The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


March 9, 2014

Second place little consolation to contenders

HERSHEY —  Perspective can be a tricky thing in athletics.

Just ask Richland’s Nico Pecora and Bedford’s Jon Gabriel.

On Saturday afternoon, each of them took center stage at the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships. It’s a position that thousands dream of but few get a chance to experience.

But, falling short in such a situation – as both Pecora and Gabriel did – can be difficult to handle.

“Right now it’s tough to be happy,” Pecora said after his 12-3 loss to Kane’s Evan Delong in the 170-pound title match. “(The pain) will eventually go away.”

Gabriel, who lost 5-0 to Bethlehem Catholic’s Luke Karam at 113 pounds, shared the sentiment.

“Later on I’ll probably be pretty happy about it,” the sophomore said with tears in his eyes. “Right now, not so much.”

Richland coach Mike Naglic was able to look at it in a different light.

“Sometimes we forget and we get down (about) the big loss,” Naglic said. “Pennsylvania runner-up in the toughest state in the country for wrestling. You get over the initial sadness of the loss (and see) it’s a huge, huge accomplishment for him.”

Neither was a favorite coming into the tournament – Gabriel was fourth in the Southwest Regional tournament while Pecora was third – but each wrestled well in Hershey, winning his first three matches before losing on Saturday.

Delong scored a takedown just six seconds into his match with Pecora and was up 8-1 by the end of the first period. Another takedown in the second period – his third of the match – gave the Kane wrestler a nearly insurmountable 10-1 lead. Pecora, who won a pair of overtime matches on Friday, pushed the action in the third, but it wasn’t enough against Delong.

“He’s a good, quality, stud wrestler,” Naglic said of Delong. “There’s no two ways about it.”

Eventually Pecora, who said he might play football or baseball in college instead of wrestle, was able to find some perspective about his performance in the tournament.

“You always want to get to the top,” he said. “Sometimes you aim for the moon and hit the stars.”

Gabriel was impressive on his way to the finals, notching a technical fall and a pin among his three wins, but he knew he’d have a tough time against Karam, who beat him 11-0 earlier this season.

This time, Karam scored a first-period takedown for a 2-0 lead. He escaped in the second and took Gabriel down to make it 5-0. Gabriel was able to get in on Karam’s legs a few times but could not finish for a takedown.

“I wrestled tough,” he said. “I couldn’t pull out the win, but I feel like I wrestled good.”

Unlike Pecora, Gabriel will have a chance to get back to the state finals. He plans to use the experience of finishing second as motivation.

“Last year I didn’t even make it and it didn’t hurt near as bad as this year,” Gabriel said. “I feel like I’m going to come back with two times the fire.”

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