Penns Valley is one victory away from reaching the PIAA Class AA team tournament.
The Rams earned two big victories Tuesday, defeating Penn Cambria 52-25 in the opening round and Juniata 33-26 in the quarterfinals of the District 6 Class AA team tournament. The victory over fourth-seeded Juniata sends fifth-seeded Penns Valley into the semifinals for the first time in coach Joel Brinker’s tenure.
The Rams (19-3) will wrestle West Branch, Moshannon Valley or Cambria Heights on Saturday morning in Tyrone. District 6 sends both of its Class AA finalists to the next week’s state duals.
“This is huge for our program,” said Brinker, who took over as head coach in 2006-07. “For what we knew we had coming into this, I couldn’t be happier or prouder. The kids have bust their tails to become a complete team. Going into a place like Juniata where they have that history and tradition and getting a win is big.”
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Brinker said multiple Rams battled illness Tuesday. But after taking nine bouts against Penn Cambria, the Rams earned eight victories against Juniata, which entered Tuesday with 19 victories.
Junior Seth Decker earned a big victory late in the Juniata meet by defeating Sean Heggs 4-2 at 145 pounds. Heggs, a 2012 PIAA fourth-place finisher, bumped up from 138 to wrestle Decker. Only two bouts remained in the meet when Decker and Heggs met at the circle.
“It’s a huge win for Seth,” Brinker said. “For the last several years, we have been trying to identify one signature win where he gets his name out and gives him confidence. This was it.”
Decker’s younger brother, Curtis, provided the Rams with a jolt by bumping up from 113 to 120 pounds and pinning Richie Gilson in 3:20. The pin increased the Rams’ lead to 30-9 with five bouts left.
“Once Curtis got the pin, we knew we were in good shape,” Brinker said.
The meet started at 160, where Penns Valley’s Corey Hazel defeated Derek Beitz 12-8. Isacc Bierly (106), Mike Rogers (195) and Maverick Swartz (220) had pins for the Rams while Kolton Confer majored Cole Walters 8-0 at 113.
The Rams also defeated the Indians 42-27 earlier this month. But Brinker entered Tuesday knowing Juniata was plotting moves to trim the gap.
“We were literally making moves on the fly,” Brinker said.
Penns Valley’s opening-round meet included no drama. Curtis Decker (113), Kolton Confer (120), Seth Decker (145), Hazel (160), Drew Hurd (170), Rogers (182) and Swartz (195) had pins against Penn Cambria. Cole Confer opened the meet by majoring Jacob Driskell 13-2 at 152.
The Rams will learn their semifinal opponent Wednesday. Moshannon Valley wrestles Cambria Heights in the first match at West Branch. The winner faces top-seeded West Branch, which edged Penns Valley 33-31 last week.