East Xtra: Three Westmoreland teams earn hardware

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There was a celebration of Westmoreland County wrestling over the weekend at the PIAA wrestling team championships, which took place in Hershey at the Giant Center.

Franklin Regional, Greater Latrobe and Burrell were among five WPIAL teams that advanced to the weekend competition, and all three came home with medals.

"We have 17 high schools in Westmoreland County and three came back from Hershey with hardware," said Josh Shields, Burrell's rookie coach, after the Buccaneers placed third in the Class AA bracket. "That's impressive."

Westmoreland County was the only county in the state to have three teams place among the top four in their bracket.

"It's pretty neat to have two teams from [Class AAA] Section 1 as the top two finishers in the Class AAA bracket, then have Burrell place third in the Class AA bracket," Latrobe coach Tad Harbert said. "Westmoreland County was well represented at Hershey."

Both Franklin Regional and Latrobe turned in a school-record performance at Hershey.

Franklin Regional (23-1) claimed the Class AAA title in its second PIAA appearance, improving on last year's third-place finish.

"It was great to see three teams from Westmoreland County wrestling in the final session at the PIAA championships," said coach Eric Mausser after the Panthers recorded a 37-23 win against Latrobe in the Class AAA title match. "That's a tribute to the great wrestling we have in Westmoreland County."

Latrobe (15-3) made its second PIAA appearance in four years and placed for the first time. The only blemishes on the Wildcats record were three losses -- all to Franklin Regional.

"There have been different areas of the state that have been very dominant at certain times during the history of Pennsylvania wrestling," Harbert said. "Westmoreland County wrestling has stepped to the top of the list. And I wouldn't be surprised if it stays that way for a few more years."

Burrell (17-4) was making its 10th PIAA team tournament appearance and placed among the top four for the fifth time. Both are WPIAL records. The Buccaneers, however, did it the hard way. Burrell dropped a 35-33 decision to Hamburg in the first round, then posted five victories in the consolation bracket to earn its bronze medal.

"It was disappointing to lose in the first round, but everything happens for a reason," Shields said. "I told the kids to look at every match from that point on like it was their last. That loss lit a match under them and they came together as a team. It was impressive to see that."

Burrell rebounded from its first-round loss with two wins on Friday, a 55-10 pounding of Western Wayne, and a 31-26 win against Chestnut Ridge, a team that beat the Buccaneers two weeks earlier.

Burrell opened Saturday's action with a 31-27 win against District 6 champion Huntingdon in the third round of consolations, then avenged its loss to Hamburg with a 42-22 victory in the consolation semifinals. The Buccaneers were even more impressive in a 41-15 win against Boiling Springs in the consolation final.

"We got to the arena early each day and got to see some of the Class AA tournament," Mausser said. "It was great to see Burrell rebound so well from its first-round loss."

Franklin Regional earned its first title berth with three impressive victories. The Panthers defeated Wilson, 67-9, Erie McDowell, 54-16, and Nazareth, 38-22.

Latrobe advanced to the finals for the first time with wins against Jersey Shore, 60-6, Boyertown, 32-23, and North Allegheny, 34-29.

"Westmoreland County has to be considered the hotbed for wrestling in the state," Shields said. "It's got to be one of the strongest counties in the country for wrestling."

And it's not just the PIAA trio that makes it a hotbed.

"Just look at some of the other top teams we have in Section 1," Harbert said. "There's also Kiski Area, Hempfield and Greensburg Salem, just to name a few. It's great because the coaches in Westmoreland County respect each other and the kids get along together well."

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