Southridge’s Zayid Al-Ghani (left) wrestles Marysville Pilchuck’s Keith Pablo in the 170-pound final Feb. 11 at the 3A Region 3 Tournament at Everett High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Southridge’s Zayid Al-Ghani (left) wrestles Marysville Pilchuck’s Keith Pablo in the 170-pound final Feb. 11 at the 3A Region 3 Tournament at Everett High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Redemption for MP wrestler at 3A regional tournament

EVERETT — A wrestler that loses in the semifinals of a major tournament like Saturday’s 3A Region III event at Everett High School can react to that defeat in one of two ways.

He or she can lose focus and fail to get past it, or flush it and grind through the consolation bracket.

Marysville Pilchuck’s Keith Pablo learned that lesson the hard way last season, finding himself the odd man out in a stacked 160-pound regional bracket, and finished fifth when the top four advanced to state.

After a tough semifinal loss to eventual state champion Mason McDaniel of Edmonds-Woodway, Pablo lost his first consolation match to Ferndale’s Braiden Klimp and kissed Mat Classic goodbye.

That regional bracket ended up producing the state champion (McDaniel), runner-up (Arlington’s Azariah Crew) and sixth-place finisher (Klimp).

“I was upset,” he remembered Saturday after redeeming himself with a runner-up finish at 170 pounds. “I knew I could have beaten that kid (Klimp) but it was hard to get past the loss. It’s all worth it now.”

Pablo eviscerated his first two opponents in first-period pins this weekend before meeting up with top-ranked Zayid Al-Ghani of Southridge in the final.

Just by getting to the title bout, he assured himself of finishing his prep career at Mat Classic, but a regional title would have helped with state seeding.

Pablo held a 4-3 lead over Al-Ghani midway through the second period, when the Suns senior escaped and took Pablo down to assume a 5-4 lead.

In a bold move, Pablo backed himself to be able to take Al-Ghani down and cut the Southridge wrestler, allowing him to escape to begin the third period and making the score 6-4.

“I feel like I can take anyone down, but that kid was a really good wrestler and really strong,” Pablo said. “It didn’t work out today, but I’ll see him at state. It feels really good to be going.”

The last Marysville Pilchuck wrestler to win a state title was also a 170-pounder, and Pablo’s step-brother.

Killian Page is now playing football at Eastern Washington University, but Pablo still thinks Page would beat him straight-up if they wrestled today.

“We wrestled a couple of times,” he said. “He’s super-big, and he’s a thrower. I’m more of a shooter.”

Invaders from the East?

The WIAA’s decision to pair the three 3A schools in the Mid-Columbia Conference — Kamiakin, Kennewick and Southridge — with those from Wesco for Saturday’s regional was a topic of much discussion among coaches on both sides at Everett High School.

It was tough to ignore the oddity of even calling it a “regional,” since Kennewick is four hours from Everett in good weather, and especially since this week’s snow and ice forced the three regular-season foes to caravan across the state together via Portland in two buses on Thursday. The trip took 8 1/2 hours.

“We drove right through Bonney Lake, which was also hosting a regional,” Kamiakin coach Jordan Anderson said. “I have no clue why the WIAA had us do it, but we just wanted to compete.”

Mission accomplished.

Kamiakin and Southridge combined to win 59 of their 63 matches on Friday, and continued that dominance on Saturday, finishing 1-2 in the team standings well ahead of third-place Everett.

By itself, Kamiakin had seven finalists, four champions and placed 13 wrestlers into the state tournament.

There was a clear us-against-them mentality on the part of the Tri-Cities schools against their Wesco foes all weekend, and it didn’t just come from having to band together to travel to Everett.

The three schools contested a sub-regional among themselves at Southridge last Saturday, and hoped to get the top three wrestlers from each weight class into this weekend’s regional draw. According to them, they had to settle for two.

“We wanted to have our third guy be able to wrestle a pig-tail match into the regional bracket, but Wesco didn’t allow us to do that,” Anderson said. “We took that as a slap in the face, and we came over here with a chip on our shoulder. We wanted our kids to come over and compete, and show what they could do.”

Edmonds-Woodway coach Brian Alfi, an at-large member of the member of the Washington State Wrestling Coaches’ Association Executive Board, empathized with the Tri-Cities schools’ predicament, and urged the WIAA to reconsider the regional format entirely.

“The regional system is outdated,” he said. “We need to find ways for the system to rotate equitably.”

Evanger’s road back

Put in the same position as Keith Pablo was in a year ago — flush a bad semifinal loss or bomb out — Arlington 126-pounder Christian Evanger, chose the former, and will cap his prep career in the Tacoma Dome after placing third on Saturday.

It’s not surprising that he made that choice, since he put off labrum surgery on his left shoulder until after the state tournament to be able to wrestle his senior campaign.

“I was able to just shrug it off. I know that I put in as much work as anyone in here to be able to wrestle this year, and I didn’t want that to go to waste,” Evanger said. “It was the most nervous I’ve been, though. You either get in it or go home.”

To be fair, it was a tough defeat for him to forget.

Eventual champion Jesus Ramos of Kamiakin handled him in an 11-0 major decision, and after watching video of Evanger when both Arlington and the Braves competed at the Gut Check Invite earlier this season, Kamiakin coach Jordan Anderson was calling out Evanger’s moves before he made them.

“They knew everything that was coming,” Evanger said. “I didn’t know what to do. (Arlington coach) Jonny (Gilbertson) and I are going to work this week on switching up my offense, because I’ve been a little predictable as a low single and Gramby guy.”

Zook’s last ride

Oak Harbor’s Sam Zook be playing on Central Washington’s offensive or defensive line this fall, but unless he’s able to continue wrestling with the Wildcats’ club team, this weekend’s state tournament will be his last ride as a competitive wrestler.

The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Zook is taking full advantage, registering pinfalls in all three of his bouts on Saturday en route to his second regional title. He finished third at state last year, and is the favorite heading into the weekend.

Larry Falcon, his middle school coach when he started wrestling as a seventh-grader, will be in his corner as the Wildcats’ coach.

“It all started with Coach Falcon, so it’s cool it’ll end with him, too,” Zook said.

‘The Grab’

LeBron James has The Block. Joe Montana and Dwight Clark have The Catch and John Elway has The Drive.

Stanwood dynamo Mason Phillips put on a show on Saturday, eliciting the first of two audible gasps from the crowd during his 19-4 technical fall of Kamiakin’s Liam Walker in the 145-pound title match with what should forever be known as The Grab.

Anticipating the opening whistle, Phillips reached out a hand and grabbed Walker’s lead foot as quick as a cobra strikes, yanked it toward him and floored the helpless Walker for the first two points of the match, seconds after it began.

“If I see somebody with their foot really close to the line, I might try it,” Phillips said afterward, entirely too matter-of-factly. “You really have to time up the whistle, though.”

Such was Phillips’ dominance during this, and all three of his matches during the tournament.

His superiority was acknowledged by all. Phillips deferred the choice of position to Walker to begin the second period, and when the Kamiakin senior turned to the corner for advice from his coaches, Anderson responded with a look that implied that top, bottom or neutral, Phillips had the upper hand.

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