Kiski Area, Burrell eye state titles with their version of ‘Murderers’ Row’

Tuesday, February 5, 2019 | 6:33 PM

The New York Yankees teams of the late 1920s were considered some of the best in the history of baseball.

The first six hitters in the 1927 Yankees’ lineup — Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri — were labeled as “Murderers’ Row.” They won 110 games that year and captured two consecutive World Series titles.

On a more local front, the 2005 Connellsville wrestling team and the 2014 and ’15 Franklin Regional wrestling teams that won PIAA Class AAA titles had their own versions of Murderers’ Row.

The Falcons’ group included state champion Steven Bell and Ashtin Primus, and the Panthers had state champions Devin Brown, Spencer Lee, Michael Kemerer and Josh Shields.

WPIAL Class AAA champion Kiski Area and WPIAL Class AA winner Burrell also have solid groups of wrestlers lined up. As each head to the PIAA team tournament Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey, they hope they have what it takes to bring home a state title.

“There are a lot of quality teams in our side of the bracket this season,” Kiski Area coach Chris Heater said. “But we’re fortunate that the middle part of the lineup have a lot of experienced guys. Enzo (Morlacci) may be a freshman, but he has matured as a ninth-grader.

“Cam (Connor), Jack (Blumer) and Nick (Delp) are very good and go after bonus points, and Brayden (Roscosky) is the other freshman starting to adjust to the varsity level.”

Kiski Area, winner of the past three WPIAL Class AAA titles, opens the state tournament at 8 p.m. against the District 1 third-place finisher, Owen J. Roberts.

Heater said the first match will be interesting because Owen J. Roberts is strong where his team is strong — in the middle.

“There should be some good matches,” Heater said. “They are similar to us.”

The Cavaliers’ run of strong wrestlers begins at 145/152 pounds with Morlacci. He is followed by senior Connor (152/160), Blumer (160/170), Delp (170/182) and Roscosky (195).

Throw in senior Darren Miller, who can bounce between 126 and 132, and the Cavaliers are a tough matchup for anyone.

Kiski Area finished second in 2018, falling to Bethlehem Catholic, 38-22. Kiski also finished second to Easton in 2003.

“What makes Kiski so good is you can’t bump your lineup because you’re moving to another tough kid,” Hempfield coach Tom Dolde said. “To beat them, you have to be able to beat one or two of their good kids.

“When we beat Easton, Steven (Bell) knocked off Jordan Oliver, and Zach (Snyder) beat their other good kid. That swung the momentum our way.”

Burrell won a state title in 2008, defeating District 10 power Reynolds, 24-22, in the semifinals and Bermudian Springs, 37-29, in the finals. The Bucs open the tournament at 4 p.m. against District 3 runner-up, Newport.

Burrell coach Josh Shields said getting a run in a match helps with momentum, especially depending on where the match starts.

In Burrell’s wins against Beth-Center in the semifinals and Freedom in the finals, the Bucs put together runs that neither opponent could overcome.

“When you have a bunch of wrestlers grouped together, it’s easy to get momentum in a match,” Shields said. “One guy wins and then another. Pretty soon you have it rolling. It can actually help take pressure off wrestlers.”

Burrell’s best grapplers are in the lighter weights. While Shields juggles Aaron Edwards and Shawn Szymanski at 106, the Bucs welcomed back two wrestlers for the WPIAL tournament. Freshman Nick Salerno came back for the start of the tournament at 113 after missing a few weeks with an injury.

Then, the Bucs got a boost when senior Bryan Gaul (132) returned for the semifinals Saturday.

Others in that group are Trent Valovchik (120/126), sophomore Ian Oswalt (120/126) and sophomore A.J. Corrado (128). Senior Austin Mele anchors the upper weights at 160.

“We’re actually excited to see how things work out this weekend,” Shields said. “We’re coming together as a team at a good time.”

Mele, who began and ended Saturday’s semifinals and finals with pins, said the team has a better attitude toward the state tournament.

“We want to come home with medals,” Mele said. “We’ve worked hard in the offseason, and we’re more focused. We have bigger goals.”

Franklin Regional coach Matt Lebe was an assistant when the Panthers won consecutive state titles. He said when you have consecutive elite wrestlers in the lineup, there is little opposing coaches can do.

“It’s tough to prepare for it,” Lebe said. “The group we had was so good at what they did. They got bonus points and knew what they had to do. It’s pretty hard to stop.

“The team feeds off it, fans feel it. We had a good group this season, and we hoped to reach the state tournament. It’s hard to come up with a game plan.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at [email protected] or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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