HERSHEY - Altoona junior 126-pounder T.J. Brandt is in the same position as he was last year at this time. It's not a position he'd like to be in, but it's one he hopes will put him on the medals stand at the PIAA Class AAA Championships.
Brandt lost his first-round bout on Thursday at the Giant Center, 10-4, to Big Spring's Southcentral third-placer Dustin Rook, but he came back with a 5-2 win over Upper Perkiomen's Dylan Stephenino in the first round of consolations.
"It's nice," Brandt said, "but it still wouldn't have been as nice as winning that first match. But, I just have to keep battling back."
Photo for the Mirror by Tami?Ogline Knopsnyder
Altoona’s T.J.?Brandt beats Upper Perkiomen’s Dylan Stephenino in the consys, 5-2.
"In that first match, I don't think he opened up," Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said, "and in that second match, he did. He ended up being victorious his second match. Down here, you have to open up to win."
Last year, he won his first bout and lost his second to drop him into the second rond of consolations. Had he not lost in overtime, he would have been in the medal round, assured of at least eighth place.
Again, if he beats the loser of Central Dauphin's Tyson Dippery (46-2) and Colt Shorts (38-6), he's made the medal round. But, anybody who knows the quality of Dipper and Shorts will tell you that won't be easy.
"I think his chances are about as good as anybodys to place in the tournament," Gilbert said, "but he's going to have to wrestle. If he's aggressive, I'm real confident that he'll place."
Brandt was the only survivor among the three area wrestlers. Both Hollidaysburg's Damian Huff (106) and Philipsburg-Osceola's Logan Walstrom (145) went 0-2 and were eliminated.
Rook built a 9-0 lead on Brandt after two periods, scoring five nearfall points in the process. Brandt came back with two takedowns in the third, but the rally was too late.
"He was pretty good, but I didn't wrestle my best in that match," Brandt said.
Brandt (30-4) took a 2-0 lead into the third period over Stephenino (37-8), who was a late replacement for Garnet Valley's injured Fred Alderman. They traded reversals in the third, and Brandt escaped with 15 seconds left to set the final score.
"He was aggressive," Gilbert said, "and that's what we preach to him. And that's what he did."
Central Catholic freshman Vincenzo Joseph earned a 16-1 technical fall in 5:31 over Huff in the first round. In his second bout, Huff (26-10) dropped a 5-1 decision to Council Rock South's Dan Martoccio (38-9), who took him down in the first and third period.
"I was nervous coming into this place," Huff said. "It was my first time, so it was pretty scary. I was more focused in the second one, but there's stuff I still need to work on. I was timid taking shots and not too confident. I just need to build up some confidence.
Huff, though, is only a sophomore, and he's looking forward to next season.
"I won't be as nervous coming in here anymore now that I've got the feel for it," Huff said. "This was a year of experiencing it and getting comfortable with it. Hopefully, I can place next year."
Walstrom came the closest of the three to win in the first round, dropping a 5-4 decision to Norwin Southwest Regional champion Heath Coles. Walstrom was then beaten by Plymouth Whitemarsh's Justin Staudenmayer, 3-0, in the first round of consolations.
"It's very disappointing," Walstrom said. "I figured on medaling pretty high."
"That's not what we wanted, that's for sure," P-O coach Tim McCamley said. "We were in both matches and had a chance to win both of them, but we couldn't pull it off."
Walstrom took Coles down in the first period, and he nearly got another one by lifting Coles and attempting to get him to his back, but he couldn't the takedown. Coles reversed in the third, and Walstrom escaped with 15 seconds left in the period to tie the score, 3-3. Walstrom chose down for the final period, and it backfired as Coles tilted him for two decisive points.
"When I picked him up with the double leg, I saw the opening to take him right to his back," Walstrom said, "and he ended up getting his hips out. If I would have gotten that takedown, that would have won me the match."
"That's the first time he's gone to his back all year," McCamley said. "He's really, really tough on bottom, and we figured we were in pretty good shape there. He debated on whether to take neutral. In hindsight, maybe he should have gone neutral because he was in deep a couple times, but that's easy to say now."
Walstrom couldn't get anything going against Staudenmayer and finished the season with a 41-5 record, which is a new school record for wins in a season. His 112 career wins rank him second on the school career win list behind Nate Rupp's 117.
"What can you say?" McCamley said. "He's been one of the best wrestlers in P-O history. I just wish he had more success at this level."
"I think I did pretty good. It's just disappointing not being able to medal two years in a row," Walstrom said. "The season was fun. I'm sad to see that it's done."