HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING: Phillippi's hopes of repeating dashed on Day 2 of PIAA Championships
HERSHEY — Plenty of returning champions in the 77-year history of the PIAA wrestling tournament have folded after suffering unexpected early losses.
But unforeseen stress and discontent didn’t force returning state champ Micky Phillippi, of Derry, to lay down on Day 2 of the three-day event.
In fact, the pressure forced Phillippi to dig deep and ultimately mount an inspiring comeback in the losers’ bracket Friday at the Giant Center.
Phillippi (120 pounds) suffered an upset loss in the quarterfinal round of the Class AA tournament before reeling off three straight wins to advance to the consolation finals.
The top eight finishers in each weight division take home a medal.
The finals will be held simultaneously with the third-, fifth- and seventh-place consolation matches. The championship bouts begin at 2 p.m. today.
After narrowly escaping a deep shot along the boundary in the first period, Bethlehem Catholic’s Joey Gould caught Phillippi (41-5) off guard and titled him for two back points to nab a 2-1 lead in the second period.
Gould then escaped in the third period before essentially dancing and avoiding Phillippi’s ties en route to a 3-1 win and the most significant upset of the day.
“It’s not what I wanted, but it’s OK. If I would have never lost that match I might have never learned that lesson,” said Phillippi, who outscored his four opponents, 18-2, to claim the 113-pound state title last year. “I need to know what I’m doing wrong and I feel like I’m learning a lot. Now it’s all about the comeback and then working toward next year.”
An emotional Phillippi regained his bearings, scored a first-period takedown and outlasted Warrior Run’s Zack LeBarron, 2-0, in a trying second-round consolation match.
Later in the day, Phillippi amassed three takedowns and beat Redbank Valley’s Willis Gruver, 7-2, in the consolation quarterfinals.
Then, in the consolation semifinals, Phillippi hit a pair of takedowns and in workmanlike fashion, defeated Benton’s Mike Stuart, 5-1.
“I’m ready now, and it’s all about that comeback,” said Phillippi, a Southwest Regional tournament champ and a two-time WPIAL champ. “My coach keeps telling me it shows true character to come back, and that’s what I’m trying to show.”
His win in the consolation semifinals awarded Phillippi a rematch with Gould in today’s consolation finals.
Derry coach Mike Weinell, who’s coached at least one state champ the past three years, admitted that Phillippi’s itching to avenge the most disappointing loss of his career against Gould.
“Obviously you want to get a crack at redemption and get back at the kid that took your dream away,” Weinell said. “So hopefully he keeps his head in the match and wrestles tough and takes third place.
“He’s not going to forget this, for sure. It’s going to hurt for a long, long time, and it’s probably going to hurt forever. He wanted to be a four-timer (state champ) and now, I told him, ‘At the end of your career, you’re going to just have to leave your own kind of legacy behind at Derry.’”
Also, Rural Valley native and unbeaten Kittanning senior Jason Nolf (145) inched closer to his third state title by pinning Muncy’s Dakota Nixon in the semifinals.
Nolf pinned Nixon with a headlock at the 3:15 mark after building a 15-5 lead. His frustration, though, was still apparent Friday night from a morning match in which his postseason streak of pinning all of his opponents ended. He defeated Brookville’s Zach Vroman, 16-4, in the quarterfinals.
“I was mad because I didn’t get it (a fall) done,” Nolf said. “But I’m pretty excited, as excited as I usually am, I guess, for the state finals.”
Vroman was Nolf’s first opponent this postseason that didn’t lose via fall. Instead, Nolf just threatened Vroman with several near-falls en route to a major-decision win.
In the semifinals, Nolf, a two-time state champ, notched his 11th pin in 12 postseason matches by decking Nixon.
Nolf, who suffered his only career loss in the state semifinals in 2012, will meet Williamson’s Billy Barnes (42-0) in the finals.
Associated Press writer Jim Carlson contributed to this story.