WEST LAWN, PA – After overcoming some early jitters in the PIAA Southeast regional tournament, 14 local wrestlers were still in the hunt for Hershey.
Northern Lehigh leads the way with five still alive, while Lehighton has three.
Of the four semifinalists, Northern Lehigh advanced two. Nikko Stevens (135) dominated Juniata's Brandon Rowles, 8-2 and then completely controlled Octorara's Mike Blankley to advance to the semis.
"Obviously, Nikko came to wrestle," head coach Todd Herzog said. "He's got a tough one (today) against (Nick) Hodgkins from Wyomissing."
Creamer Hedash got off to a sluggish start, but held on to defeat John Riddle of Boiling Springs, 5-2. After a scoreless first period in the quarterfinal, Hedash exploded for nine points and pinned Conor Myers of St. Pius X early in the third period.
"(Coach) Whitey (Clebove) says nobody hand-fights like me," Hedash says. "That tires my opponents out in the second and third period and then I take advantage of that.
"Everybody is tough here and you can't take anything for granted," Herzog said. "People don't understand the pressure that is on a 14-to-18 year old kid out here. The kids who come loose and use what got them here - those are the kids who move on."
Nerves hit the Bulldog wrestlers early. Colin Hedash (171), last year's 4th place state winner, along with Zane Heller (119) each lost in their opening matches. A locked hands in overtime doomed Heller, while Hedash seemed to do everything but score points in his 8-6 loss to Ricardo Plummer of York Suburban.
Ty Herzog (112), Heller and Hedash are still alive in wrestlebacks for Northern Lehigh.
There were no nerves for Tamaqua's Garth Lakitsky. Fifth-place in last year's regional, Lakitsky made short work of Robert Lee of Hamburg, pinning him in just 39 seconds.
"I knew I could take it to (Lee), so I went out there to try and get off the mat as quick as possible," Lakitsky said.
The energy saved came into good use against Octorara's Nate Ronin, who knocked him out of the quarters last year. Lakitsky battled back from an early takedown and forced overtime. In the overtime he outlasted Ronin, as his takedown at the edge of the mat sent him into the semifinals.
"After he tied it up, he was the aggressor," Coach Jim McCabe said of Lakitsky. "He was in good shape and (Ronin) was tired."
Lakistky's teammate Kolby Mashack (130) won two matches on the night and is still alive in the consolation bracket.
Lehighton's Briar Stern came in as confident as one can be and is making a return trip to the Regional semifinals. Cardinal Dougherty's Desxter Bush took down Stern quickly to take the lead, but Stern responded quickly to reverse Bush and pin him in 2:28. In his first bout, Stern methodically decisioned Littlestown's Raul Leyva 6-2.
"I'm feeling pretty confident right now," last year's Regional runner-up said. "Last year it was my first time out here and I felt the jitters. I feel I can get back to where I was last year and take gold."
In addition to Stern, Lehighton still has Anthony Farole (135) and David Lucykanish (152).
Northwestern's lone entry, Dylan Long (112), advanced to the quarters with a second-period pin but was outmatched. In the first round of consolations, Long pinned Springfield's Zach MacGregor to earn his 100th career win.
Panther Valley's Nick O'Donnell (103) and Jim Thorpe's Dillon Smith (145) won their preliminary bouts but lost in the quarterfinals. Both remain alive in the consolations.
O'Donnell's teammate John Shaeffer (215) held a 5-0 advantage in his first match but got caught out of position and was pinned. He gutted out a 4-3 win in his consolation bout to remain in the hunt.
The quest for Hershey continues todayat Wilson West Lawn High School. Wrestling starts at 9:30 a.m.