HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING: Pletcher gets best of Derry's Phillippi again
MURRYSVILLE — One of the country’s most heated wrestling rivalries culminated Saturday when returning state champs and sophomores Micky Phillippi and Luke Pletcher met in the finals of the 61st annual Westmoreland County Coaches Association Tournament.
In their last meeting of the season, Latrobe’s Pletcher outlasted Derry’s Phillippi for the second time this season with a 4-2 win in the championship bout of the 120-pound division at Franklin Regional High School.
The unbeaten Pletcher, a returning county champ and the country’s top-ranked 120-pounder, according to Intermatwrestle.com, nipped the eighth-ranked Phillippi, 3-2, in a WPIAL non-section match Dec. 23.
Just before the season began, Pletcher, a PIAA Class AAA champ at 106 last year, edged Phillippi, 5-4, in the 120-pound title bout at the Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, N.C., on Oct. 27.
While disappointed with the loss, Phillippi, a PIAA Class AA champ at 113 last year, said he understands and embraces his impassioned rivalry with Pletcher.
“I consider these to be learning experiences. I love it, honestly. It’s just making me better,” said Phillippi, a third-place finisher at 113 at last year’s county tournament. “It’s all work for the end of the year. I’m hoping to peak then. That’s when I have to wrestle my best … not now.”
Heavy-handed and slick on his feet, Pletcher swiftly snatched a single-leg shot on Phillippi and scored a controversial takedown along the boundary just 24 seconds into the bout to take a 2-0 lead.
Phillippi escaped just seven seconds later and made it a 2-1 match, but then spent the remainder of the period fighting off aggressive takedown attempts from Pletcher.
Pletcher won the coin toss in the second period and chose to go on bottom against Phillippi, a master in top control.
The move nearly backfired for Pletcher, who allowed Phillippi to sink his legs in from the top position and eventually stretch him out. Phillippi worked diligently to turn Pletcher, and nearly succeeded on a few occasions, but ultimately allowed him to get back to his base.
With 15 seconds left in the period, Pletcher turned and locked a near-side cradle on Phillippi, who stayed square with Pletcher and backed himself out of bounds. Even though he was still square with Phillippi in the cradle, the bout’s referee controversially awarded Pletcher a reversal, stretching his lead to 4-1.
“That’s what we had planned, and once I stretched him out, I thought that was it,” Phillippi said. “I could feel him starting to break, but he’s tough and he’s so hard to turn. Nobody turns Luke.”
Phillippi chose the bottom position in the third period and escaped eight seconds into the stanza to cut Pletcher’s lead to 4-2.
But aware of the situation, and the fact that a takedown from Phillippi would tie the match, Pletcher spent the remainder of the period meticulously moving and averting ties with his rival.
The plan worked and Pletcher circled, snapped and avoided Phillippi shots for the last 1:30 of the match to cement the win in the night’s final bout.
“We weren’t happy with a few of those calls, but he still wrestled a great tournament and a great match,” Derry coach Mike Weinell said of Phillippi. “In the long run it doesn’t mean anything. The end of the year is what we really have to work for.”
“But it’s great to get to wrestle the best in the country because if you want to be that person, you’ve got to beat that guy.”
In the semifinals, Phillippi scored a third-period escape and avenged two of his four losses from last season by edging Kiski School senior and third-place finisher Justin Patrick, 1-0.
Patrick, a three-time PIAA placewinner at Ligonier Valley, transferred to Kiski School over the summer. Patrick beat Phillippi at last year’s county tournament before outlasting him again at the Southwest Regional tournament.