North Xtra: Pine-Richland senior revels in title

Ben Balish is enjoying his celebrity status at Pine-Richland High School after winning the 220-pound title at the Class AAA WPIAL/Southwest Regional tournament this past weekend at Norwin High School.

"I have classmates congratulating me and giving me high-fives as I walk down the hall," Balish said. "I don't think it will last more than a couple days, but I'm enjoying it while it lasts."

A senior, Balish can become an even bigger celebrity at Pine-Richland by winning a title at this weekend's PIAA tournament at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa.

"I'm a realist," said Balish, when asked about wrestling in Hershey for the first time. "The competition at this tournament is very strong, but I believe that anyone can beat anyone on any given day.

"I just have to be mentally and physically prepared for each match. I will go out and do my best and see how things go."

Balish (36-2) recorded four victories in the three-day WPIAL tournament, including three that were decided by one point.

"A key to being successful in the upper weight classes is learning how to win the close matches," Pine-Richland coach Stephen Joseph said. "And conditioning is a big part of winning the close matches. He's in great condition for a big guy."

Balish was seeded second in the 20-man bracket and opened with a pin of Hempfield Area's Corey Jones. Then came a 3-2 decision against No. 7 seed Tanner Hahn of Greensburg Salem in the quarterfinals, and a 2-1 win against No. 6 seed Zack DeLuca of Central Catholic in the semifinals.

"I went into the tournament expecting to win," he said. "I really felt confident."

Balish faced top seed Alex Campbell of Canon-McMillan in the title match and scored a reversal with nine seconds left to pull out an 8-7 victory.

"Ben's goal coming into the season was to qualify for the state tournament," Joseph said. "Now that he's reached that goal, his next goal is to place high at the state tournament."

Balish's title is the ninth in school history, and the first since Jim Slomka won the 275-pound crown in 1990. Only three Pine-Richland wrestlers have placed at the PIAA tournament. Scott Heim in 1982 is the Rams only PIAA champion.

Balish opens the PIAA tournament with a match against Archbishop Wood's Jake Cooper (24-4), the third-place finisher from the Southeast Region, today.

Silver medalists

Section 3-AAA wrestlers had another disappointing performance at the WPIAL/Southwest Regional. Only three individuals advanced to the finals, and two had to settle for silver medals.

Balish was the lone champion. North Allegheny's Jarred Lux (40-2) and Hampton's Jake Hart (37-3) were the silver medalists.

Lux suffered a tough 6-4 loss in overtime to Kiski Area's Matt McCutcheon in the 182-pound title match.

"I knew it would be a tight match," North Allegheny coach Jamie Kyriazis said. "He wrestled a great match until he lost focus for a second and McCutcheon took advantage."

Lux had a 4-2 lead with 20 seconds left when he lost focus. McCutcheon scored a takedown to tie the match, 4-4, then recorded the deciding takedown 28 seconds into overtime.

"You can't lose focus for any amount of time in a match of this significance," Kyriazis said.

Hart advanced to the title match at 195 before dropping a 5-2 decision to Central Catholic's Perry Hills, who claimed his second consecutive WPIAL title.

"I like where Jake is in the bracket," Hampton coach Joe Bursick said. "The top three kids in his weight class are in the other half of the bracket."

Three other Hampton wrestlers advanced to the consolation finals, but all three were defeated, thus falling one victory short of qualifying for the PIAA tournament. They were Peter Craig at 126, Kevin Synan at 138, and Nick Yaroszewski at 220.

Lux will be joined at Hershey by two North Allegheny teammates. Dom Forys placed third at 106, while Alex DeCiantis was the bronze medalist at 170.

"Dom survived the toughest weight class," Kyriazis said. "There are at least five kids in that weight class who could place at Hershey."

Five others from Section 3-AAA qualified for the state tournament as third-place finishers.

Pine-Richland's Ben Balish, back, defeated Central Catholic's Zack Deluca, 2-1, in the semifinals of the Class AAA WPIAL/Southwest Region tournament, Saturday at Norwin High School. Balish won the 220-pound title later that night.

First Published 2012-03-07 23:42:39