ALLPORT — The theatrics and atmosphere matched the significance of the dual meet.
With the top seed in next week’s District 6 Class AA duals at stake, a large, knowledgeable crowd gathered here Thursday to watch a showdown between West Branch and Penns Valley.
To further entertain fans, a DJ played music following bouts and during blood time. The frills energized the Rams, who demonstrated why they could be a difficult team postseason matchup.
Penns Valley nearly upset the state’s fifth-ranked Class AA team, capturing six bouts in a 33-31 loss.
West Branch (21-2) clinched the district’s top seed. Penns Valley (16-3) will likely receive the fourth or fifth seed, meaning they are a quarterfinal victory away from earning a rematch. Pairings could be released as early as Friday.
And, yes, the Rams want to see the Warriors again.
“I think we can beat this team,” senior 152-pounder Cole Confer said. “We might see them again in district duals. They are ranked fifth in the state right now. If everybody can wrestle consistent. ...It doesn’t have to be six-point wins. We need three-point, regular wins.”
The close bouts represented the difference in Thursday’s meet: West Branch won three of four bouts decided by decision.
Penns Valley had four falls. The Rams trailed 33-27 entering the final bout, but the Warriors could partially relax because they won eight bouts, meaning they obtained the necessary element to earn a criteria victory as long as they avoided a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Curtis Decker majored Wyatt Sankey 13-3 at 113 pounds. Decker sent Sankey to his back multiple times yet both benches realized the outcome had already been decided.
The drama reached its peak at 170 pounds, where West Branch’s Lucas Kristofits edged Drew Hurd 3-2. Penns Valley’s Joel Brinker and West Branch’s Jason Bainey are among the growing collection of coaches that carry “Tom Elling’s Pennsylvania Wrestling Handbook” and thoroughly examine box scores, so they both understood mismatches loomed in the final six bouts.
Kristofits took Hurd down in the first period and added an escape in the second to open a 3-1 lead. Hurd aggressively worked upperbody moves from the neutral position and escaped late in the third period but he couldn’t penetrate Kristofits’ defense for a clean shot.
“Drew Hurd is only a sophomore and he’s gaining confidence,” Brinker said. “I knew he was a little timid tonight in his mind, but he wrestled hard. He battled. I’m proud of his effort.”
West Branch won a similar bout at 120, where Abe Albright notched the only takedown in a 3-1 victory over Jacob Confer. The teams split the other two bouts decided by decision, with West Branch’s Parker Bumbarger defeating Dalton Zerbe in an entertaining 138-pound bout and Penns Valley’s Cole Confer defeating Luke Slippey 6-5 in a 152-pound featuring four reversals.
After falling behind 19-0, Penns Valley won five of six bouts from 152 to 195 pounds to open a 27-19 lead. Seth Decker (145), Corey Hazel (160), Mike Rogers (182) and Maverick Swartz (195) had pins during the stretch.
The Rams also limited bonus points in multiple bouts. West Branch’s Jake Brown placed Penns Valley 120-pounder Kolton Confer into a headlock 52 seconds into the meet’s opening bout. As the West Branch bench pleaded for referee Ed Conklin to slap the mat, Confer squirmed, survived the period and held Brown to an 11-0 major-decision victory. Zerbe and 106-pounder Isacc Bierly, who lost to Dustin Deliman 11-2, also endured perilous situations to prevent falls.
Undefeated West Branch sophomore Reynold Maines, a former Pennsylvania junior wrestling state champion, couldn’t turn Mike Mundt in a 15-4 victory at 220. J.P. Hayles (138) and Morgan Selapack (285) produced the Warriors’ lone falls.
“I was worried after the 138-pound match,” said Bainey, a former Philipsburg-Osceola standout. “Those are our guys ‘20, ‘26, ‘32, ‘38. I thought we would come out of that up 24-0. Penns Valley did what they had to do. They didn’t give up the falls. It was only 16-0. That should have been a guaranteed 24-0. Those are our better guys. I knew right then that it would be a battle until the end.
“We didn’t get started off on the right foot. I told Coach Brinker, ‘His guys were ready and my guys weren’t ready.’ That’s what it boiled down to.”
Still, the meet proved cracking West Branch’s balanced lineup is tricky. Brookville, the state’s third-ranked Class AA team, according to Off the Mat, and General McLane, a contender for the District 10 Class AAA title, are the only teams to defeat the Warriors.
“We feel this is a match we could have got,” said Brinker, whose team also fell to Huntingdon 31-27 on Tuesday. “But I’m also very proud of the effort we put out there, rebounding from the Huntingdon match. That was the message. We kind of fell flat on our face against Huntingdon. We needed to rebound, and I thought we did.”