GENESEO — La Salle-Peru junior Payton Piraino was going up against Morris wrestler Tyler Petty in the wrestle back semifinals of the heavyweight bracket at Saturday’s Class 2A Geneseo Sectional.
Piraino had lost to Galesburg’s Cody Thomas in an ultimate tiebreaker and in order to make it to the IHSA State Meet Feb. 14-16 at University of Illinois’ State Farm Center, Piraino had to get a win over Petty — who he has wrestled throughout his career.
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The first 50 seconds into the bout with Petty were mostly uneventful until Petty went for a big takedown. Piraino was able to counter and quickly got Petty on the ground.
At the 1:09 mark, Piraino got the pin and the win. The junior was officially headed to state for the first time.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen,” Piraino said. “That match, I knew it could have been the end of my season or it could have meant me going to state. I just knew what I had to do. Thankfully I was able to get the pin.”
Piraino advanced to the third-place match and went up against Geneseo’s Billy Blaser — the No.2-ranked 285-pounder in Illinois according to IllinoisMatMen.com. Blaser defeated Piraino by decision, giving Piraino a fourth-place finish.
“Billy’s tough,” L-P coach Ed Wrobleski said. “Payton, to his credit, battles him every time. He’s closing the gap every time he wrestles him. Give Billy credit, he’s very good. He’s experienced and he’s ranked second in the state for a reason.”
Piraino said going up against top-level wrestlers like Blaser is only going to help him at state.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” Piraino said. “Over the last few weeks, I’ve faced him three times. I’m ecstatic I get a chance to face some of the top guys in the state because it prepares me better for state.
“Making state is a great accomplishment of mine. I’ve wanted to do it and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to. I can’t wait to get the adrenaline rush of it. I think it’s going to be amazing to be on the University of Illinois’ wrestling mats. It’s going to be a great time.”
Following the loss to Thomas, Piraino and Wrobleski were confident going into the match against Petty. Once Petty went for the takedown, Piraino just reacted in the moment.
As it turned out, that’s all he needed to do.
“I just countered his momentum and tried to throw myself back on top of him,” Piraino said. “It was a great shot. I don’t know how he got it. He just put too much power into it and I just tried to turn it into him and use momentum against him. It worked out in my favor.”
L-P had six other wrestlers compete at the sectional, none of which advanced to state.
Juniors Ayden Sines (120), Andy Wertz (145), Parker Swiskoski (160), Nick Krolak (170) and sophomore Rylan Poole (195) all lost in the consolation rounds. Junior Zach Plackett (113) made it to the wrestle back semifinals but lost by decision to Ottawa’s Riley Hanson.
Wrobleski was proud of the way his team fought in a perennially tough meet.
“This is a very tough sectional,” Wrobleski said. “In the brackets, some guys didn’t have a very good draw but that’s the way it goes. You’ve got to come in and wrestle some very good kids here. I think our kids wrestled the best that they could. Unfortunately, they just didn’t get as far as we wanted them to.
“They still wrestled hard and they still competed. As coaches, you can’t be anything but happy for them."
As for the state meet, which begins Thursday and concludes Saturday, Wrobleski said they aren’t going just for the experience and it isn’t just a check off the bucket list.
Piraino wants to win.
“For him to get that pin to secure a spot at state — it was huge for him. It was huge for our program. We couldn’t be more happy for him,” Wrobleski said. “Payton earned his trip to state. We’re not just happy to be there. We’re going down with the mindset of winning some matches and trying to get to the medal round.
“He’s capable of it. He’s got enough talent to do it, so we’re going to work hard this week to try and get a medal.”
Beau Troutman can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsBeau.