Hempfield’s Priest, Franklin Regional’s Solomon win PIAA Class AAA titles

Saturday, March 13, 2021 | 10:08 PM

HERSHEY — If there is one thing about the PIAA Class AAA championships that never seems to change, it is expecting the unexpected from WPIAL wrestlers.

Someone surprising is coming home with a state title.

In 2020, it was Latrobe freshman Vinny Kilkeary and Hempfield junior Ethan Berginc.

This year, two wrestlers who didn’t even qualify for last year’s tournament found themselves atop the podium.

Hempfield junior Briar Priest and Franklin Regional junior Finn Solomon captured PIAA gold Saturday at the Giant Center with convincing victories.

Priest won the 132-pound title by blanking Seneca Valley senior Dylan Chappell, 6-0, and Solomon used a third-period takedown to edge Waynesburg junior Cole Homet, 7-5, to take the 138 title.

“I can’t believe it,” Priest said after scoring all his points in the second period. “I didn’t expect to win. I was hoping top four.”

Priest, who lost to Chappell in the WPIAL and West Super Region finals, prevented the Seneca Valley senior from scoring in the opening period.

He started on the bottom in the second period and avoided Chappell’s tilts and finally got free for a point with 1 minutes, 21 seconds left. He then countered a Chappell takedown attempt by stepping over him and catching him for a takedown and a three-point nearfall the final 35 seconds of the second period and the entire two minutes of the third period.

“When I got him on his back, I couldn’t believe it was happening, honestly” Priest said. “I was shocked myself. After that I stayed calm and relied on my endurance.”

Priest came up short in 2020. He lost a blood-round match.

So he went to work, gained weight and strength. He did CrossFit training and ran a lot. The hard work paid off.

“When Briar starts believing in himself, things like that can happen,” Hempfield coach Vince DeAugustine said. “His technique is phenomenal. He started believing himself the last two times he faced Chappell. The more shots we got at him, the more confident I felt.”

Solomon, who placed second at 113 pounds as a freshman in 2019, also lost last year in the blood round. He said the loss motivated him for this season.

He and Homet hooked up for the third consecutive week, and the match was a physical battle.

Solomon got a takedown for an early lead and increased the advantage to 3-0 with an escape in the second period. But Homet responded with a takedown and got a two-point nearfall for a 4-3 lead, but Solomon got a reversal for a 5-4 lead heading to the final period.

He allowed Homet a one-point escape to tie the score, 5-5, and then got a takedown with 59 seconds left for the win.

“He’s a great opponent, and it was a great match, an exciting match,” Solomon said. “Points going up everywhere, that was my goal. I didn’t want to lose.”

Solomon said after his semifinal-round win that he was excited about the “grudge match.” Homet beat Solomon, 4-2, in the WPIAL finals. Solomon won, 12-1, last week at the West Super Region.

“It’s a great feeling getting back here. It’s hard to explain,” Solomon said. “It’s such a fun atmosphere here even with half-capacity. It’s so fun to be here. Last year motivated me to be at the top of the podium this year.”

After his win, Solomon ran into the stands to celebrate with his family. After returning for his gold medal, he spent a few minutes with senior teammate Carter Dibert, a 2019 champion, who lost his final at 126, 3-2, to Bethlehem Catholic sophomore Tyler Kasak.

Norwin senior John Altieri was trying to become the second Knight to win a state title. Kurtis Phipps was the first Knight to win a title, doing so in 2020.

He faced returning champion Wyatt Henson of Waynesburg but dropped a hard-fought 5-3 decision. It was Henson’s third state title, second in the PIAA. His first was in Missouri in 2019.

“I’m satisfied. I left it all on the mat,” Altieri said. “I won’t regret how I wrestled. I didn’t back down from him like some wrestlers. It sucks getting that close, but I have bigger things planned.”

Altieri tied the score, 2-2, when he titled Henson in the second period, but Henson was able to pull out the win.

“That was so cool getting the tilt,” Altieri said. “I was surprised I got it. He’s just a tough wrestler. You achieve what you earned.”

Waynesburg sophomore Mac Church won the 120-pound title with a 2-1 victory in overtime against Chambersburg’s Karl Shindledecker.

Church and Homet were two of five Waynesburg wrestlers in the finals with Church, Henson and Luca Augustine winning titles. The 1943 Raiders had seven finalists and four champions.

Waynesburg won the team title with 100 points, and Hempfield was second with 57. The Spartans had three third-place finishers to go along with Priest’s title.

Two returning state champions – Kilkeary and Berginc – ended up finishing third. Kilkeary defeated Penn-Trafford junior Troy Hohman, 5-0, at 113 pounds. Berginc defeated Downingtown West’s Dom Findora, who beat Berginc in the first match of the day, 4-1.

Seniors Ty Linsenbigler (145) and heavyweight Isaiah Vance were the other Spartans to place third.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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