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February 20, 2011

South’s Montgomery beaten in 140-pound title match

INDIANAPOLIS — P.J. Montgomery’s third trip to the Indiana state high school wrestling finals ended the same late Saturday night as his second trip had a year ago.

But at least this time he got to wrestle under the lights, losing the championship match at 140 pounds by a 15-5 score to Crown Point’s Jason Tsirtsis.

The Terre Haute South senior had lost to the state champion in 2010 too, but in the first round of quarterfinal matches, then came back to finish fifth.

This time he teetered on the edge of disaster a few times earlier in the day, earning a 3-1 overtime decision over Lake Central’s Bradley Wartman and coming from behind to beat Evansville Mater Dei’s Jake Lannert 11-10 before facing a future — perhaps even current — state legend in the finals.

Saturday’s win was the third in three seasons for the Crown Point junior, just the 32nd Indiana high school wrestler to win three championships three times and still with a chance to become one of only eight four-time winners — one of whom is his older brother Alex, who wrestled for Griffith.

Jason Tsirtsis, who hasn’t lost a match since his freshman year, is now 128-2 for his career, while Montgomery finished his four-year South career 124-23.

“Wow. Oh my God,” Montgomery said after the final match. “I tried.”

Asked if Tsirtsis was the best he’d ever faced, Montgomery answered quickly.

“Yes, yes,” he said, “and probably the strongest too … the kid’s an animal.”

Tsirtsis got his first takedown approximately 30 seconds into the match, then let Montgomery escape and had another takedown before the first period ended. That was the pattern of the entire match as Montgomery, who hadn’t been taken down all season prior to last week’s semistate, was the victim seven times.

“There’s no shame in this,” said coach Gabe Cook, who indicated Montgomery had his eye on Tsirtsis all season. “What [Montgomery] accomplished is something to be very, very proud of.

“He knew what he was up against at the beginning of the year, and he did everything he could to put himself in the position he’s in,” the coach added.

Much like Terre Haute North’s David Knight about 24 hours earlier, Montgomery spoke bravely about his pride afterward, but couldn’t hide the disappointment of the loss entirely.

“I’m happy about all the accomplishments,” Montgomery said. “I did a lot — regional as a freshman, then to the state the next three years.”

He hadn’t yet decided on today’s menu, Montgomery said, with no weigh-ins in his immediate future.

“I’ll go celebrate the runner-up finish,” he said. “Tsirtsis deserved [the title] — he earned it.”

Montgomery also earned the celebration, his coach added.

“He has amazing character,” Cook said.

Montgomery’s character was tested plenty in his first two matches.

He and Wartman battled through a scoreless first period, and it took Montgomery all but 13 seconds of the second stanza to finally earn a point with an escape. He elected to let the Lake Central wrestler escape to tie the score at the start of the third period, and still neither wrestler could earn a takedown.

Wartman took the first shot in the first one-minute overtime period, and it was a beauty. Montgomery fought off what looked like a certain takedown, however, and came back to earn his own two points with 16 seconds left.

“It was a similar match to his sectional match against Bloomington South [when Montgomery beat Spencer Boyd in overtime],” Cook said afterward. “P.J. was attacking the whole match, but he had a hard time getting in [for a takedown]. But he did a good job on the bottom [to earn the escape]; Wartman is a tough leg rider ... then he got in a tough scramble, and scored two.”

The semifinal match against Lannert may have been even more precarious. The Mater Dei wrestler, who came to Conseco Fieldhouse as a fourth-place finisher at semistate before winning two matches (including one over a semistate champion), had lost 11-5 to Montgomery last week but was a much better wrestler by early Saturday afternoon.

After a Lannert takedown and Montgomery’s reversal, Montgomery let his opponent escape to start the second period, only to be victimized by another takedown to fall behind 5-2.

The South wrestler battled back and had a 9-7 lead in the final seconds, but Lannert got a reversal to tie the score. Montgomery got the go-ahead takedown near the out-of-bounds marker with 14 seconds left, a call disputed by the Mater Dei coach, then gave up a late escape to win by a point.

“I wasn’t surprised Lannert came after him the way he did, because [Lannert’s] wrestling a great tournament,” Cook said after that match. “It shows P.J.’s drive, being in a predicament like that and come back. That’s hard to do, to chip away at a lead like that.”

Cloverdale’s Donnie Helterbrand finished seventh at 145, beating Carmel’s Grant Scurria on Friday but losing to eventual third-place winner Andrew Hiestand of Yorktown and to Brown County’s Quincy Richey on Saturday before pinning Owen Dorris of Pioneer in the seventh-place match.

Saturday’s was the rubber match between Helterbrand and Richey, who entered the state finals with just three losses between them — one each to each other.

Wrestlers who eliminated the Wabash Valley’s other three competitors on Friday also won their final matches Saturday, but none in the championship match.

Crown Point’s Tyler Kral, who had eliminated Knight, had a strong third-place finish at 215, Tri-Central’s Montrail Johnson had a dominant performance to finish fifth at 152 after taking out South’s Tsali Lough on Friday, and Mater Dei’s Justin VanWinkle finished seventh after beating South Vermillion’s Trent Wallace on Friday.

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