North Allegheny coach Jamie Kyriazis already knew the Tigers would be down one starter when they entered the WPIAL Class AAA team tournament semifinals Friday, then came the news that a second starter also would be out of the picture.
"It's tough enough facing a powerhouse like Franklin Regional with a full lineup," Kyriazis said. "Having two starters out of the lineup put us at a major disadvantage."
Kyriazis knew he wouldn't have the services of Jesse Rodgers, a 138-pound senior and four-year starter who has been out of North Allegheny's lineup since sustaining an injury Dec. 13 at the Ironman Tournament. What he didn't know is that Lane Skundrich, a 220-pound junior, would be scratched for the weekend due to an illness.
"I knew we would be hard pressed to beat Franklin Regional in the semifinals," said Kyriazis, after watching the eventual WPIAL champions dominate the Tigers, 49-24.
Sixteen hours later, Kyriazis and his short-handed squad faced perennial power Canon-McMillan in the third-place consolation match, which was important because the top three WPIAL teams qualify for the PIAA tournament.
Canon-McMillan's streak of four consecutive WPIAL titles came to an end in the other semifinal match -- a loss to Greater Latrobe -- but the Big Macs wanted a return trip to the state tournament as badly as North Allegheny did.
"It didn't surprise me that it came down to the final match," said a relieved Kyriazis, after watching the Tigers narrowly pull out a 29-28 decision. "There were so many bouts that could have gone either way, so bonus points were even more important."
Kyriazis couldn't have assessed the match any better, as six bouts were decided by one point. Canon-McMillan won four of those bouts, so bonus points were clearly the difference. With Skundrich out of the lineup, Kyriazis moved three starters up one weight class and all three recorded victories, including two via pins.
With North Allegheny trailing, 19-14, and only five bouts remaining, Colton Byerly moved up from 170 to 182 and won by decision against Jesse Lesko, 8-1.
Byerly's younger brother, Clay, moved up from 182 to 195 and pinned the Big Macs' James Zeremenko to give North Allegheny a 23-19 advantage. Zach Smith followed suit by pinning Alec Rideout after moving from 195 to 220.
The three victories gave North Allegheny a commanding 29-19 lead with two bouts remaining, but the Tigers couldn't celebrate yet. Canon-McMillan's Brendan Furman pinned David Probert to cut the Tigers' advantage to four points. The Big Macs' Camden Fontenot followed with a 7-6 win against Zack Stedeford at 106, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Tigers' lead.
"That was a gutsy performance," Kyriazis said. "The kids knew we were short-handed, but wanted very badly to make a return trip to Hershey. I'm very proud of what they were able to accomplish."
Kyriazis was also impressed with two of his wrestlers who lost by technical fall. Drew Landefeld returned to the North Allegheny lineup after missing most of the season with an injury and lost to defending PIAA champion Solomon Chishko at 145 pounds.
David Tallman, a sub who has seen very little varsity time, stepped in at 170 and lost to Canon-McMillan's Nick Konyk.
"Both [Landefeld and Tallman] were up against superior opponents, but neither was pinned," Kyriazis said. "That's a two-point swing. We lose if both get pinned."
North Allegheny also received bonus points from Jake Hinkson, who recorded a technical fall at 132.
"I always stress to the kids the importance of everybody being ready to wrestle," Kyriazis said. "When a starter is out of the lineup, we need somebody to step up and fill their shoes."
The victory against Canon-McMillan earned North Allegheny its third consecutive PIAA team tournament berth. The Tigers were one of eight teams in the 20-team bracket that wrestled Monday in the preliminary round. North Allegheny had no trouble defeating City League champion Allderdice, 72-6. That moved the Tigers into tonight's first round at Hershey, where they will face District 3 champion Cumberland Valley at 6 p.m.