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Clark, Stewart win Sectional gold
Butzer, Hirtzel also qualify for Districts
In pre-match warm-ups last Saturday night, Warwick’s Evan Clark turned to singer Johnny Cash for a little bit of motivation.
Specifically, Cash’s song, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”
The Warrior junior was worried that he might get cut down from even competing in the District Three Triple-A Section Two Wrestling Tournament, having suffered a knee injury at the Twin Valley Duals one week earlier.
A couple different doctors were pretty confident that he had a Grade 3 MCL sprain.
But following weigh-ins on Saturday morning, Clark got the green light from an orthopedist to do his thing.
“(The doctor) said, ‘It’s just how much pain can you withstand?,’” Clark recalled. “And I was like, ‘That’s good. That’s what I want to hear because I want to wrestle.’”
He certainly took advantage of the opportunity, snapping a 3-3 third-period tie on an escape with just 47 seconds remaining and then holding on for a 4-3 victory over Lower Dauphin’s No. 1-seeded Hunter Harnish in the finals, clinching the 220-pound championship at Hempfield High School.
“I’m absolutely pumped,” said Clark, who improved to 31-4. “Words can’t really describe the way I feel right now. It was the same sort of thing at Leagues. It was, ‘Hey, this would be great if I could do this and advance on to Districts.’ I’m so happy to be where I am right now because the competition here is as fierce as ever.”
“Pumped” is a good word to describe the feelings of other Warwick wrestlers last Saturday as well.
In all, four qualified for the District Three Championships, including junior HWT Ryan Stewart (32-3), who claimed his second straight Section crown, junior Luke Hirtzel (23-11), a silver-medalist at 152, and sophomore Dylan Butzer (18-14), who took bronze at 113. The top four place-finishers in each weight class advanced to Districts, to be held this Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 23-25 at the Giant Center in Hershey. Junior Logan Boring (32-9), who suffered a hard-fought 2-1 ultimate tiebreaker loss to Central Dauphin’s Mitchell Talbott in the 182-pound consolation semi-finals, came up just short, but still earned a sixth-place medal.
“Everything combined, I thought they had a nice day,” Warrior coach Ned Bushong said. “I would have loved to have more go.”
The hope, now, is that the number stays at four. Clark was scheduled to have an early-week MRI, which would give a clearer picture as to the severity of his injury.
“Whatever that says, I’ll take my decision from there,” he said.
Seeded No. 2 at 220 last Saturday, Clark passed his first test with a 2-1 decision over Elizabethtown’s Conner Gill. It didn’t get any easier in the semi-finals, but despite experiencing pain with any wrong move, he gutted out a 3-1 win against Milton Hershey’s Justin Lecadre in the semi-finals.
“I kinda succumbed a little bit to the adrenaline of being out there,” Clark said, “but every once in a while, with a certain movement of the knee, it would really start screaming at me, telling me, ‘Hey, slow down a little bit there.’”
In the finals against Harnish (21-4), Clark snapped a scoreless tie by escaping with 1:52 left in the middle period, then fought off a deep single-leg shot from the LD senior, keeping it 1-0 going to the third. There, Harnish tied it with an escape, but not long after, Clark’s single to a bearhug resulted in a takedown and a 3-1 advantage with 1:31 left.
“After the first scramble that he put me in with his single leg,” Clark said, “I was a little nervous, so I figured I’ve got to get some offense in here soon.”
The lead, though, was short-lived, as Harnish countered with a match-tying reversal just four seconds later.
“I wasn’t ready,” Clark admitted. “I went out there and I was like, ‘Alright, he’ll wait a little bit to get moving,’ and he came right off that whistle and got around behind me.”
It remained tied until the Warrior junior got his go-ahead escape with 47 seconds to go.
“(Harnish) threw in legs,” Clark said, “and that worried me a little bit because, especially guys who are a whole lot taller than I am, which is the majority that are good with legs, it’s hard to get out. I was able to just shimmy my way out and stop his attacks.”
Indeed, Harnish took a couple shots down the stretch, but couldn’t score, and Clark, sore knee and all, was able to prevail.
“That’s all you have to do, enough to win,” Bushong said. “(Evan) wrestles smart, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and that’s all you can ask for.”
“Gill from E-town, Lecadre from Milton Hershey, and Harnish from Lower Dauphin … all three are tough guys that deserve to be right where I am at this point,” Clark said. “It just didn’t go their way this time.”
Nor did it go the way of Central Dauphin’s Evan Childs (32-10) in the heavyweight finals, who suffered a 1-0 loss to Stewart. A year ago, the Warrior junior knocked off ….. for his first Section crown.
“I’m excited,” Stewart said, “but I don’t think I’m as excited now as I was last year when I won. It’s pretty fun the first time.”
Standing between him and the title this time was Childs, who had a 30-pound advantage over Stewart. Neither grappler could score until Stewart, taking bottom to start the second, broke free with :08 elapsed in the period to grab a 1-0 lead.
