Altoona’s McClellan advances to 3A semis

Photo for the Mirror by Tami Knopsnyder Altoona’s Parker McClellan beats Greg Bensley.

HERSHEY — Altoona senior Parker McClellan will be standing on the medals podium on Saturday night at the Giant Center.

It’s just a matter now of how high on the podium he’ll be.

McClellan reached today’s 9 a.m. PIAA Class 3A Championships semifinals by defeating Pocono Mountain West’s Greg Bensley, 6-4, in the 220-pound quarterfinals on Friday.

Afterward, Altoona coach Joel Gilbert was ecstatic about the win.

“This young man worked his whole career, focused solely on wrestling and he wanted to medal,” Gilbert said. “He accomplished his goals. There’s nothing more exciting than him accomplishing his goal in my opinion.”

McClellan, on the other hand, was more reserved.

“It feels really good knowing that I’m going to be on the podium, but I want more than that,” McClellan said. “I want to win this next match. I’m going to try as hard as I can to do that.”

McClellan is one of three area wrestlers who will place in the top eight. Altoona teammate Matt Sarbo (106) and Hollidaysburg’s Mason McCready (182) have also reached the medal round in the consolations.

Hollidaysburg’s Nathan Swartz (138) and Philipsburg-Osceola’s Matt Johnson were eliminated on Friday.

McClellan (29-5) and Bensley traded reversals in the first two periods, and Bensley escaped with 7 seconds left in the second period to take a 3-2 lead into the third. McClellan also had two cautions against him going into the period.

“We talked about calming down,” Gilbert said. “You’re allowed two cautions, so why not take them, but you have to calm yourself and relax. Instead of trying to get a jump, you have to wait for that whistle to blow. He never got another caution after that.”

Instead of cautions, there were points. McClellan escaped early in the third and scored a takedown with 1:14 remaining. Bensley escaped, but he gave up a caution point with 16 seconds left to set the final score.

“I wrestled him earlier in the year, and the same thing happened, so I really wasn’t worried about it,” McClellan said. “I had to dig deep for that one. That was a tough win. I knew I had to do something because I didn’t want to take him to OT.”

McClellan will wrestle Shippensburg’s 36-0 Cole Forrester in the semifinals. He lost to Forrester at the Ultimate Warrior Tournament.

“We lost to him, 9-4, but the score was 4-4 going into the third,” Gilbert said, “and we got reversed to our back. I think he’s looking forward to wrestling him, and we’re happy as can be with the outcome.”

“I know a lot about him,” McClellan said, “and I’m going to have a game plan going in. I’m going to wrestle as hard as I can no matter what.”

Sarbo (32-6) rolled through the consolations with a pin of East Pennsboro’s Adam Jacob in 2:55 and an 18-5 major decision over Coatesville’s Brennan McBride in the third round of consolations.

“It feels good,” Sarbo said. “There’s still a lot of work to do. We didn’t get what we wanted, but I’m a freshman, and I have a lot to learn.”

McBride kept trying to throw headlocks on Sarbo, and Sarbo kept slipping them for takedowns. Sarbo had six takedowns in the bout.

“He wants to win too,” Sarbo said of the headlocks, “but I just had to stay in good position.”

McCready (30-7), who lost in the ultimate tiebreaker on Thursday, went 2-0 on Friday with a 1-0 win over Hampton freshman Justin Hart and a 3-1 victory over Delaware Valley’s Andrew Kidd. McCready scored a takedown in the first period to take the lead, and then Kidd released him in the third. McCready avoided any danger the rest of the way.

“That kid is a tough kid for sure,” McCready said. “I love getting out and competing against the best guys in the state. If you place down here, you’re probably one of the better guys in the country.”

“I tell you what, he has put together quite a tournament,” Hollidaysburg coach Christian Harr said. “He has been wrestling super smart, aggressive, controlling each of these matches and just sticking to the game plan.”

When his hand was raised, McCready jumped into Harr’s arms, almost knocking him over.

“I was pretty pumped,” McCready said. “I just got a whole burst of energy. It feels great right now, but I still want to come back tomorrow and keep working. To finally accomplish a goal of mine I’ve had forever is great.”

“I almost went to my back, but I caught myself,” Harr said.

McCready is the first Golden Tiger to place at states since Brian Shaw in 2006.

“It shows that our coach is doing a great job with us,” McCready said. “I believe everything he tells us. I feel like you’re going to see more guys from Hollidaysburg come down here and place.”

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment on his part,” Harr said, “and we appreciate the opportunity that Mason, and also Nathan, provided for us this weekend.”

Swartz (31-9) went 1-1 on Friday, beating Gettysburg’s Joseph Pecaitis and losing to McDowell’s Leno Ciotti, 3-1. Ciotti scored a takedown with 3 seconds left to win to end Swartz’s senior year and a 2-2 appearance at states.

“That’s a tough loss,” Harr said. “That’s hard to swallow. It’s hard to put into words as to what you feel for Nathan right now. The kid has dedicated his life to wrestling. The good thing is he didn’t hold anything back.”

Johnson dropped a 4-2 decision to Pine Richland freshman Cole Spencer in the second round of consolations.

“He fought every second,” P-O coach Brad Pataky said. “That’s all you can ask of a kid. Just getting to this tournament is difficult to do. It showed Matt what he was capable of doing. He accomplished one of his goals, getting to the tournament. I’m just really proud of him.”