Elkers send three to Hershey; Bush, Caggiano win regional titles

SHARON – Last year, Ridgway wrestling had only one state qualifier and that was a third-place finish. What a difference a year makes. Ridgway advanced three to the PIAA Individual Wrestling Championship and garnered two regional championships at the conclusion of the PIAA Class AA Regional Championships Saturday at Sharon High School. Corey Bush (126 pounds) won his second regional championship after finishing third last season. Kyle Caggiano won his first regional gold medal at 160 pounds and Jake Himes became a first-time state qualifier at 170 pounds with a third-place finish. Bush finished the championship in style with a thorough 17-3 major decision over Karl Lightner of Smethport in a D-9 title rematch. Bush felt it was a nice comeback after a third-place finish in 2011. “It feels pretty good, especially after last year. I didn’t do too good,” Bush said. “I’ve wrestled him before, I know what he does. The same thing from last week, I just had to repeat it. I was pretty calm going into it. No matter what, both wrestlers go to states. That made me wrestle better, I wasn’t as nervous.” Bush advanced to the regional final with an 11-3 decision over Brandon Puckley of Fort LeBoeuf in the semifinal. Caggiano won the regional title at 160 while flipping the result of last week’s district title match at the same time with a 6-4 decision over Brett Smith of Brookville. “It’s the first time going down to states, I’m very excited,” Caggiano said. “I’m trying to get a medal next week. I just tried to wrestle him smarter, keep my head and keep in control of the match the whole time.”At 2-all to start the third period, Caggiano had the choice and was looking to start in the down position. Smith let Caggiano up at the start of the period for a 3-2 lead. Caggiano was not surprised by the strategy even though Smith created a deficit for himself. “No, I figured he would probably do that,” Caggiano said. “I didn’t think I was going to get turned on the bottom out there. I just had to wrestle tough on my feet.” Smith then was called for fleeing the mat, a 1-point penalty which pushed the lead to two. A late takedown was decisive and proved to be enough after Smith was able to score a reversal in the waning seconds.“They’re two good kids, they like each other, they’re good friends but they wrestled hard,” Ridgway coach Gary Gerber said. “He wrestled a very intelligent match, a very strategic match and came through with the points when he needed them.” Caggiano opened with an 8-7 victory in the semifinal over Randy Perkins of Greenville. Caggiano built up an 8-5 lead in the first two periods and was able to hold off Perkins in the third period after getting called for two stalling calls while on the bottom. In the third-place bout, Himes faced Weston Stafford of Cambridge Springs. Himes got off to a slow start before taking control in the third period and eventually pinning Stafford in a time of 4:31 to finish third and advance to the state tournament. “I never expected this when I started wrestling in junior high,” Himes said. I just kept shooting, kept after him, being aggressive.”Himes opened with a 6-1 overtime victory over Alex Gular of Port Allegany in the consolation semifinals and a rematch of last week’s district championship match. Himes and Gular battled to a 1-1 draw at the end of three periods but Himes hit a 5-point move in overtime with a takedown and three back points to take the decision. Himes had a simple strategy for overtime. “Just give it all you got,” Himes said. Gerber said Himes’ conditioning was on display during his matches. “He has never beaten Gular before, it was his day,” Gerber said. “That put him in the consy finals and he wrestled tremendous again. Jake’s a machine, he’s in tremendous shape and you can see it out on the mat.” Slade Horner moved on to the consolation semifinals at 145 pounds with a 3-0 decision over Justin Rhodes of Reynolds before losing a 5-4 decision to Joe Hibbler of Seneca. Hibbler would go on to take third place at that weight. Zac McKnight (132 pounds) was pinned in the second round of consolations by Brad Malinowski of Fort LeBoeuf in a time of 4:28. Tad Pierce was ousted in the second round of consolations after losing a 10-4 decision to Jonas Reaugh of Jamestown at 120 pounds.Steve Mitchell opened in the second round of consolations and was pinned in 22 seconds by Riley Smith of Fort LeBoeuf at 138 pounds.Chad Quail (220 pounds) was eliminated in the first round of consolations after he was pinned by the D-9 champion, Zachary Brinkley of Brockway after he was pinned in a time of 4:01.Gerber said he is happy with how hard all eight regional qualifiers wrestled at Sharon. “All eight guys down here did a tremendous job,” Gerber said. “I am just so impressed with how hard they wrestled down here. They battled the whole time. I’m really proud of them.” District 9 as a whole was much improved from last year’s showing at Sharon with three D-9 teams among the top six teams. Ridgway was fourth in the team standings with 74 points while Brookville was second with 103. Redbank Valley was tied for fifth with 61 points. Smethport was seventh at 49 points and Kane was ninth at 43 points. Fort LeBoeuf was the overall team champion at 109 points. District 9 as a whole finished with 17 state qualifiers out of a possible 42 slots.