HERSHEY — Southern Columbia assistant coach Kent Lane got up from his mat-side seat during Friday’s PIAA Class 2A Team Wrestling semi-finals to deliver a strong message to his wrestlers.
The Tigers had dug themselves into a 16-6 hole through the first six bouts against Chestnut Ridge.
“I told them, ‘We’re in the state semifinals. We’re wrestling one of the best teams in the state. If we let them take the fight to us, they’re going to get the scores and they’re going to beat us.,” Lane said.
The team responded, stringing three straight pins together before ending with a cinderella story of Gaige Garcia picking up his 100th career win in the bout that clinched the trip to the finals. Southern beat the Lions 34-31 after allowing a forfeit win at 285 following Garcia’s electrifying victory.
Southern will wrestle No. 1 ranked Reynolds tomorrow at 1 p.m. in hopes of securing the program’s first team gold. It is a rematch of last year’s state final, which ended with a 30-25 victory for the Raiders.
Southern head coach Jerry Marks said the three pins from Gavin Garcia (145), Shane Miller (152) and Cade Linn (160) were exactly what the team needed to recover from the slow start.
While Gavin’s pin was expected, it was the Miller pin, which took only 46 seconds, that sent the Southern crowd into a roar.
“I’m a believer in Shane Miller,” Marks said. “He’s come a long way and he has become a pinner. That’s what he does. I think he has about 20 pins on the year and I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
When Linn put Chestnut Ridge’s Seth Holderbaum to the mat in the next match with a cradle that took only 26 seconds, Southern fans let out the loudest cheer of the night.
Chestnut Ridge responded with back-to-back wins at 170 and 182 to regain the lead, but Preston Zachman snatched it back at 195 with a major decision, 15-7, over Brodie Harbaugh to lead into Gaige’s match.
Garcia, one of the leaders of the team, took some of the responsibility for the team’s slow start and acknowledged that a similar showing against Reynolds today would spell doom.
“It was very frustrating at the beginning,” he said. “We were losing close matches and we just didn’t have that spark. Maybe I could have gotten the guys a little more pumped up before we went out there, but the fans did a great job having our back when we got those pins.”
Gaige Garcia has consistently shown to the world that he is a conservative athlete, who carries himself quietly, keeps his head down and gets the job done.
After earning his 100th career victory in the bout that clinched the match and secured a trip to the state finals, he had to let out a little flair.
“I don’t really celebrate a lot during matches but that one I just had to,” he said. “Everything was going good and tonight I thought it was just going to be awesome to go out, get a win, help the team and get my 100th. Being able to do it while clinching the team match with my pin, I have great emotions about it.”
Garcia said he was unfazed by the decision to bump him up to 220 pounds to face Chestnut Ridge’s Duane Knisely, who had built an impressive 24-4 record heading into the match.
“I kind of had a thought that they would do that. The kid is ranked in the state and I knew if they sent me out there I would have to ignore the change and do my job. That’s what I did. I took getting moved up as added motivation.”