 8-0 major decision. “I decided to try and open up more on my offense before states,” O’Grady said. It sure showed.
What it means: District 11 does it right, doesn’t it? A mind-bogglingly entertaining match wrestled in a terrific atmosphere with Grade-A performances on both sides. It means this Nazareth team goes down in history as one of the best Lehigh Valley teams ever, in no small part because of the quality of the team it beat twice in two weeks for trophies. “It was a best-of-3 series and we won 2,” Keifer said. Becahi came within one more point of winning, but fell agonizingly short. There may never be a better dual wrestled in the Giant Center – this one will be remembered forever by anyone lucky enough to be there. Especially by those in blue and white.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.
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