“There’s only been, like, two people I’ve faced this year that I haven’t been able to get out (against),” Stewart said, “and besides that, I’ve gotten at least one (escape) from everyone I’ve faced.”
Knowing that Childs lost at the Bethlehem Holiday Classic to Cocalico’s Brady Maxwell, Stewart – who is 3-0 against the Eagles’ senior – was confident about his chances.
“I thought I’d maybe be able to get one takedown (against Childs),” Stewart said. “He was pretty good on his feet … I thought it was going to be not too many points scored, but I didn’t think it was going to be 1-0.”
Childs, in the bottom position to start the third, needed to escape to pull even in the match, but Stewart had other ideas, riding him out for the final two minutes. Stewart received a stalling warning with 26 seconds left, but was able to hold on for the win.
“I’ve been working on my top moves and I felt pretty confident,” Stewart said, “because he was so big that he wasn’t going to be able to stand up under my weight.”
“Ryan got that second-period escape and then he just rode him out without any trouble,” Bushong said, “so that was good.”
Stewart will now look to carry his momentum into Districts, where he placed fourth a year ago.
“I’m trying to win, of course, but my main goal is to get to States and place,” he said.
Getting to States is also Hirtzel’s main goal. His chances certainly have to be considered strong if he continues to wrestle like he did in the Section Tournament.
“It was a goal (to get to Districts), it was there,” Hirtzel said, “but the real goal is States and it’s still that. I expected it out of myself to get to Districts. But I’m still super happy to get this far, get to the finals and make it to Districts.”
Prior to competing at Sections, he had to get cleared from a concussion sustained against Ephrata in the final week of the regular season, which he did last Monday, Feb. 13.
“I’m 100 percent. There was no concern (of missing Sections),” Hirtzel said.
The Warwick junior, seeded No. 2 at 152, hadn’t even appeared to miss a beat while decking Lower Dauphin’s David DeNotaris in 5:30 in the quarterfinals. He remained in top form in a 9-1 major decision of Elizabethtown’s Charles Alessi in the semi-finals.
The biggest hurdle of the day came last. That was when he faced Solanco’s top-seeded AJ Wilson (13-1) in the finals. In three earlier meetings this winter, Wilson had a 3-0 record against Hirtzel.
“I kinda knew if I wanted to win this match,” Hirtzel said, “or even keep it close, I was going to have to go big early.”
Which he tried to do when he took a deep single-leg shot within the first 30 seconds of the opening stanza.
“(Wilson) got a whizzer real tight on me,” Hirtzel said, “and once he got it in, he grabbed his own leg actually. I was trying to sell out there. I knew who he was, I’ve wrestled him a couple times … (but) it didn’t work out.”
It wasn’t for lack of effort, keeping it to 4-0 after one, as Wilson capitalized on a two-point tilt late in the period. The Golden Mules’ junior hit a five-point takedown in the second to extend the lead to 11-1 going to the third and eventually finished off an 18-3 tech fall in 4:47 for the title.
“He’s a super technical wrestler and he’s got strength,” Hirtzel said. “He’s not the largest wrestler in the world, but he’s got strength and it’s hard to finish shots, he’s quick off the bottom and it’s hard to keep him down … I felt I had a rally good first match, a real nice second match, and even though the last match didn’t go my way, I felt I still wrestled tough in that match.”
And now he’s got Districts to look forward to at the Giant Center.
“He’s there. Next week is a different week,” Bushong said, “and different styles, different people and all he has to do is be in the top five (to qualify for States).”
Ditto for Butzer, who won three straight matches in the 113-pound consolations to extend his season at Sections, capping his run with a 6-5 win over Palmyra’s Matt Carroll (17-10) in the bronze-medal match.
“We knew the potential was there,” Bushong said. “(Dylan) is a tough little scrappy kid and he had a winning record this year and if you’re hot at the right time, it works.”
Butzer set the early tone by flattening McCaskey’s Noel Montanez in 2:28 in his first-round match. Carroll was next in the quarterfinals, and the Cougars’ freshman came away with a 7-2 victory.
But the consolations offered Butzer a second chance, and he was ready for the challenge. First, he outscored Donegal’s Dylan Bowers by an 11-7 score. Then he won by medical forfeit against Manheim Central’s top-seeded Connor Zeamer. And that set the stage for a rematch against Carroll with the bronze medal at stake, and Butzer responded with the one-point victory.
“We thought (Dylan) had a good chance,” Bushong said, “and he wrestled well in this tournament and got through.”
The Warriors were hopeful that Boring would get through to Districts as well, and he started out on a positive note, edging Lampeter-Strasburg’s Josh Beiler 3-2 in the quarterfinals. Even after suffering a 5-1 setback to top-seeded Leo Higgins (22-3), of Palmyra, in the Final Four, he still had a chance to punch his ticket to Districts in the consolation semi-finals. Boring took Talbott into OT, but came up just a little bit short. In the fifth-place match, Beiler edged Boring by a 5-3 decision.
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