One step closer

HERSHEY – For Sean Heggs, it was just another day at the office.

For Zach Heeter, it was a day long in coming.

For both, it was a short day – Juniata’s Heggs (138 pounds) and Heeter (145), a Midd-West grappler, each won first-round matches in the PIAA Class AA wrestling championships Thursday, advancing them to this morning’s quarterfinals.

For one other small-school entrant, it was the end of a Cinderella season – Mustang Alex Lieberman dropped both of his matches and was eliminated.

Heggs, matched up against Biglerville junior Jasper Hankey, advanced on a 6-3 decision. Heggs got out of the first period with a 2-0 lead on a takedown, then extended it to 4-0 as Hankey gave up a point for locked hands and later an escape.

Before Heggs got free, though, Hankey had the position to get a tilt, but couldn’t finish the move.

“I didn’t feel any danger out there,” Heggs said. “I was in position. That’s how I normally wrestle.

“You’ve just got to wrestle out there – you can’t stop, especially in the state tournament,” he said. “You’ve come all this way, you better be wrestling.”

In the third, Heggs gave a point back when he drew his third caution, then Hankey escaped to make it 4-2 – and had a chance to tie it up when the two rolled off the mat.

“I wouldn’t give up anything out there on the mat,” Heggs said assuredly. “You’ve got to fight for position. You’ve got to go out there and go after it.”

Hegg’s second takedown and a Hankey escape formed the final score. Heggs said it was important to him to come out on top in the opener, setting the stage for a stronger advancement. His quarterfinal opponent will be Michael Bonner of Sharon, the runner-up from the Northwest region.

“You have to go all you can first match – then you can recover,” he said. “Getting through this first one, you don’t want to have to fight back to third and fourth all the way from the first round.”

Heeter, a regional third-place winner taking on the Southwest runner-up in Conemaugh Township’s Tanner Cahill, had his work cut out for him. Cahill was here as a freshman – both are seniors – and has been a steady presence in the postseason through his career, while Heeter has slowly climbed the ladder to Chocolate Town.

On the mat, though, he looked like the more experienced grappler. He went after Cahill quickly, took him down and rode out the first period.

“I had to go out there and be confident,” the Mustang said. “I knew he was strong so I stayed low to get to my shots.”

The only point in the second was a Cahill escape, and it took most of the two minutes to get it. Heeter started down, escaped and scored another takedown – but then put himself in a tough spot with a penalty point for an illegal move and an escape by Cahill.

When Cahill locked up Heeter on the edge of the mat, it seemed like an overtime was on the horizon. But Heeter avoided the points and held on for a 5-3 win to advance.

“I relaxed a little too much. He caught me off guard. I just had to keep my hips square,” Heeter said. “I just tried to keep him tied up and just shut him down.”

Heeter, who will face a powerful opponent in Pen Argyl’s Michael Racciato today, won’t have the luxury of going in with no expectations of who he is wrestling like he did with Cahill.

“I didn’t know who he was or anything. I knew he was at states before but it didn’t bother me,” Heeter said.

Then, perhaps projecting what he needed to do today, said, “You’ve got to be the best to beat the best.”

Lieberman, who missed his first two postseasons with injuries, came through to states after winning section and district titles. But here, he ran into a brick wall – two of them actually.

In his opener, returning state placewinner Mike Fetchet of South Fayette won a 6-1 decision; in the first consolation round, another Southwest region wrestler, Zach Pinkas of Forest Hills, won by 12-5.

Class AA wrestling resumes today at 9 a.m. with quarterfinals and then a consolation round that will determine the final medal field. Semifinals and two more consolations are wrestled in the evening.