Garnet Valley bounces back in district consolation round

UPPER DUBLIN — Salvatore Pizzuto was still being mobbed on the mat by his Garnet Valley teammates when the PIAA official approached the scorer’s table and asked, “Anybody have a rulebook?”

Pizzuto, a 113-pound freshman competing in the final bout of the match, had done the unthinkable by pinning Council Rock South senior Nick Palmer in 1 minute, 38 seconds to tie Friday night’s District One Class AAA Duals quaterfinal match, 27-27.

But in a matter of moments, the ref flipped some pages and worked his way down to the fourth tiebreaker — total match wins — saw that Council Rock South had taken eight of the 14 weights and awarded the Golden Hawks a 28-27 victory.

Just like that, the Jaguars went from elated to deflated and coach Rocco Fantazzi shifted into recovery mode to get his athletes ready for a lightning-quick turnaround, with a win-or-go-home match against Quakertown.

“We didn’t have time to dwell on (the ref’s decision), we had to saddle up and get going again,” Fantazzi said.

“We had like seven minutes to get it back together. It was a wakeup call. Council Rock South wrestled better than we did. All the little things we needed to do to win, they did to us. I told the guys they could do one of two things: Wake up and wrestle the way they knew how or just shut down, go home and be done with it.”

To the Jags’ credit, they chose the former.

Returning to the Upper Dublin mats for a consolation-bracket match against Quakertown, fourth-seeded Garnet Valley left no doubt that it would return here Saturday for a shot at qualifying for the state tournament.

Senior Mike Marino got the Jags back on track immediately with a historic win, opening the match with the eighth-seeded Panthers with a one-minute pin at 126 pounds to set the program record with his 131st career victory.

“The record’s exciting, but I wanted the win” against Council Rock South, Marino said. “We didn’t really wrestle as well as we could and it was a tough turnaround with the way that match ended.”

Fantazzi praised his senior leader for helping to get the Jags back on track.

“Mike’s been solid for four years,” the coach said. “That record’s been around a while, and to get that many wins you have be healthy and productive just about every time you go out.”

Following Marino’s lead, Garnet Valley rolled out to a 20-0 lead and went on to manhandle Quakertown, 41-16, to set up a Saturday opener against second-seeded Downingtown East, which lost its quarterfinal match to Spring-Ford, 36-19.

Both Garnet Valley and Quakertown had reason to enter their showdown demoralized. Getting slammed by top-seeded Boyertown, 55-6, in their opener had the Panthers slumping on their bench as Ben Touhey (132) and Gary Pizzuto (145) sandwiched decisions around Pat Rowe’s major decision at 138. Heavyweight Connor Walsh clinched the match with a 1-0 decision, putting the Jags ahead by 26 with three weights remaining.

“The guys responded well,” Fantazzi said. “We’re where we need to be. We’re one match away from doing what we wanted to do and that’s qualify for states.”

Garnet Valley rebounded from a rough start in the opener, falling behind fifth-seeded Council Rock South by 10 points before Mark Morey (170 pounds) and John Dambro (182) delivered back-to-back pins to give the Jags their only lead, 18-16. Walsh’s 1-0 decision at heavyweight pulled Garnet Valley within 23-21, but after Nick Puliti went down in a 16-6 major decision to Riley Palmer, the district’s second-ranked wrestler at 106, the margin was back to six and it appeared the Jags would need a Hail Mary to pull out the match.

Pizzuto delivered with the shocking first-period pin, but even he agreed that the air went out of Garnet Valley’s balloon as soon as the tiebreaking decision was rendered.

“It kind of ruined the mood, having come back to tie and then see the match taken away from us,” Pizzuto said. “But we came back and got the win over Quakertown, which was the important thing.”

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