BELLEFONTE — Bellefonte’s Tanner Day received a scouting report on Bald Eagle Area’s Titus Tice one minute before his 138-pound Thursday.
Remembering Tice’s strengths from junior high, fellow sophomores Luke Leathers and Trevor Corl instructed Day to watch the headlock.
It took one minute for Day to learn his teammates weren’t joking.
Day fought out of an early headlock. He fought out of three more, a sign Bellefonte’s young wrestlers yielded little against the program’s biggest rival.
A third-period pin from Day along with gritty wrestling throughout the lineup helped the Red Raiders secure a needed 36-30 victory in their own gym.
“We woke up,” Day said. “We realized we need to start practicing harder in the room and we needed to push everybody on the team. ”
Neither Day nor his teammates could afford to snooze.
A headlock can suddenly end a bout. And losing again would have prolonged a midseason malaise.
After a promising 3-0 start, the Red Raiders (4-2) staggered into Thursday, losing handily last Saturday at Central Mountain and failing to win close bouts Tuesday at Huntingdon. The lopsided 57-17 loss at Central Mountain bothered Bellefonte coach Mike Maney.
“We got knocked down, we got knocked down, we got knocked down,” he said. “And we weren’t able to rebound.”
The defining moment against Bald Eagle Area (4-1) emerged when the Eagles’ Clint McCaslin defeated Nate Rosenberger 7-5 in sudden victory at 132, cutting Bellefonte’s lead to 22-18 with six bouts left. Day responded at 138 by withstanding multiple flurries to build a 9-0 lead late in the third period. Instead of settling for a major decision, Day pursued a fall, using a half-nelson to flip Tice with 26 seconds left.
“I knew it was kind of one of those toss-up matches that we needed to win,” Day said.
The Eagles won three of the final five bouts. But they only received 12 points in those victories because Bellefonte freshman Dillon Kephart held senior Joe Powers to a 3-0 decision at 145. BEA’s Tyler Baney edged Austin Cable 4-3 in a 160-pound match involving veterans. Bellefonte’s Dillon Ault wedged a technical fall between the decisions.
Competing at 170 pounds for the first time this season, Bellefonte senior Nick Shawley, a PIAA Class AAA fourth-place finisher at 195 last season, clinched the team victory by handling Ben Verbitskey 6-0 at 170. Shawley’s victory gave Bellefonte a 12-point edge.
Anything less than a seven-point lead entering the final bout would have been uncomfortable. Starting at 195 allowed BEA to save star Jake Taylor for the final bout. Taylor ended the meet with a 12-second fall at 182.
“We knew we needed to keep it close,” BEA coach Steve Millward said. “Our plan was to win two of the last three bouts, which we did. But we didn’t get what we were capable of before that.”
The teams also split the first four bouts. BEA veterans Aaron Varner and Nate Sharkey opened the meet by pinning Toby Cain and Tim Benford at 195 and 220, respectively. Bellefonte heavyweight Garrett Poorman pinned pesky freshman Josh Fye in the second period and Luke Leathers turned and pinned Cobey Bainey in the third period at 106. Leathers, a sophomore, earned the Joe Humphreys Award for his performance.
Freshman Aaron Witherite prevented BEA from obtaining bonus points by holding Travis Giedroc to a 10-3 decision at 113. The Eagles forfeited to Trevor Corl at 120 and Zach Musser expanded Bellefonte’s lead by majoring Jacob Noll 11-0 at 126.
“Anytime we come to Bellefonte it’s exciting,” said Millward, whose team visits Central Mountain on Saturday. “We just needed to win some pivotal matches. We won some. We just didn’t get the falls we were hoping to and gave them up in places we couldn’t afford to give them up. We just got put on our backs and stayed there.”
Bellefonte experienced a similar feeling last season in Wingate.
“I know last year they came out and punched us right in the face a couple of times, knocked us down and we weren’t able to regroup,” Maney said. “That’s one of the things that we talked about right before this match. Both teams are going to be throwing the punches and the team that gives up the most is going to lose. By most, I mean most bonus points. That’s why we were able to come out on top.”