The third time was truly a charm for T.J. Brandt Saturday.
Brandt, Altoona's standout junior and three-time District 6-AAA champion, was making his third appearance in a Northwest AAA Regional Tournament championship match Saturday night at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse.
After settling for second place in his previous two regional final appearances at 103 and 112 pounds, Brandt took home the gold medal at 126 Saturday with a 5-4 victory over McDowell junior Nick Gibson in the title match.
Photo for the Mirror by Jim Butler
T.J. Brandt (top) edges McDowell’s Nick?Gibson at 126.
Brandt was the Mirror coverage area's only Northwest AAA Regional champion and became one of three area wrestlers who will be moving on to the PIAA Class AAA state tournament next Thursday through Saturday at Hershey's Giant Center.
Brandt will be joined in Hershey by Hollidaysburg sophomore 106-pounder Damian Huff, and Philipsburg-Osceola senior 145-pounder Logan Walstrom, both of whom wrestled back for third place in the regional.
Brandt (29-3 this year) came from behind with an all-out effort to defeat the previously once-beaten District 10 champion Gibson, who had built a 4-1 second-period lead by fighting off a Brandt tilt attempt and scoring a reversal.
Two Brandt escapes made it 4-3 midway through the third period, when Brandt took the lead for good by shooting in for a double-leg takedown to go ahead, 5-4. Brandt used leg work over the final minute to ride out Gibson and hold on for the victory.
"I've been longing for it for awhile, this feels great,'' Brandt said following the match. "I knew that I was behind, and I knew that I had to keep pushing the pace. It worked out for me.''
Trailing, 4-2, Brandt picked up an escape and the subsequent winning takedown in bang-bang fashion in the third period.
"That was beautiful,'' Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said of Brandt's winning sequence. "T.J. works really hard at the sport. He wrestles all summer long. He's been here in the finals three times, and it had almost become a little bit of a mental block for him, but he broke through this year. Good things happen when you're aggressive, and T.J. went out and went after his opponent tonight.''
Brandt logged a 10-2 major decision over District 9 champ Dylan Graham of Clearfield in Saturday afternoon's semifinals.
"He had a great tournament,'' Gilbert said of Brandt. "He wrestled tough in all three of his matches here. He's been training for this his whole life. He's now a regional champion, and I'm real happy for him.''
The next step for Brandt is a state medal. He won a match last year in his second appearance at Hershey, but came one victory short of medaling.
"Everybody is tough at that level,'' Brandt said. "You just have to keep performing your best.''
Hollidaysburg's Huff punched his ticket to states with a 3-1 overtime victory over Bald Eagle Area's Travis Giedroc in Saturday evening's intense consolation finals round for third place.
Huff (26-8) lost in the regional consolation final as a freshman at 103 last year and felt the sting of coming one win short of a trip to Hershey. This year, Huff scored an overtime takedown to experience the thrill of victory in the winner-take-all match at 106.
"I'm pretty excited,'' a grinning Huff said afterward. "I've definitely worked hard to get to this point.''
Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore agreed.
"If anybody deserves to go to Hershey, it's Damian Huff,'' Moore said. "It's been a tremendous effort on his part.''
Huff started Saturday in the semifinals, but lost there to eventual regional champ Jake Gromacki of Erie Cathedral Prep, 11-3. Huff came back for a 3-0 win over Bryce Swauger of DuBois in the consolation semifinals Saturday afternoon, setting the stage for his dramatic showdown win over Giedroc for third place.
"I knew I had to go at him,'' was how Huff described his game plan in overtime.
He snapped down on Giedroc's head and spun around the BEA wrestler for the decisive takedown.
"Damian was the aggressor throughout the match, and I think it paid dividends in the end,'' Moore said.
P-O's Walstrom (41-3) earned his second trip to states by taking third place at 145. Walstrom dropped a tough 3-2 decision to DuBois sophomore Tom Sleigh in the semis, but bounced back to top Ryan VanGuilder of Bradford, 9-2 in the consy semis and pin District 10 champ Ehrin Lee, a Titusville sophomore, in the match for third place.
"It's tough to come back through that weight class,'' Walstrom said. "145 is loaded. I just wanted to stay busy on my feet.''
Walstrom made it to states last year at 152, but did not place there.
"I'm real proud of him,'' said P-O coach Tim McCamley. "He came through the hard way. He was upset over the semifinal loss, but he came back strong. That's a testament to him.''
Two other area wrestlers, P-O senior Jeffrey Thompson (160) and Hollidaysburg junior Matt Barton (285) reached the consolation finals, but lost their third-place matches and fell one win short of states. Thompson dropped a 2-0 decision to General McLane's Tyler Hendricks, while Barton lost, 1-0 to McDowell sophomore Scot Augustine.
