There’s been just one PIAA wrestling champion in the history of the Penns Valley wrestling program.
Corey Hazel has a chance to be No. 2.
The senior scored a pair of victories Friday, including a 4-3 semifinal thriller at 182 pounds, to earn the opportunity to join Max Dinges (1963 champ at 180 pounds) as the only Rams to stand on the top spot of the podium.
“It feels great,” an elated Hazel said after his win over Bermudian Springs’ Colton Dull. “Being in the state finals is as great as it sounds, but I’m still not satisfied.”
Hazel (38-1) will battle Franklin’s Dakota Geer (36-1), a wrestler he has faced three times previously in the past year, in the finals, which start at 2 p.m. at the Giant Center.
Against Dull, Hazel quickly found himself in an position he has not been in here — trailing.
At the starting whistle, Dull knifed in and scored a single-leg takedown, becoming the first wrestler to score a point for himself against Hazel.
“I knew that shot was coming,” Hazel said. “There was like three guys that told me that shot was coming, but that shot was so fast. It was like, ‘Bam!’ I did not think it was happening right off the get-go, but I have to give it to him.”
“That was fast,” Penns Valley coach Joel Brinker agreed. “That was the fastest quick-snatch single I’ve seen in a long time, especially from a kid that big.”
The deficit didn’t seem to bother Hazel, who quickly reversed Dull to square the score at 2-2, which is how the period ended.
“It was early,” Brinker said. “Corey has been keeping his composure. He knew, ‘Okay, I’ve got to battle back’ and he did.”
Starting on the bottom in the second period, Hazel needed just 12 seconds to score another reversal to take a 4-2 lead.
“I feel like I’m a good mat wrestler,” Hazel explained. “He was kind of loose with his hips and I felt that and I could manage and I reversed him twice.”
He rode Dull for about a minute before Dull escaped to make the score 4-3 through two.
Hazel made the ride double in length in the final period.
Hazel had Dull wrapped up tightly before the Bermudian Springs senior was able to pull and crawl his way off the mat with 31 seconds left.
Hazel knew what he had to do from there.
“I was like, ‘There’s 31 seconds to go. I’m just putting everything in these last 31 seconds to keep him down. … I had just rode him out for 1:29. I might as well ride him out for this next 31.’”
Dull whirled around but Hazel avoided a close reversal attempt. He was in complete control when the buzzer sounded.
“We always joke about it, Corey has like this nitrous button,” Brinker said of the final stretch. “When he needs an extra shot of nitrous, it’s there. When he was in danger there, he was able plow through it, get that little adrenaline going and get himself out of a bad situation.”
There was no danger at all in his quarterfinal triumph. Hazel needed just 66 seconds to pin E.L. Meyer’s TJ Sistrunk.
The taller Sistrunk made the mistake of attempting to throw Hazel in the opening seconds of the quarterfinal bout. Hazel countered and took Sistrunk to his back.
“I knew he was trying to throw me,” Hazel said. “I could just feel it. I was giving him a little bit of pressure and kind of baiting him into the throw. I wrestle freestyle and greco a lot and I’m comfortable if kids wanted to go upstairs with me.”
Hazel did suffer a penalty point as he was called for an illegal headlock, but after the stoppage he had Sistrunk in trouble again. He hooked up a half nelson and the referee slapped the mat just 1:06 into the match.
“I had that real tight,” Hazel said of the pinning move. “I was going to go with a rebar for a tilt, but his head was there and felt his head going down and I took it for a half.”
Hazel now gets a familiar foe in Geer. The two split a pair of preseason matches, both one-point decisions. Hazel handed Geer his only loss in the official PIAA season, winning 4-3 in the Grove City finals in January. Geer finished third and Hazel was fifth at last year’s PIAA Championships at 170.
“It’s going to be a match,” Hazel said.
“They’re both quality kids,” said Brinker, who will be coaching in his first title match.
“I’m really happy for Corey and happy for his family. They’ve done a lot of sacrifice through the years — the tournaments, the financial, everything that goes into being successful at this sport. It’s nice to see he’s getting rewarded for it.”
Penns Valley’s Curtis Decker also wrestled Friday but fell 10-3 to Central Columbia’s Lewis Williams in the second round of consolations.
Decker wrestled Williams close until the final period.
Williams got the first takedown midway through the first period and Decker escaped to trail 2-1.
Decker opened the second period with a quick escape and had a good shot at taking the lead but the two wrestlers went off the mat. Williams’ double-leg takedown midway through the period made it 4-2 before Decker escaped to make it 4-3 after two periods.
Williams escaped from bottom early in the third period. The two jockeyed for position until Williams hit another deep double-leg with 45 seconds left. From there, Williams turned Decker for three nearfall points and held the tilt until the buzzer sounded.
Decker finished his season 30-12.
“Curt is a phenomenal wrestler,” Brinker said. “He’s right there. He’s already talking next year and really talking tomorrow. He said, ‘There’s things I’ve got to start doing and I’ve got to start now.’ … He’s focused on next year right now and he’s not down in the dumps about it.”