A trio of PIAA Class 2A medals will be coming back to Centre County.
The only remaining question after wrestling concluded Friday is what color they’ll be — and at least one will be no lower than silver.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s Caleb Dowling highlighted the county’s athletes by advancing to Saturday’s finals, coming one step closer to achieving the dream he’s had since the age of 5.
“I said ... that I wanted to win it twice,” Dowling said with a laugh. “That’s kind of changed now; I want to win it three times.”
Dowling and teammates Amonn Ohl and Zack Witmer will each have a medal hung around their necks when wrestling is finished Saturday. Ohl and Witmer are both aiming for as high as fifth place — so Saturday should especially prove exciting for Dowling.
The sophomore recalled how he would emulate wrestlers as a kid after watching them compete for state championships. Now, he gets to be one of those guys on the mat instead of in the stands.
“Coming in here, you take it step by step,” Dowling said. “Before you are a state champ, you have to be a state finalist. There is a bunch of cool stuff you get to do being a state finalist, like the Parade of Champions, but it’s not over yet. I want to go out (Saturday) and win.”
He will have a tough opponent to defeat in the 138-pound finals if he’s going to get that first state title. Dowling will take on Reynolds’ Cole Matthews, who finished second in the state last year at the weight. Matthews, who hasn’t finished any lower than third at the PIAA championships, will be looking for his second state title.
The Wolves’ sophomore needed two wins to reach the finals on Friday. His first was a 5-0 shutout of Saucon Valley’s Jason Jones in the quarterfinals.
In the second win, Dowling tallied the first points of the match with a takedown 32 seconds left in the first period. He added two more takedowns and an escape for the 7-2 semifinals victory over Bloomsburg’s Matt Milbrand.
“Caleb did a really nice job,” St. Joseph’s coach Pat Flynn said. “He’s been working his tail off here since last year when he took fourth. He had a bad taste in his mouth. He’s got to put six full minutes together with a returning state champion. I think he can do it. He’s going to be all right.”
Witmer attempted to match Dowling in the finals but came up just short. He defeated Reynolds’ Andrew Ischo 6-0 before dropping the semifinals match to Southern Columbia’s Jarret Lane, who won a state title last year at 113 pounds.
Witmer couldn’t rebound, then falling in the consolation semifinal match to Notre Dame Green Pond’s Richie Markulics 6-5. He’ll now wrestle Saturday in the fifth-place match.
“Lane is solid in all three positions. He took Zack down three times and that’s not easy to do,” Flynn said. “He fell just a little short in that last one. He works his butt off too.”
Ohl dropped his quarterfinals match to Reynolds’ Gary Steen 7-3, but assured himself a medal with a dominating 12-7 consolation third round win over Elizabeth Forward’s Ryan Michaels.
From there, Ohl showed some grit and heart. He turned a nine-point deficit into a 12-11 win with three near-fall points at the final buzzer of the bout to reach the consolation semifinals. He then dropped a tough 2-0 decision to land in the fifth-place match.
“Yeah, that was nice,” Flynn said of Ohl’s consolation quarterfinals win. “His quarterfinal match, he let the emotions get the better of him. It’s crazy how kids can grow fast from a loss. Hopefully, he’ll come back and take fifth here and build on it for next year.”
Earlier in the day, Penns Valley’s Baylor Shunk (106 pounds) and the Wolves’ Jacob Powers (132) and Evan Courts (145) were eliminated.
Powers and Courts suffered some heartbreakers
Powers trailed Upper Dauphin’s Zach Rupp 2-1 to start the third period with Rupp starting on bottom. Nearly a minute into the period, Rupp got a reversal and turned Powers to his back for near-fall points. Powers fought off the pin attempt but lost 7-3.
Courts and his opponent in Slippery Rock’s Michael Doerflinger battled through scoreless first two periods. Courts gave Doerflinger an optional start for the easy escape three seconds into the third period. Doerflinger then added a counter takedown on Courts with 33 seconds left for the final points of the 3-0 defeat for the St. Joseph’s sophomore.
Shunk took on Biglerville’s Blake Showers, who fell into the consolations with a loss to Ohl on Thursday. Showers raced out to a 4-0 lead before Shunk got within one with an escape and takedown in the second period. However, Showers went up by five and then pinned Shunk in 3:44.
“He had a very solid season as we expect from Shunk,” Rams coach Joel Brinker said. “You wish you had a whole room full of Shunks. He’s a great leader and human being. It’s great he has one more year to go. He’ll bounce back and continue to work hard. It isn’t like this is going to define him.”