HERSHEY — There’s the easy way to navigate the district bracket, and then there’s the way Rafael Portilla did it last season.
Then a freshman, the Carlisle standout dropped a quarterfinal decision to Spring Grove’s Dalton Rohrbaugh, one of the state’s best, before reeling off four straight wins en route to a third-place finish.
Portilla took steps Thursday night to make things easier on himself this go-round at the District 3 Class 3A Individual Wrestling Championships at Hershey’s Giant Center. He claimed a 3-2 win over Dover’s Mason Lewis in the opening round at 113 pounds, and then maintained his spot in the championship bracket with a 1-0 win over Manheim Central’s Cade Zeamer, the Section II champ.
Portilla now needs only to win one more match in order to qualify for states. He’ll get his first crack during Friday evening’s semifinals, when he’ll face Cocalico’s Josiah Gehr.
“I’m more comfortable now here than I was last year,” Portilla said. “Last year was different as a freshman. I was nervous. I got a pretty good draw in the bracket this year, so I’m just going to see where it takes me.”
Portilla’s quarterfinal win came courtesy of a second-period escape.
Zeamer, with choice to begin the third, elected to start from neutral in a bid to secure the victory with a takedown. He never got it, with Portilla using his hand-fighting ability to deny Zeamer any points.
“He’s hard to take down,” Carlisle coach Joe Wilson said. “He hand-fights like a college kid. We’re really confident with him on top, and I think now that kids are choosing to go neutral with him instead of going bottom, it’s starting to give him a little more confidence on his feet because he’s not getting taken down.”
Carlisle added another semifinalist later at 138 pounds, when senior Colton Jumper notched a dramatic 8-7 win over Gettysburg’s Joseph Pecaitis, the Section IV champion.
Jumper and Pecaitis traded the lead in an action-packed third period, with Jumper ultimately getting the upper hand only after he ceded the lead and cut Pecaitis loose with a little more than 30 seconds left in regulation. The move paid off with nine seconds remaining, when Jumper connected on a takedown to claim the victory.
The win represented a comeback for Jumper, who had fallen in sudden victory in last year’s quarterfinal round.
“We knew when he comes off bottom there we need a takedown,” Wilson said. “We’ve seen it in the room, it was just a matter of him being able to transition it out here to a bigger stage — a much bigger stage. Tonight he was able to do it. We’re hoping that it’s starting to be a common thing for him, to take out those big guys and not just wrestle them tough.”
Comeback for Cassidy
Cedar Cliff’s Michael Cassidy has had all manner of experiences at the District 3 championships.
There was the high of his freshman season, when he made a surprise run to a state berth. Then there was the low of his sophomore campaign, when an early exit sapped any momentum earned from his first sectional title.
Cassidy’s third trip to districts is now resembling his first, as he picked up a pair of victories — including an impressive 11-5 quarterfinal victory over Spring Grove’s Clay Baker, the same wrestler who eliminated Cassidy from last year’s tournament — to reach the semifinals at 132 pounds.
“It’s just being healthier,” Cassidy said. “That changes everything. I’m not cutting weight. Last year I cut a lot of weight, and I think that’s what knocked me out of the tournament — and Clay was the one who knocked me out. It felt good beating him tonight.”
The quarterfinal victory was made possible by Cassidy’s superiority from neutral, as he piled up a trio of second-period takedowns to grab control of the match. A third-period tilt by Baker led to three points for the Spring Grove junior and a few nervous moments on the Cedar Cliff side, but Cassidy allowed no more after that.
“Our game plan was to stay neutral,” Cassidy said. “He’s a really good top guy and he turned me once. I just worked on my neutral game and got the win.”
Cassidy was one of four Cedar Cliff wrestlers to claim semifinal berths. Freshman Aiden Lewis (106), junior JJ Wilson (120), and junior Donovon Ball (182) cruised into the semis, with their six victories including two wins by fall and three technical falls.