Silver lining: Altoona’s McClellan drops title match, 7-5

Photo for the Mirror by Tami Knopsnyder Altoona’s Parker McClellan battles Sun Valley’s Hunter Catka in the 3A 220-pound championship match.

HERSHEY — Some raised their eyebrows when Altoona’s Parker McClellan moved up to 220 pounds late in the season.

The move nearly put him at the top of the medals podium at the PIAA Class 3A Championships on Saturday night at the Giant Center.

McClellan, a senior in his second state tournament, reached the championship finals, but he dropped a 7-5 decision to Sun Valley sophomore Hunter Catka.

“It definitely worked out a lot for me,” McClellan said of the move up. “Second in the state is definitely an accomplishment to be proud of. It’s definitely something I’ll remember forever.”

Steve Maurey was the last Altoona state champion, winning at 112 pounds in 1974. Five Altoona wrestlers had finished second since prior to McClellan, including Cole Manley and D.J. Hollingshead in 2015.

Two other area wrestlers placed Saturday in Altoona’s Matt Sarbo (106), who was seventh, and Hollidaysburg’s Mason McCready (182), who took eighth.

In the finals, Catka scored two takedowns with snapdowns to take a 4-1 lead, but McClellan’s reversal with 3 seconds left in the first period made it 4-3.

“He had real heavy hands. He was real strong,” McClellan said.

After a Catka escape, the first of many blood timeouts between the two started.

After the first timeout, Catka (41-1) hit a low double-leg shot at the edge of the mat for a 7-3 lead. McClellan (30-6) escaped to draw closer. In the third, after his own blood timeouts, McClellan escaped with 45 seconds left. He couldn’t get a takedown, though, to tie the score.

“There’s not too many times in your life that you get to accomplish your goals,” Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. “He achieved his. His goal was to be a state placewinner, and he did it. He almost got all of the way to becoming a state champion. We’re real proud of the way he competes out there and what he’s done for the program for the last four years.”

“I didn’t get the win, but I did everything I could to get the win,” McClellan said. “I didn’t get it this time, but I’m happy with my performance. I didn’t even know if I was going to place, so to place in the top two is amazing. It’s definitely a little disappointing, with being so close to winning, but it’s just stuff I have to fix for my future career.”

McClellan said he’ll be wrestling in college, but he’s undecided where that will be.

“It’s going to be real hard to replace him,” Gilbert said, “not just as a wrestler, but also as a captain and as a young man who didn’t talk about it — he did it. Any you told him to do, he did it.”

McClellan reached the finals with a thrilling 4-3 tiebreaker win over Shippensburg’s Cole Forrester in the semifinals. Forrester beat McClellan, 9-4, at the Ultimate Warrior Tournament, but this was McClellan’s morning.

“I went out and wrestled as hard as I could,” McClellan said. “This time I did it.”

McClellan got the takedown in the first period and gave up an escape. Forrester escaped in the second to tie the score, 2-2.

“That was crucial for me,” McClellan said of the takedown. “I knew that it was hard to get in on him. He’s a big guy and he has good hips. I went for the ankle pick, and I got it.”

“That early takedown was big,” Gilbert said. “He is very good with his ankle picks. He was able to control some of the match. He didn’t go out crazy, just shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, which he has done in the past wrestling that guy. We took a different approach to the match, and it paid off.”

McClellan immediately escaped at the start of the third to take the lead. McClellan was called for stalling with 58 seconds left, and he was called again with 12 seconds left to tie the score, 3-3.

“I didn’t even realize I had a stalling call on me,” McClellan said. “That’s why I was backing up so much. If I had known I had one on me, I would have circled way moreand maybe got in on a front headlock or something.”

McClellan paced back and forth as Forrester took the first of his two blood timeouts after that point.

Regulation ended, and they went into overtime, where there was no scoring. McClellan rode Forrester out in the first tiebreaker, and the Mountain Lion escaped 12 seconds into the second 30-second period.

When the final seconds were ticking off of the clock, Gilbert was raising and pumping his arms. McClellan came back to his corner and jumped into Gilbert’s arms.

“You couldn’t ask for a better person, student and athlete,” Gilbert said after the win. “It’s just a wonderful feeling.”

Sarbo, who reached the medal round with dominating wins on Friday, suffered a 9-8 loss to Bethlehem Catholic’s Matt Mayer in the fourth round of consolations. That dropped him into the seventh-place bout, where he rebounded with a 6-1 win over Pope John Paul II’s Matt Vulakh.

“It was a good way to end the season,” Sarbo said. “I wrestled hard, and I went out and got the win. I have a lot of work to do. We were looking for different results.”

Sarbo scored a takedown in the first period, and he got a reversal in the second for a 4-0 lead. Vulakh’s only point was off of an interlocking hands call in the second period. Sarbo received two stalling points in the third to set the final.

“I was just trying to score points,” Sarbo said, “and still have no matter what the situation is. I just want to go out there, do what I do and enjoy it.”

Sarbo (33-7), who was 3-2 in the tournament, is already looking forward to next season.

“There’s a lot of work to do, and I can’t wait to get to it,” Sarbo said. “I’m going to take a little break and get right back on it. We’ll come back here and look for a title.”

McCready, the first Hollidaysburg state placer since Brian Shaw in 2006, dropped an 8-3 decision to Butler’s Christian Sequete in the fourth round of consolations. The bout was tied, 3-3, until Sequete reversed McCready to his back with 10 seconds remaining.

That dropped McCready into the seventh-place bout, where he lost to Lower Dauphin’s Brendan Shaffer. After a scoreless first period, Shaffer escape and scored a takedown in the second.

McCready (30-9) had an escape in the second and third, but he couldn’t get a takedown as he shot until the end.

“That’s a big accomplishment, a big deal,” Hollidaysburg coach Christian Harr said. “Mason should be very, very happy and proud that he came away with a medal this weekend.

“Everybody wants to win that extra match. Everybody wants to get to that next round. In the end, he’s still hungry, and that’s the best part because he’s willing to sacrifice and do these things now to learn later.”