Burrell’s Mele among 4 A-K Valley wrestlers to advance to Class AA regional semifinals

Friday, February 22, 2019 | 10:35 PM

Austin Mele briefly lost track of the score of his match Friday evening as he clung to a one-point lead late in the third period of his quarterfinal bout with Portage’s Cole Sossong. As the wrestlers tumbled on the mat, Mele looked seconds away from allowing a tying escape.

No big deal, though, at least in Mele’s mind: He thought he led by three points.

“My math in the match was a little off,” the Burrell senior said a bit sheepishly.

Good thing his wrestling skills weren’t. Mele hung on for a 4-3 decision over Sossong in their 160-pound quarterfinal match at the PIAA Class AA Southwest Regionals on Friday at IUP’s Kovalchick Complex, earning a spot in Saturday’s semifinals and automatically punching a ticket to the PIAA tournament next month in Hershey.

“To know for certain on the first day is relaxing because today I was a little nervous,” said Mele, who was coming off a sixth-place finish at the WPIAL tournament caused in part by an ankle injury that forced him to pull out of three matches.

“I have a bum ankle. I know people know about that. Everything spreads pretty fast around here. So I knew some people would like to attack it because if you find a weak point in someone, you kind of want to use it to your advantage. I was kind of worried about it, but now since I’m in, I’m relaxed and calm.”

Including Mele, a quartet of Alle-Kiski Valley wrestlers advanced to the regional semifinals, which begin at noon Saturday. Burrell sophomores A.J. Corrado and Ian Oswalt got through at 138 and 120 pounds, respectively, while Valley senior Noah Hutcherson made it to the 170-pound semifinals.

Corrado, Mele and Oswalt all qualified for the PIAA tournament last season, but Hutcherson made it for the first time with a 5-3 decision over Bishop McCort’s Ethan Marcozzi in the quarterfinals.

“It means everything, actually,” Hutcherson said. “It’s what I’ve been working for all four years. I’ve just got to keep working hard.”

The stakes Friday evening brought out the intensity in wrestlers seeking a spot in Hershey. Mele shouted an emphatic “Let’s go!” after getting the go-ahead takedown against Sossong in the third period, then another after the final buzzer sounded.

“When I had him in the deep waters, as we like to consider it, I was kind of so confident in my shot,” Mele said. “I set it up and just went with it, and good things happened. I was thinking to myself during the third period I didn’t really want to wait till the end to get it, but everything worked out in my favor. It was a good match.”

Mele said he thought some people doubted him because of his injury, but he came out strong, getting a 5-2 first-round win over Chestnut Ridge’s Seth Holderbaum before the quarterfinal victory over Sossong. He’ll face Frazier’s Thayne Lawrence in the semifinals.

The two wrestled in the Section 3-AA finals last week, with Lawrence, a defending state champion, winning 7-1.

Hutcherson, coming off a runner-up finish at the WPIAL tournament, pinned Tussey Mountain’s Cole Weist in the first round and led the entire way against Marcozzi, with a third-period reversal giving him what proved to be an insurmountable three-point lead.

“I’m wrestling pretty good,” Hutcherson said. “My stamina’s getting a lot better than what it was. I’ve just got to keep pushing the pace. My will, I just really wanted to win. I just wanted to win that match bad.”

Oswalt, the top seed at 120 pounds after winning a WPIAL championship last week, got to the semifinals with a pair of pins. Corrado scored a major decision over Bishop McCort’s Cooper Warshel in the first round and a decision over Moshannon Valley’s Alex Richner in the quarterfinals.

“These tournaments are tough,” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “(Former Burrell coach Chris Como) always used to say it’s like weddings and funerals: You’ve got some ups, you’ve got some downs. … It’s a good day.”

The tournament began with a surprise at heavyweight, as Valley’s David Schuffert withdrew because of injury.

Burrell’s Jacob Bell came in as his replacement; the junior finished one place shy of qualifying after taking eighth at WPIALs last week.

“I was really sad last week, but I was really happy that I could come out here today,” said Bell, who found out about his opportunity Thursday.

Unfortunately, the day had something of a bittersweet ending for Bell, who lost his first match and then took an injury default from his consolation bout because of a head injury.

In addition to its three semifinalists, Burrell has six wrestlers alive in the consolation bracket: Shawn Szymanski (106 pounds), Nick Salerno (113), Trent Valovchik (126), Bryan Gaul (132), Ricky Feroce (182) and Zach Rupert (195). Valovchik’s consolation-round win over Everett’s Evan Brennan was the 100th of his career. Bell and and 145-pounder Noah Linderman were eliminated from the tournament.

Valley 120-pounder Travis Lasko and Highlands 138-pounder Blake Clark were eliminated during Friday’s action.

The tournament resumes at 10 a.m. Saturday with consolation matches, followed by the semifinals at noon. The championship and consolation finals will take place at 5:45 p.m., with the top six wrestlers in each weight class advancing to the PIAA Class AA championships.

“(I can) wrestle however I want to,” Hutcherson said. “I’m already on my way to the next stage.”

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