Three Trojans get to District 6 finals

ALTOONA – Right before the third period of a semifinal meeting between Mount Union’s Dylan Smith and Juniata’s Derek Beitz, Corey Wertz, the Mount Union coach, looked at his wrestler, pointed to his heart and said, “Right here – two minutes.”

It’s been a common theme for Wertz and his Trojans – when all else is equal, count on heart to carry you through.

With about 30 seconds left in the match, Smith found his. The 160-pound senior – quiet and hard working – turned on the top seed in the class, scoring a reversal that was good for a 4-3 decision and a spot in the District 6 Class AA finals.

The Trojans ended up with three finalists – all finished as runners-up – and two other wrestlers advanced to the Class AA Southwest regional. The top four here move on automatically.

For Juniata, it was a rough afternoon. Only Derek Beitz – the top seed at 160 who fell to Smith in the final minute – stayed alive far enough into the bracket to make the regional. He is seeking to be the third member of his family to appear in the state tournament.

Sage Moist was first up in the finals for Mount Union. The 120-pound senior had a solid run to the title match, knocking down rival Tyler Scott of Huntingdon in the semifinals, 7-3.

But he ran into Triston Law of Forest Hills, a top seed who had yet to surrender a point in the tournament – and continued that trend in the last match. Law scored two takedowns – one each in the first and second periods – to win a 5-0 decision.

Moist said he struggled in the final because Law used opposite-side moves; Moist guessed Law is a left-hander.

“It made it hard for me to open up,” Moist said. “It looked like I didn’t do much, which I really didn’t – his defense, his collar tie shut me down.”

Moist was the last man standing from Mount Union a year ago – all four of the qualifiers are making a return trip – and he says he’s hungry to go further.

“I was one match away, so hopefully we can turn it around this year,” he said. “I’m definitely going for a podium finish. It’s my senior year – I’ve got to let it all out there.”

If Smith seemed determined in the semifinals, then he became a man on a mission when the championship match began. He and Cambria Heights’ Levi Niebauer traded shots – Smith going for the body, the taller Niebauer aiming for single legs – but both were working close to the edge, and neither had an offensive point until nearly three and a half minutes had ticked away.

Niebauer got it, and with an escape after starting the second on defense, held a 3-0 lead going into the final period. Smith, starting down, was unable to break free or get a reversal.

“I couldn’t really do anything because he had an opposite-side underhook. I couldn’t really generate any offense,” Smith said.

Smith also gives a few inches to most of his opponents, and that was a noticeable disadvantage against Niebauer.

“I’ve wrestled for 14 years now, I’m used to the height advantage,” Smith said. “He had a nice sweep single – I couldn’t stop him.”

The heavyweight final was a typical chess match; Aaron Gill of Cambria Heights scored first, a reversal from his defensive start in the second. Mount Union’s Nikolas Smith answered that with a pair of escapes, the second coming shortly after the start of the third, with Smith down.

It was the second overtime match of the finals; no one managed a takedown in seven minutes. In the rideouts, Smith won the toss and deferred; Gill worked free after 20 seconds.

“I was just hanging on like a monkey off the side there,” Smith said. “I tried to hook the leg and break him down. He was good at working up.”

Smith needed a tad longer on his try, but also got out. But Gill, having scored first, had choice and took the bottom in the ultimate tiebreaker. He got another reversal to win the title.

On the medal stand, Smith stared straight ahead, already plotting for a second chance.

“I can’t wait to wrestle him again. I want a reshot at him,” he said.

In the third-place matches, which decide seeding for the regional, Beitz and Mount Union’s Philip Kyle (195 pounds) each defeated Huntingdon wrestlers. Another Mount Union contender, Jake Boozel (126), finished fourth in his weight class, but still advances.

Beitz, who is trying to be the third member of his family to appear in the state tournament, admitted he dropped to the consolation bracket against a good opponent, but also because of his own mistakes.

“He’s a tough kid,” Beitz said of Dylan Smith. “I didn’t wrestle my match 100 percent. The last couple, 20 seconds I kind of got lazy and he capitalized on it.”

And then he worked his way back, resolutely.

“As soon as you lose a match, that match is over,” he said. “I feel the pressure, but I try letting it go and not think about it as much so it doesn’t affect my wrestling.”

Kyle, who got a bye to the quarterfinals and flattened Juniata’s Ty Treaster in 44 seconds in his first match, ran into an unexpected roadblock – United’s Tyler Oliver – in the semis.

“It was hard to make it through. I thought it was going to be easy, but it came out that it was actually a challenge,” he said.

The next challenge, as with his teammates, will be to do more than appear in the region.

“The more times you’re down there, the less you’re nervous. You have more confidence,” Kyle said. “Last year, I was pretty close to making it out. Everybody graduated from this weight, so maybe it’s a little easier.”

Eliminated from the region field in the consolation semifinals were Juniata’s Tylynn Miller (106), Richie Gilson (126), Jared Benner (152) and Taylor Foster (182), along with Mount Union’s Darrian Stapleton (220). Gilson and Benner both won their last matches for fifth place; Stapleton also got fifth on a default.

The regional, which includes Districts 5 and 7, begins Feb. 28 in Johnstown.