Nazareth 45, Council Rock South 19 – PIAA 3A team wrestling semifinal – Rapid Recap
A dominating performance in a showcase individual bout from freshman Andrew Cerniglia at 106 pounds helped fuel an equally dominating performance by the Blue Eagles Friday night at the Giant Center in Hershey.
Cerniglia, ranked No. 3 at 106 by PaPower Wrestling, crushed CR South sophomore Max Mendez in a technical fall in 5:22 (15-0) that left the District 1 champions reeling.
Nazareth’s defeat of the Golden Hawks set up a PIAA state final (1 p.m. Saturday at the Giant Center) that has been anticipated for months – against Bethlehem Catholic (18-4), who defeated North Allegheny, District 7’s third-place team, 50-23 in the other semifinal. It is the first all-District 11 3A since 2007, when Nazareth topped Easton 40-21.
The two Lehigh Valley powerhouses have met twice this season on the last two Saturdays. Becahi topped the Blue Eagles 40-20 in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference final Jan. 28 but Nazareth turned the tables 33-24 in the District 11 final Feb. 4.
One of the big reasons the Blue Eagles reversed the first result was the return of Cerniglia, who missed six weeks of the season with a broken collarbone. He looked like a veteran against Mendez.
“I had a little trouble getting the first takedown,” Cerniglia said. “I would have liked to have pinned Mendez for the extra team points but sometimes you have to take what’s there.”
Nazareth (19-1) has appeared dialed-in and focused throughout the state tournament and appeared so again Friday night despite the temptation of looking ahead to Becahi.
“It’s hard for adults not to look forward, much less the kids,” Blue Eagle head coach Dave Crowell said. “But I thought we wrestled well tonight.”
And for Saturday?
“They’re coming after us,” said Blue Eagle junior Ryan O’Grady, who won by disqualification at 120 when he was bitten by CR South’s Ben Radner; the bite drew blood and Radner was ejected for flagrant misconduct, costing his team 3 team points. “We have to be ready and do what we normally do.”
Turning point: Nazareth’s bonus-point run from 106 to 126. The Golden Hawks had won two of the first three bouts and could have hanging around, but Cerniglia (TF), sophomore Sean Pierson (113 TF), the DQ at 120, and Trevor Tarsi’s hard-earned major decision at 126 shifted the match decisively in the Blue Eagles’ favor.
Top performer: Cerniglia by a mile -- and there were plenty of other top performances by his teammates. He made a critical match against one of the best 106-pounders in the state look like a practice bout. The Blue Eagle freshman may not – yet – be the favorite for a state championship at 106 but he’s very much in the picture. And looming big in the picture.
What it means: The best matchup of the year comes Saturday as D-11 takes over the Giant Center. Nazareth, on Friday’s evidence, looks very much ready for it, Bring it on.
Brad Wilson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.
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