Meet notes: Eliminated in Saturday afternoon's wrestlebacks were Altoona freshman D.J. Hollingshead (120) and junior Markief Knode (160), P-O senior Jared Smith (152), Jay Prentice (170), and Nick Gray (220), and Hollidaysburg's Laret Miller (182) ... McDowell won the Northwest AAA Regional team championship with 111 points. Central Mountain was second with 99 1/2, and Bald Eagle Area was third with 92 1/2.
Northwest AAA Regional
Team key - Allderdice (ALD), Altoona (ALT), Bald Eagle Area (BEA), Bellefonte (BEL), Bradford (BRD), Brashear (BRS), Carrick (CAR), Cathedral Prep (CP), Central Mountain (CM), Central Tech (CT), Clearfield (CLF), Corry (COR), DuBois (DUB), Erie East (EST), Franklin (FRK), General McLane (GM), Hollidaysburg (HOL), Johnstown (J), McDowell (MCD), Meadville (MEA), Mifflin County (MIF), Obama Academy (OA), Perry (PER), Philipsburg-Osceola (PO), Punxsutawney (PUX), St. Marys (SM), State College (SC), Strong Vincent (SV), Titusville (TI), Warren (WAR), Westmont Hilltop (WH).
Team Results - 1. McDowell 111, 2. Central Mountain 96.5, 3. Bald Eagle Area 92.5, 4. DuBois 89, 5. General McLane 86.5, 6. Cathedral Prep 83.5, 7. Bellefonte 76, 8. Westmont Hilltop 63, 9. Mifflin County 48, 10. Philipsburg-Osceola 41.5, 18. State College 26.
106 - Jake Gromacki (CP) maj. dec. Damian Huff (HOL), 11-3; Mike Kauffman (SC) dec. Travis Giedroc (BEA), 2-0; 113 - Joel Bowers (PUX) maj. dec. Evan Smith (SM), 10-2; Anthony Vizza (DUB) dec. Keller Watkins (GM), 4-2; 120 - Tom Traxler (BEL) dec. Christian Stone (CLF), 4-3, TB; Godwin Nyama (BRS) tech. Fall D.J. Fehlman (WAR), 21-5, 4:41; 126 - T.J. Brandt (ALT) maj. dec. Dylan Graham (CLF), 10-2; Nick Gibson (MCD) dec. Garrett Brown (DUB), 7-0; 132 - Malcolm Harris (J) pinned Zach Britton (BRD), 4:40; Ean DiSilvio (ALD) dec. Mike Walsh (WH), 5-0; 138 - Tim Wheeling (GM) maj. dec. Jared Calson (SV), 15-2; Steve Spearman (MCD) tech. fall Ian Helshel (WH), 18-3, 5:52; 145 - Leo Wortman (BEL) maj. dec. Lee (Ti), 9-1; Tom Sleigh (DUB) dec. Logan Walstrom, 3-2.
152 - Garrett Chase (CP) dec. Dillon Gavlock (CM), 5-3; D.J. Myers (GM) pinned Tanner Patton (WH), 3:48; 160 - Brian Brill (CM) pinned Jimmy Paulson (MCD), :31; Cody Brunst (TI) dec. Shane Marshall (DUB), 5-3; 170 - Jake Taylor (BEA) pinned Carl Langley (PUX), 3:24; Zach Towers (MEA) dec. Geno Morelli (DUB), 1-0; 182 - Ryan Burnheimer (WH) pinned Josh Reid (CAR), 2:59; Khlique Harris (MCD) maj. dec. Laret Miller (HOL), 14-5; 195 - Nick Shawley (BEL) dec. Jack Haffner (SC), 4-2, SV; Landon Hanna (DUB) dec. Aaron Varner (BEA), 10-6; 220 - Tyson Searer (MC) pinned Nate Warner (TI), 3:14; Andrew Welton (CT) pinned Nate Sharkey (BEA), 5:56; 285 - Josh Duplin (WH) pinned Maxx Swoger (SV), 3:31; Garrett Poorman (BEL) pinned Matt Barton (HOL), 3:57.
