JOHNSTOWN — Marion Center junior Isaac Stewart wrestled masterfully to pull out a nail-biting win in the quarterfinals of Friday’s PIAA Southwest Class AA tournament at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
But advancing to today’s finals will take an even more brilliant performance from the fourth-seeded 145-pounder. He will face unbeaten and top-seeded Kittanning senior Jason Nolf, a two-time PIAA champion who has lost just once in his career, in today’s semifinals.
Stewart will join four other area wrestlers, Derry sophomore Micky Phillippi (126), Blairsville juniors Drew Doak (152) and Scott Thompson (182) and United junior Tyler Oliver (195), in the semifinals.
The top-seeded Phillippi, Thompson and Oliver and the second-seeded Doak each advanced to the semifinals last year. Only Oliver failed to qualify for the PIAA championships.
In addition, Marion Center senior Brandon Heberling (138), Derry sophomore Stone Kepple (126), West Shamokin junior Brenden Glover (182) and United senior Seth McLendon (220) each advanced in the consolation bracket.
Heberling and McLendon are attempting to punch their first tickets to the state tournament, and Glover and Kepple are first-time regional qualifiers.
The top five wrestlers in each weight class advance to the PIAA championships, which begin March 6 at Hershey’s Giant Center.
Burrell, the WPIAL team champ, and Huntingdon, the District 6 champ, sit in a tie for first place with 41 points apiece. Jefferson-Morgan (36) finished the day in third place, and Chestnut Ridge (35) is in fourth.
Stewart (29-4), a District 6 runner-up, thumped Washington senior George Rogers, 16-5, in the preliminary round before sweating out a 3-2 win over fifth-seeded Berlin sophomore Braden Kochtman in the quarterfinals.
Stewart frustrated Kochtman and thwarted several deep shots in the third period while trailing 2-1. Stewart then recognized an opening and swooped in for a single-leg takedown with 22 seconds left in the match to take a 3-1 lead.
After Stewart was whistled for a hand-locking violation in the midst of the takedown, he managed to control a feisty Kochtman for the last 15 seconds of the bout to hold on for a 3-2 win.
“I probably should have shot earlier,” Stewart, a first-time regional qualifier who wrestled at 132 last season, said. “But once I got in, I knew I was taking him down. I was in pretty deep. After that, I just had to hold on — hold on to his leg and not let him reverse me.”
Marion Center coach Chris Stewart couldn’t hide an ear-to-ear grin following the match, but admitted that his son will face an arduous task with Nolf, the country’s second-ranked 145-pounder, according to Intermatwrestle.com.
“He’s got the top-ranked kid in the state who’s only lost one match in his whole career, but we’re going to give it our all and do what we got to do to get out of here,” the coach said. “We just got to win one match now. It’s not going to be an easy road, but it’s within reach. Our ultimate goal is to get him to Hershey, and we’re right where we want to be.”
Awarded a first-round bye, Phillippi (36-4), a returning PIAA champ at 113 and the country’s seventh-ranked 120-pounder, survived a brief scare against Penns Valley sophomore Curtis Decker to earn a 4-2 win in the quarterfinals.
Decker momentarily put Phillippi on his back to score his lone points of the match. It marked the first time Phillippi allowed a back point since last year’s loss in overtime to former Ligonier Valley stalwart Justin Patrick in the semifinals.
“I fell right into him,” said Phillippi, a third-place regional finisher last year. “It was all my momentum. I just have to correct some mistakes there and I’ll be fine.”
Phillippi will tangle with fourth-seeded Mount Union senior Saige Moist, a District 6 runner-up, in the semifinals.
Doak (33-3), a two-time state placewinner, a three-time district champ and a regional runner-up the last two years at 152, received a first-round bye. He then used a pair of explosive double-leg takedowns to outlast South Park sophomore Greg Bulsak, 5-3, in the quarterfinals.
Doak will take on South Fayette senior and WPIAL runner-up Grant Fetchet in the semifinals.
A state medalist, two-time state qualifier and two-time regional placewinner, Thompson (35-1) received a first-round bye before flattening Glover with a near-side cradle in 2:53 in the quarterfinals.
Thompson, a three-time district champ who has won each of his five postseason matches by fall, will square off with fourth-seeded Chestnut Ridge sophomore Conner Buttry in the semifinals.
District champ Oliver (30-3), a sixth-place regional finisher last year, garnered a first-round bye. He then shellacked Burrell sophomore Robert Scherer, 17-1, in the quarterfinals.
Oliver will lock horns with fourth-seeded Elwood City senior Brad Grinnen in the semifinals.
The third-seeded Heberling (32-4) appeared more active but dropped a controversial 4-3 decision to WPIAL runner-up and Jefferson-Morgan senior Jason Miller, 4-3, in the quarterfinals.
Then, eight seconds into his overtime bout with Huntingdon senior Nathan Russell, Heberling notched a takedown along the boundary to secure an 11-9 win.
Heberling, a three-time regional qualifier and Marion Center’s all-time leader in wins, will take on second-seeded Chestnut Ridge junior Derrick Claar in the consolation quarterfinals.
“I’m not sure what it was, but (Russell) came back, just like he did at districts,” Heberling said. “But I knew he wasn’t going to be my ride out of here. I just wanted it a little more than he did.”
In their second-round consolation bouts, Glover and McLendon won by fall and Kepple won by decision.
Glover will wrestle West Greene senior Dylan Wildman, who beat him 10-7 in the WPIAL quarterfinals, in the consolation quarterfinals. McLendon will tangle with District 5 champ and third-seeded Meyersdale junior Ty Smith in the same round, and Kepple will take on Bentworth senior Matt Vickless.
Blairsville’s Nick Pecze (170), Ligonier Valley’s Carlos Chavez (106), Dalton Clark (132) and Ray Marsh (220), West Shamokin’s William Hockenberry (106) and Derry’s Cole Wano and Derek Baker (152) were eliminated.
Clark, the No. 4 seed and a district runner-up, got flattened in 5:06 by Freedom freshman Dean Ward in the preliminary round. He then dropped a 4-0 decision to Avonworth junior Darion Trimmer in a first-round consolation match.