ALTOONA — Since 2014 is an even year, Penns Valley coach Joel Brinker knew what he needed to do if the Rams were going to crown a champion at the 2014 District 6 Class AA Wrestling Championships.
“We only win titles in even years and we’ve never won one when I wore a shirt and tie. So, since it’s an even year and I didn’t wear a shirt and tie.”
Voila! That combination worked.
Junior 170-pounder Corey Hazel claimed Penns Valley’s first district championship since Ethan Covalt in 2008 on Saturday night at the Altoona Field House.
Hazel will have company in two weeks at the Class AA Southwest Regional Championships at the Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown.
Senior 152-pounder Seth Decker finished as a runner-up, sophomore 120-pounder Curtis Decker finished third and, in perhaps the surprise of the tournament, 12th-seeded senior 182-pounder Jason Thoms pinned his way to a fourth-place finish.
As a team, Penns Valley finished a solid fifth with 120 points. Huntingdon ran away with the title, amassing 220.5 points. West Branch was second with 145. Mount Union was third with 142, while Cambria Heights was fourth with 131.
The highlight for Penns Valley, of course, was Hazel’s 4-2 overtime win over top-seeded Nico Pecora of Richland.
Pecora scored escapes in the second and third periods while Hazel scored a reversal in the third. The match went to overtime tied, 2-2.
With eight seconds left in overtime, Hazel scored the winning takedown. He was more than willing to describe the move.
“I wrestle a lot of freestyle and Greco. When he had the headlock, I knew I had to get him off his feet or I was going to go. I could feel it getting tighter and tighter,” he said. “I knew I had to lift him. I knew I had to get him off his feet or I was going to go for a ride. So I just took him down and it felt great.”
Brinker said the key for Hazel, who has a go-go personality on the mat, was patience.
“It was just staying focused. He just wants to go and score points, points, points, points. He wrestled a smart match. He didn’t get rattled,” Brinker said. “He just wants to wind up like a top and go at times.
It’s tough to wrestle a guy who’s going in reverse a lot. He carried the pace. We’re pretty pumped up. It was neat.”
Seth Decker dropped a 3-2 decision to three-time district champion and two-time PIAA placewinner Andrew Doak of Blairsville. The difference came on a quick Doak takedown in the second period.
“No loss is a good loss, but it’s a good loss in a way. As far as confidence, he knows he’s there. We knew it was going to be (decided) on their feet. He just couldn’t get the one takedown,” Brinker said.
Curtis Decker finished a spot above his No. 4 seed. He fell in the semifinals to top seed Triston Law of Forest Hills, the eventual champion, 3-0. Decker bounced back with a quick 47-second fall in the consolation semifinals and scored a takedown in overtime to defeat Richland’s Stephen Rouser, 6-4, in the third-place bout.
“It’s hard to wrestle the same guys in the same tournament after you’ve beaten them. I’m very proud of him. He wrestled a solid tournament,” Brinker said.
Senior 182-pounder Thoms clearly didn’t want his season to end. Facing elimination with a loss in his first two bouts, Thoms went on a pinning spree. He received a forfeit in his fourth-round consolation bout, and then racked up back-to-back pins, in 2:53 and 4:15, to reach the third-place bout and assure a trip to the Class AA Southwest Regional Championships on Feb. 28 and March 1.
Thoms’ magical run finally ran out, but just barely, in an 11-10 loss to Moshannon Valley’s Kent Stewart in the third-place bout.
“Thoms is our 12th seed walking out here and going to regionals. That’s the Cinderella story of the tournament. It’s neat seeing kids you know have a chance to do it go out and fulfill it. He uses what he has well,” Brinker said.
Junior 113-pounder Kolton Confer, freshman 126-pounder Jared Hurd and junior 132-pounder Jacob Confer all won a match before being eliminated.
Kolton Confer started with a 2-0 overtime win to start the day for the Rams. However, in the fifth round of consolations, he was blanked, 4-0, and was eliminated.
Hurd started his day with a 3-1 win before he was edged, 3-1, and eliminated.
Jacob Confer had to go the overtime route to pull out a 2-0 win in his first match. He went to overtime again in the next round, but gave up a takedown and fell, 3-1.
Junior Andrew Hurd lost 4-0 in the fourth round of consolations and the 160-pounder was eliminated. Sophomore 195-pounder Logan Johnson suffered the same fate, as he was pinned in his first match and eliminated.
Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s Austin Emel walked out of the Field House with a sixth-place finish. He racked up falls in 52 seconds and 2:13 to reach the consolation semifinals. He met his match there as No. 2 seed Nick Hoenstine of Central, who was upset in the semifinals, beat him 7-3. Emel then dropped the fifth-place bout by the same score, 7-3, to Dan Croyle of Ligonier Valley.
Notes: District 6 inducted another class into its wrestling Hall of Fame. The inductees include: Dan Brown, Mount Union; Eric Bowser, Richland; Jim Bowser, Forest Hills/Richland; Joe Daubert, Chief Logan; Don Dunn, Sugar Valley; Karl Galbraith, Bald Eagle-Nittany; Clayton Grice, Mount Union; Sam Markle, Bellefonte; Brian Murphy, Cambria Heights; Jim Thal, Bellefonte; and, Dave Yahner, Cambria Heights. … It’s no surprise that Huntingdon’s coaching staff was named Coaching Staff of the Year.