HERSHEY - Altoona's T.J. Brandt - the school's all-time winningest wrestler and a four-time qualifier for the PIAA Class AAA Championships - is one win away from earning that elusive first medal.
Brandt advanced to the 138-pound quarterfinals with a 4-0 win over Dallastown junior Wes Hoover on Thursday at the Giant Center.
"I think he wrestled well," Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. "A shutout down here is great."
The only other area wrestler of the six that made the trip that's still alive in the consolations is Altoona 285-pounder Austin Rosenberry, who was pinned by Kiski Area's unbeaten Shane Kuhn in 1:46 in the prelims, but he bounced back with a 7-3 win over William Tennant's Andrew Van Buskirk in the consys.
Altoona sophomore 132-pounder D.J. Hollingshead went 0-2 and was eliminated from the tournament, as did senior 195-pound teammate Mante Barnes, Philipsburg-Osceola senior 170-pounder Jay Prentice and Hollidaysburg senior 285-pounder Matt Barton. All four were wrestling in their first state tournament.
Hollingshead lost to Easton's Robbie Rizzolino, 2-1, in the prelims and to Middletown's Bryce Killian, 5-0, in his consy bout. Barnes dropped a 5-1 decision to Governor Mifflin's Jan Johnson, and then he lost a 4-2 overtime heartbreaker to Delaware Valley's Matt Wagner.
Prentice was pinned by Central Bucks South's unbeaten Dominic Rigous in 2:49 before dropping a 3-2 decision to Nazareth's Nicolino Sevi. Barton was pinned by Solanco's Bo Spiller in 1:05, and then he was eliminated by Franklin Regional's Luke Fleck, 6-1.
Brandt, wrestling on the same mat that Hollingshead wrestled his first bout on, scored a takedown in the first period and earned two nearfall points in the second off of a low-leg cradle. He was close to getting a couple more back points at the end of the second.
Brandt (30-3) was unable to escape from the gangly Hoover's leg ride in the third period, but the Mountain Lion was able to move on.
"That's one of the tougher positions in wrestling to get out of with legs," Gilbert said. "We knew he was very good with them. We kind of hesitated to go down or not there, but when you're up 4-0, you have confidence that he's not going to get turned underneath. So, that's why we decided to put him down in the third period."
Brandt will face North Allegheny's Jesse Rogers (37-5) in the quarters, which are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Rogers advanced with an 8-1 win over Tyler Seislove.
"It will be a good bout for us," Gilbert said. "I think he's pumped up, focused and ready to go for tomorrow's bout."
Rosenberry (27-6) came out with a big move in his second bout, hip-tossing Van Buskirk to his back in the first period, nearly getting a pin ahead of the buzzer. He added a couple escapes to advance to the second round of consys, where he'll get the loser of Central Tech's Northwest Regional champion Andrew Welton and Hempfield's Southcentral champ Joey Goodhart.
"He was physical out there," Gilbert said. "He wrestled really tough, and he went after the kid. That's what you have to do down here at this tournament. He almost pinned the kid in the first period. The kid really didn't try anything the whole bout to beat him. Tomorrow he's got an opportunity to place."
Hollingshead (34-6) gave up a first-period takedown to Rizzolino (37-3) , and that was all the Easton senior could muster. Hollingshead rode him the entire second period, but he couldn't get a third-period takedown. Killian (35-6) scored four points in the first period with a takedown and two nearfall points.
"I think some early first-period jitters got to him and he got ridden out," Gilbert said of Hollingshead's first bout. "I t hink he gave a seasoned veteran from Easton all he could handle for a first-round match. I think that kid came off with a lot of respect for D.J. I think you'll see him in the next two years be a contender down here. He got a lot of experience."
In his consy bout, Barnes (29-9) just missed getting takedowns at the end of regulation and at the end of overtime. Barnes escaped in the first tiebreaker, but Wagner took him down with 2 seconds left to go up 3-2. Wagner escaped in the second tiebreaker, and Barnes was unable to get the takedown.
"His goal was to place down here, and he was very close," Gilbert said. "To lose in overtime in the rideout situation is tough. I have a lot of respect for that kid. He started [wrestling] in ninth grade, and to get down here is a huge accomplishment."
Prentice (29-7), an all-state goalkeeper in soccer, kept coming at Sevi (28-9), as is his style, but it wasn't enough. The difference was a third-period takedown off of an ankle pick.
"It's going to be a big loss for the program to replace that kid," P-O coach Tim McCamley said. "He did his best here. We could have had that [second loss]. The first one was sort out of our league."
Barton and Fleck went scoreless in the first period, but Fleck (23-4) escaped in the second, and his takedown in the period was followed by a couple back points. Barton, the outstanding football player and wrestler, finished with a 27-6 record.
"I think nerves played a factor in the outcome of the first one," Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore said. "He battled in the second, and he was a little more focused. The kid from Franklin Regional is pretty good. Matt wrestled with a little more fire against him.
"He had an outstanding wrestling career. He came out of his senior season as a district champion, and he had an outstanding regional tournament. He's a great kid, and his futre is bright."