HERSHEY - Some wrestlers at the PIAA Championships are in awe of the Giant Center and its participants, and they let their nerves get the best of them.
Altoona's T.J. Brandt did no such thing.
The sophomore 112-pounder, making his second trip to the Class AAA tournament, opened with a 6-4 win over Franklin Regional freshman Tyler Smith Thursday evening.
Photo for the Mirror by Jim Butler
Altoona’s T.J. Brandt rides Franklin Regional’s Tyler Smith during a 6-4 win.
"I wrestled smart and pretty tough," Brandt said.
The other two area Class AAA wrestlers, Philipsburg-Osceola 145-pounder Logan Walstrom and Hollidaysburg 160-pounder Damian Lascoli, weren't as fortunate. They went 0-2 on the day and were eliminated from the tournament.
Brandt, who went 0-2 in last year's tournament at 103, got a cushion right off the bat, headlocking Smith to his back for four points in the first period.
"When it's there, you've got to hit it," Brandt said. "It's a desperation move, but when it's there in big matches, you take it."
Brandt gave up an escape in the first period and in the second before taking Smith down again in the second for a 6-2 lead. That's all the Mountain Lion would need in the victory.
"I thought he wrestled well," Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. "He looked real good on his feet. If we continue to wrestle like that, we'll do real well down here."
Next up for Brandt (31-4) is a quarterfinal bout against Liberty's Anthony Cabrera (35-3), a Northeast Regional champion who was a 5-2 winner over Methacton's Rob D'Annunzio. The quarterfinals are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. today.
"We know Cabrera is a very good wrestler," Gilbert said. "We'll take it one step at a time and one match at a time."
"I've got to wrestle tough," Brandt said, "and hopefully I do well."
Walstrom dropped a 5-1 decision to Norristown's Brandon Parker, and then he was pinned by Northampton's Cole Sheptock in 1:43 in the consolations.
Walstrom missed on a couple takedown attempts of Parker in the first period, but Parker, who now has a gaudy 54-5 record, took him down twice in the second.
"In his first one, he wrestled well in the first period," P-O coach Tim McCamley said. "He wanted to go neutral in the second period, but he didn't get his offense going."
Sheptock was already up 5-0 when he took Walstrom down to his back and pinned him in the second period. Walstrom finished his junior season with a 31-14 record.
"I didn't wrestle up to my abilities here," Walstrom said. "Hopefully, I use this to come back better next year. Just the experience will help me next year."
"It's all a learning experience," McCamley said. "He had a good year. He wanted to be on the podium. The thing is he's a junior, and if you need incentive for next year, this was it."
Lascoli dropped a couple close ones. He lost to Neshaminy's Nick Russell, 5-3, in the first round and to North Allegheny's Alec DeCiantis, 4-3, in the consolations.
Russell took Lascoli down with 4 seconds left in the first period, and he was up 2-1 in the third when Lascoli released him. Lascoli was called for a figure four on the head in the third, making it 4-1. He took Russell down with 30 seconds left, but it wasn't enough.
DeCiantis scored two points in the first off of a failed Lascoli throw attempt. Lascoli escaped in the second and took him down to take a 3-2 lead, but the sophomore notched two more escapes to take the lead. Lascoli narrowly missed on two takedown attempts in the final minute.
Lascoli, a two-time state qualifier who has been accepted at UPJ, finished his senior season with a 29-11 record.
"It's disappointing to have a one and two-point loss," Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore said. "In the first match, we worked on defense the last two days getting ready for the tournament, and it didn't seem to work out. In the last match, he pulled the kid on top of him in the last 8 seconds of the first period. It was a huge mistake he couldn't rebound from.
"Overall, he's had a great career, coming from three wins as a freshman to being a two-time state qualifier. He worked hard to get there. I'm hoping he continues to wrestle in college. I think he's got great potential, and I don't think he's anywhere close to where his ceiling's at."