HERSHEY — Brayden Wills was already one of the best wrestlers in District 3 before he took the mat Saturday. He may have also been one of the most unheralded — something that was no longer the case by the time the final buzzer sounded.
The Mechanicsburg senior scored a victory Saturday that had long eluded him, when he finally broke through in his fifth crack at Cumberland Valley senior Will Kaldes and claimed a 3-1 victory to take the 152-pound championship at the District 3 Class 3A Individual Wrestling Championships.
Kaldes won matches against Wills at the sectional, district and state levels last year, and did so again at last weekend’s sectional championships. Those outcomes had left Wills a prohibitive underdog when they collided for the fifth time.
“Last year, by states, he kind of got to me mentally,” Wills said. “This year I went into it again and I felt more confident — and he pinned me. At that point I’m just like, ‘I’m sick of losing to him. Honestly, it doesn’t matter, because I’m not expected to win. Nobody thinks I’m going to win this match, so why not prove everyone wrong?’”
The key was Wills getting the first takedown, allowing him to avoid the deficits he had faced in the prior meetings. He kept that 2-0 lead until two seconds remained in the second period, when Kaldes escaped to halve the advantage.
Kaldes then elected to cut Wills to open the third, giving the Wildcat a 3-1 lead and choosing to duke it out from neutral. Wills never allowed the tying takedown.
“I wanted to go out there and finally get my win,” Wills said. “My coaches told me that I need to go out hard. It doesn’t matter how I do, I’m in states anyway. Just go out and score points as much as I can, and ride him out if I get a takedown. That’s what I did.”
Big Spring crowned a pair of champions Saturday in Class 3A, the first time the Bulldog program had done so since 2006.
Blake Barrick walked away with the 195-pound title, earning a 7-1 victory over Cocalico’s Ben Fromm in the championship match. The Bulldog junior notched the first takedown early in the opening period, setting him up for a solidly wrestled bout in which he was never in danger.
It was a nice turnaround from Barrick’s previous two trips to districts, when the medal stand was out of his grasp.
“The past two years, I didn’t even place at all,” Barrick said. “I got knocked out early on the second day both times, so it just feels good to finally get the gold.”
The victory gives Barrick a more advantageous draw for the state tournament, although he proved during district weekend that he doesn’t necessarily need a champion’s spot to be successful. He had fallen to Northern’s Jake Koser in a strong weight class at sectionals, a loss that sent him back to room in an effort to improve his finish at districts.
“It’s week to week when it comes to the postseason,” Barrick said. “I didn’t win sectionals, but I knew I could win this if I just worked harder and sweated more and worked my butt off.”
Big Spring’s other gold belonged to senior Tucker Brough, who again topped rival Cal Reichart of Cumberland Valley in the 145-pound title match. It was yet another low-scoring affair between the two, with Brough needing only a second-period escape to claim the 1-0 victory and his first district title.
Long gets a gold
In another case of a wrestler overcoming his rival, Cumberland Valley senior Wyatt Long nabbed his first district title by knocking off Central Dauphin junior Andrew Wert.
This was the first meeting of the season between the two wrestlers, but there was history: Wert had dealt Long a 2-1 defeat in last year’s semifinals, and he had also gotten the best of Long in a 4-0 victory during the 2016 District 3 Team Championships.
Long wasted no time in showing that he had turned the page from those losses, as he connected on a double-leg takedown soon after the opening whistle. Wert would come back to tie it at 2-2 after two periods, but an escape with 1:28 left ultimately gave Long the gold.
“I look at myself as a much different wrestler from last year,” Long said. “I’m just trying to score as many points as I can, try to wear down my opponents. I have confidence that doesn’t compare to last year. Coming out here, I wasn’t focused on what the score was going to be. I was just focused on attacking and keeping the pressure on.”
Long will be making his third trip to the state tournament, where he will be seeking his first medal.
Quiet day in 2A
It was relatively quiet on the Class 2A front Saturday, where the local contingent pushed 10 wrestlers on to next week’s Southeast Region Championships but failed to crown an individual champ for the first time since 2005.
Two wrestlers claimed silver. Boiling Springs sophomore Kollin Myers squared off with Bermudian Springs’ Austin Clabaugh in a state tournament–caliber matchup in the finals at 126, where Clabaugh connected on cradles in both the second and third periods to nab an 8-4 win.
In the 195-pound title bout, Bermudian’s Noah Fleshman rolled to a 9-1 victory over Boiling Springs’ Austin Taylor.
Myers and Taylor will both advance to regionals, where they will be joined by teammates Cameron Palmer (third, 145), Zack Martin (fifth, 170) and Damon James (sixth, 285). Other wrestlers earning regional bids were Camp Hill’s Luca Colestock (third, 170), Gus LaTorre (fifth, 138) and Jacob Coniglio (seventh, 126), and Trinity’s Colten Drawbaugh (third, 182) and Caleb Bentley (fourth, 120).