106 - Bryce Swauger (DUB) pinned John Haperez (BRS), :45; Joe Wheeling (GM) dec. Logan Blackburn (WH), 1-0; 113 - John Ciotti (CP) maj. dec. Dorion Dvaugh-Long (ALD), 10-0; Coleman Cousins (MCD) dec. Trevor Corl (BEL), 3-0; 120 - D.J. Hollingshead (ALT) maj. dec. Cole Hanley (CM), 10-2; Paul Deitz (MCD) dec. Deane Twitchell (GM), 3-2; 126 - Beau Coletta (CP) dec. Logan Bechdel (CM), 11-6; Lucas Besch (MC) dec. Ken Stoll (GM), 8-6; 132 - Neko Cappella (PUX) dec. Levi Catalfu (COR), 4-2, SV; Daniel Yori (CP) pinned Noah Burkhart (MCD), 1:42; 138 - Matt Dillon (BEA) pinned Darius Moore (ALD), 3:48; Joey Miller (CM) pinned Perry Arrington (PUX), 3:20; 145 - Cody Nolan (MCD) dec. Joe Knarr (MC), 3-2; Ryan VanGuilder (BRD) dec. Daniel Krysiak (CP), 12-7, OT.
152 - Jared Smith (PO) pinned Bradley Labovick (ALD), 4:29; Tyree Spearman (MCD) dec. Seth Spack (PUX), 7-3; 160 - Jeff Thompson (PO) dec. Markief Knode (ALT), 6-4; Tyler Hendricks (GM) pinned Quinn Glabicki (ALD), :31; 170 - Nathaniel Powers (CM) maj. dec. Harry Lowber (MC), 11-0; Cody Dunmire (FRK) pinned Jay Prentice (PO), 1:59; 182 - James Grieb (BEA) pinned Joe McLaughlin (SM), :52; Blaze Buckwalter (CM) maj. dec. Dan Geer (FRK), 11-2; 195 - Gervon Simon (J) pinned Kyle Langdon (BRD), 1:35; James Shields (MEA) dec. Devin Dolan (FRK), 4-2; 220 - Cameron Porter (CM) dec. Gary Fledderman (SM), 10-8; Nick Gray (PO) pinned Pat Williams (EST), 4:01; 285 - Scott Augustine (MCD) dec. Kyle Dixon (DUB), 3-1; NeOndre Harbourt (OA) pinned Nate Carlin (CP), 2:35.
106 - Huff dec. Swauger, 3-0; Giedroc dec. Wheeling, 5-3, SV; 113 - Ciotti dec. Smith, 7-3; Watkins dec. Cousins, 5-2; 120 - Stone dec. Hollingshead, 6-2; Fehlman dec. Deitz, 5-2; 126 - Graham dec. Coletta, 8-4; Besch dec. Brown, 3-1; 132 - Britton dec. Catalfu, 8-3; Yori dec. Walsh, 7-2; 138 - Dillon dec. Carlson, 7-4; Miller dec. Helsel, 3-0; 145 - Lee dec. Nolan, 3-1; Walstrom dec. VanGuilder, 9-2. 152 - Gavlock dec. Smith, 7-0; Spearman dec. Patton, 11-6; 160 - Thompson dec. Paulson, 4-2; Hendricks dec. Marshall, 6-3; 170 - Powers pinned Langley, :34; Morelli maj. dec. Dumire, 14-5; 182 - Grieb maj. dec. Reid, 14-0; Buckwalter dec. Miller, 7-2; 195 - Simon dec. Haffner, 3-2, UTB; Varner pinned Shields, 3:18; 220 - Warner dec. Porter, 2-0; Sharkey dec. Gray, 3-0; 285 - Augustine dec. Swoger, 1-0; Barton pinned Harbourt, 2:14.
106 - Huff dec. Giedroc, 3-1, SV; 113 - Ciotti dec. Watkins, 6-4; 120 - Stone dec. Fehlman, 6-4, SV; 126 - Besch dec. Graham, 6-4; 132 - Yori dec. Britton, 4-0; 138 - Miller dec. Dillon, 11-8; 145 - Walstrom dec. Lee, 2:40. 152 - Gavlock dec. Spearman, 3-1; 160 - Hendricks dec. Thompson, 2-0; 170 - Morelli dec. Powers, 3-0; 182 - Buckwalter dec. Grieb, 6-1; 195 - Varner dec. Simon, 9-5; 220 - Sharkey pinned Warner, 3:24; 285 - Augustine dec. Barton, 1-0.
106 - Gromacki maj. dec. Kauffman, 13-2; 113 - Vizza dec. Bowers, 2-1; 120 - Nyama dec. Traxler, 11-6; 126 - Brandt dec. Gibson, 5-4; 132 - Harris dec. DiSilvio, 9-6; 138 - Spearman maj. dec. Wheeling, 13-5; 145 - Wortman dec. Sleigh, 3-1; 152 - Myers dec. Chase, 5-2; 160 - Brill pinned Brunst, 1:35; 170 - Taylor dec. Towers, 7-5; 182 - Harris dec. Burnheimer, 4-2, SV; 195 - Hanna dec. Shawley, 6-4; 220 - Searer dec. Welton, 8-4; 285 - Duplin dec. Poorman, 3-0.