ALTOONA – A quarterfinal victory is no guarantee of advancement out of the District 6 Class AA wrestling tournament.
But a trip to the semifinals certainly increases the likelihood that you’ll be among the quartet of medalists who move on to the Southwest regional.
A mistake? Just one can haunt you as your hopes of making it to the state tournament grow slimmer.
The first day of districts is when mistakes are made, and when they must be overcome. For one of the wrestlers in the local contingent, Juniata’s Patrick Fitzgerald, the mistake came early, and it cost him any chance of a title when he was pinned in the first round by a wrestler seeded well beneath him.
Mount Union’s Sage Moist overcame his miscue, an errant move that gave Penns Valley’s Curtis Decker a two-point lead heading into the third period of their quarterfinal match.
“I just knew I had to keep pushing myself, keep driving forward,” said Moist, the Trojans’ 113-pound wrestler.
Moist ceded a reversal and two back points as the second period expired, and got just one back with a third-period escape. But with 30 seconds to go, he got a takedown, and rode it out despite a brief injury stoppage – his – just after he scored.
Up just one weight class from a year ago, Moist said there is a difference on the mat.
“Guys are stronger. You’ve just got to use your quickness and speed to get through,” he said. “I’ve been in a lot of tough matches.”
By virtue of his weight and a 7-6 decision, he was the first to advance to today’s semifinal round, which begins at noon after a round of consolation wrestling. But he’ll be far from alone – Mount Union will be represented in five weight classes on the good side of the bracket today.
Three of those five won with ease in the quarterfinal round: At 126 pounds, Jake Boozel locked up Westmont-Hilltop’s Steven Zipf and showed him the lights, while Dylan Smith (11-4 at 160) and Philip Kyle (10-1 at 195) both won major decisions.
Fitzgerald found redemption in the bottom bracket, sustaining his trip on the road to Hershey. But it didn’t come easily: No. 12 seed Dominic Novella of Cambria Heights took Fitzgerald to the tiebreaker before the Juniata grappler exploded for a reversal and back points in a 5-2 win.
“Throw the seeds out the window,” Juniata coach Mike Robinson said. “Just because your seeded doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a medal here.”
For Juniata, it wasn’t the mistakes that were painful – it was the heart-wrenching losses in bouts where the Indians really did nothing wrong. The quarters were brutal to the Indians – only two of six who started the night session in the top bracket stayed there.
It started at 132 pounds, where Adam Barrick was reversed by Huntingdon’s Nathan Russell as time expired, the only points scored in the match – not unlike their meeting in the Juniata Duals. Jared Benner put up the fight of his life at 152 against Marion Center’s Phil Crook, only to see the Stinger score midway through a sudden-death overtime period. Derek Beitz gave up an escape with 30 ticks on the clock to Bellwood-Antis’ Nick Torsell, dropping him to the lower bracket.
“It was a rough quarterfinals, there’s no doubt about it,” Robinson said. “We lost some matches in the last 15 seconds and it hurt. Overall, I thought the guys wrestled back well.”
On the plus side for the Indians was a huge senior effort by Luke Nanna, who edged Samuel Ohler of Moshannon Valley 3-2 to make the semis. Sean Heggs made it there too, although there was little question he would after destroying Huntingdon’s Jon Wagner in a 14-4 major decision. Add a pin in the opener, and Heggs was the top scorer for the day with two bonus-point matches.
Of Wagner, he said, “I’m pretty sure he knew something was coming today. I mean, it’s the district tournament.
“You have to get it done,” Heggs said. “You have to get in, get after it, break him.”
Juniata first came to this tournament three years ago, a change from its days in District 3. A handful on the team saw it as a new experience this time out – the cooperative between Juniata County’s two schools took Heggs, Barrick and others out of District 4, where they had a two-tiered sectional system, into the unified tournament of District 6.
“There’s 10 more kids that wrestle in this district than in a section,” Heggs noted. “District 4 was fun. I was a little bit excited to come into District 6. There’s some tough wrestlers here.”
The two local teams kept all but one of the 26 entrants they brought to the field alive through the evening. Each started the day down one – Mount Union, which has been without a 106-pounder most of the season, continued that trend; the Indians had no heavyweight for the tournament.
Only three – two Trojans and one from Juniata – had to wrestle in the pigtail round. All three went to the consolation bracket. All of the quarterfinal wrestlers remain active in the tournament today, win or lose.
Eliminated and ending their season Friday were Tylynn Miller, Cole Walters from Juniata, and Mount Union’s Kord Aurand and Robbie Steel.
Going into Saturday’s action the Trojans are tied for third in the team race behind West Branch and Cambria Heights.