HERSHEY – Historically, Lebanon County has not fared well at the PIAA Individual Wrestling Championships. But never has the locale experienced a day like it did yesterday at the state tournament.
With the county’s honor on the line, T.J. Moore stepped in and stepped up.
On Thursday at Hershey’s Giant Center, local wrestlers took their collective lumps during the opening day of the three-day state wrestling tournament. After four Lebanon County wrestlers went a combined 0-7 at the PIAA Championships, Moore, the fourth, earned the locale’s first win, in the first round of consolations in the Class AAA 220-pound weight class.
Moore, a senior from Cedar Crest, pulled away from Dontey Rogan of Cumberland Valley, for a 6-2 triumph that kept his – and Lebanon County’s – season alive. Moore had been relegated to the consolation bracket when he was pinned by Belle Vernon’s Cole Weightman at the 5:57 mark of their opener at 220.
Moore will continue his pursuit of a state medal on Friday afternoon, when the Class AAA tournament resumes back at Giant Center. But the same can’t be said for Northern Lebanon senior Brandon Breidegan and freshman Owen Lehman, and Matt Inman of Annville-Cleona, who all went two-and-out in Class AA.
“I just told myself, ‘If I wasn’t supposed to be here, I wouldn’t be here,'” said Moore, who went 1-2 at last season’s state tournament. “There’s a reason I’m here. I want to go out with no regrets.
“The goal is to walk out of here with a medal,” continued Moore. “I’m not sure where I’m at. I don’t know who I wrestle tomorrow. It doesn’t really matter. I’m just going to wrestle to the best of my ability.”
“I’m not disappointed at all,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace, whose program qualified at least one competitor for states for the ninth year in-a-row. “For these guys to be here, it’s an honor in itself. You want them to enjoy the experience. There’s a lot of good kids who didn’t make it. It always (stinks) when you lose. But you’ve got to take a step back and put things into perspective.”
Against Rogan, Moore broke a scoreless tie with an escape 11 seconds into the second period, before a penalty point pushed his lead to 2-0. Moore posted a pair of takedowns in the final period to place an exclamation point on his victory.
With the result, Moore moved to 37-4 on the year.
“I wrestled him twice at regionals,” said Moore of Rogan. “He’s a good wrestler. But I know what he does. It was just a matter of wrestling smart.
“Even though my record didn’t show it, my experience on the big stage last year opened my eyes for this season,” added Moore. “I just want to do better than last year.”
In his opener, Moore took a late 4-3 edge when Weightman was whistled for stalling. But seconds later, Weightman reversed Moore, then pinned him with three seconds remaining in the bout.
Moore had rallied from a 3-0 deficit with a third-period escape and takedown.
“I definitely should’ve had that first match,” said Moore. “I can’t let that happen. I felt like I was the better wrestler. But I’m still new to the sport.
“I just got caught in something dumb,” Moore continued. “You can’t make mistakes at this level. I made one and it cost me.”
Briedegan had his career ended by an 8-1 loss to Chris Arciuolo of Saucon Valley in the initial round of consolations. Arciuolo pulled off a first-period, five-point move on his way to notching the initial eight points of the bout.
In his preliminary match, Breidegan absorbed a 12-2 setback at the hands of St. Joseph’s Catholic junior Amonn Ohl. Breidegan tallied that bout’s first takedown before Ohl notched the next 12 points.
The losses left Breidegan 37-12 on the year.
“It’s a pretty big deal. Not a lot of kids can say they’ve made it to states twice,” said Wallace. “Brandon as a kid and a person exceeds Brandon as a wrestler. He really goes about his business the right way. That’s what I want our younger wrestlers to take from him.
“It’s tough to come from behind at states,” continued Wallace. “During the season, you can get down and come back. The kids here are at a different level. It’s not that it can’t be done, but these are the best kids in the country. You want to try and score the first takedown, but the most important thing is staying focused for the entire five or six minutes.”
Lehman was the victim of two first-period falls. In his opener, Lehman was pinned by Carlynton’s Chase Brandebura in 1:10, then he was decked in 30 seconds by Coen Bainey of Bald Eagle Area in the first round of consolations.
Against Brandebura, Lehman had enjoyed a 2-0 lead with an early takedown. Lehman concluded his ninth-grade year 37-18 overall.
“Any time you make it here as a freshman, it’s a big accomplishment,” said Wallace. “As many kids as we’ve had here in the last ten years, we haven’t had that many freshmen. He’s the smallest kid in his weight class. He’s battling size and strength. I think his goal will not only be to get back here, but to make it to the podium.
“We do the same things every day. We do the same things every week,” added Wallace. “We prepare the same way. We stay at home and do our drills. At this time of the year, our kids have 50 matches under their belts.”
Inman’s career was ended by a 10-1 loss to Tyrone Area’s Hunter Walk in the initial round of consolations. Walk led 4-0 after the first period.
Inman had opened his tournament with an 8-4 setback at the hands of Deegan Ross of Lackawanna Trail. The Little Dutchmen 12th-grader enjoyed early leads of 2-0 and 4-2.
Inman was making his third appearance at the state tournament. He finished his senior season with a 32-12 mark.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Wallace of the Vikings’ streak of state qualifiers. “It’s having kids perform at the end of the year. It’s the pinnacle of the season. It’s where you want to end up. It’s not a given. We’ve coached a lot of good kids who haven’t gotten here. You try to be thankful for what you get.”