By JOE CATULLO Jr.
A back and forth battle between West Branch and Canfield High Saturday evening came down to the final two matches.
Canfield, leading by five points, had Curtis Burns competing for third place while West Branch’s Logan Sharp wrestled for the 285-pound championship.
Sharp pinned Alliance’s Shawn Barnes within 1:04 of the first round, giving the Warriors a one-point advantage. All Burns needed was a decision to give Canfield the victory.
“We were trying to manage the match that way,” Canfield coach Dean Conley said.
Burns, who lost to Barnes, did one better. He pinned Marlington’s Jarrod Webb with 1:04 remaining in the second round, giving Canfield the NEO Division II Sectional Wrestling Tournament title.
The top four individuals in each weight class advance to next week’s district meet at Alliance High.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Burns said. “I knew we were close, but I didn’t know it would come down to me.”
Canfield finished with 196 points while the Warriors tallied 193. The Cardinals led West Branch, 170-167, heading into the finals. Throughout the tournament, the Cardinals prevailed without two wrestlers.
“Every kid out there kind of knew what we needed to do, and they really came through,” Conley said.
The Cardinals were without their 106- and 113-pound wrestlers in Tanor English and Kyle West, who missed the competition because of illnesses.
“Both of those guys combined, they would have given us an extra 40 team points,” Jacob Esarco said. “Without them, we really had to kick it into high gear to get the win.”
Crestwood finished third with 187 points. Poland, despite finishing seventh with 94 points, saw a huge improvement from years’ past.
Mike Audi was the Bulldogs’ biggest winner with a technical pin over Salem’s Shane Metzgar in the 170-pound match. Audi improved his wrestling after falling to Canfield’s Stan Socha on Dec. 18. Socha placed third in the 182-pound class, pinning Howland’s Will Price.
“From top to bottom, I knew I had to get better after that match,” Audi said. “That’s when I knew I needed to score some more points.”
With two weight classes lost, Canfield’s finals began with Korey Frost in the 120-pound match. Frost defeated West Branch’s Travis Pidgeon with a 6-2 decision. Frost defeated Pidgeon, 12-1, a few weeks prior.
“I thought that I was going to have an easy match again, but he put up a really good fight against me,” Frost said. “I’ve wrestled him from youth all the way up ‘til now. We’ve always had good matches. I thought I wrestled smart.”
While earning points in the third and fifth-place matches, the Cardinals didn’t see their next champion until the 220-pound matchup when Esarco pinned Howland’s Mike Bell. That gave Canfield a 192-187 advantage heading into the final showdown.
“Every kid that wrestled in this tournament scored points for us,” Conley said. “They wanted this title. They made this decision two weeks ago, and I’m just so proud of them. I can’t even explain it right now.”