Hunting for Hershey

JOHNSTOWN – Sage Moist has been to the Class AA Southwest regional before.

He never managed a win in the first round.

Friday, he scored a pair of big ones.

The Mount Union senior manhandled Avella’s Luke Lloyd in the opener, a 14-3 major decision in which he flirted with a technical fall.

Then he made it 2-0 against the always-tough WPIAL when he locked up Justo Hernandez of South Allegheny and decked him in the first minute of their quarterfinal match.

Today, Moist – leading a contingent of four Mount Union wrestlers still in the hunt for a trip to Hershey – will face an even bigger challenge: His semifinal draw is Derry Area’s George Phillipi, one of two returning state champs in the regional field.

“I have three opportunities to win one match and move to Hershey. We’ll see if we can work it out,” Moist said.

Juniata’s lone entry into the field, 160-pounder Derek Beitz, suffered a quarterfinal setback but advanced to today’s wrestling in the consolation bracket.

Moist had more losses this season than his first two opponents combined, but that didn’t mean anything to the Trojan lightweight, who was nothing but excited after clinching a spot in today’s semifinal round. Heck, he was still overjoyed about winning his first one.

“Coming out of there, it was pretty exciting. I’ve never been to the quarterfinals before,” he said. “It’s nice to start off with a win. Now I’m sitting prettier.”

The Hernandez match had a routine start after a brief delay while the previous winner signed his bout slip and cleared the mat; Moist was visibly anxious, but deflected his opponent’s opening salvo.

Then there was another stoppage while Hernandez had to adjust his head cover and gear, and Moist was all but bouncing. And when Hernandez tried the same move he did to start the match, the Mount Union grappler was ready.

“I knew after that first shot, (when) he shot in on me. I knew if he shot in like that again and step under like that I was going to wait for him and hit him with that tomahawk,” Moist said. “And it worked.”

Beitz, who won his opener against Derrick Beattie of Burrell by 16-1 technical fall, found his second WPIAL challenger a bit more daunting. District 7 champ Jared Walker of South Fayette scored the bout’s only point, an escape in the middle period.

“I’m not happy with that match but it’s time to go past it,” Beitz said. “I could have capitalized on some of the scrambles, and I didn’t shoot 100 percent every time. They were more half shots.”

His consy opponent was no stranger: Huntingdon’s Eric Lynn, whom he beat in the regular season and in the District 6 third-place match. The scores got closer both times, and Beitz left nothing to chance, acting quickly to put points on the board.

“I was excited to see him again. He’s a tough competitor though,” Beitz said. “At this level – regionals, states – anyone can beat anyone.”

But the Juniata wrestler made it a trifecta with a 7-0 decision. He’s one step closer to his goal of matching brothers Seth and Zack with a state appearance.

“I kind of put that on myself and I shouldn’t,” he admitted. “I want to place as high as possible, but I’m not going to overlook anyone. I’m just going to get a good night’s rest and go from there.”

Moist was the lone successful wrestler in the quarterfinals out of the four who wrestled.

The others from Mount Union were Philip Kyle (195), who was outmaneuvered by James Bennett, the District 5 champ, from Hope for Hyndman charter school; and Nikolas Smith (285), who saw the reversal of a regular-season outcome when he dropped a decision to Everett’s Devin Reed, the runner-up from District 5.

Kyle’s match was decided in the second, when Bennett reversed after starting down, gave up an escape but scored a late takedown to make it 4-1, where it stayed after Bennett rode out the third.

Smith was three seconds away from overtime in the heavyweight match; each wrestler had an escape after choosing a defensive start. But at the three-second mark, Reed got control and was awarded the two points, advancing him to the semifinals.

Trojans Jake Boozel (126) and Dylan Smith (160), who dropped their openers, won in the first consolation round to get a third match Friday. Boozel stayed in the tournament with a decision over Northern Bedford’s Jared Helsley, whom he beat by technical fall in the regular season. Smith decisioned Colby Hillegas of Chestnut Ridge.

Kyle pinned Avonworth’s Brandon Wasko to stay for the second day.

Nikolas Smith wrestled his final match as a Trojan, dropping his quarterfinal and a consolation match Friday.