Dried blood clung to Nick Naglic’s lip.
A cut to his right eyebrow had finally stopped bleeding but was in need of some stiches.
And the Richland wrestler had a huge grin on his face.
Such is the life of someone who loses his first match at the Southwest Regional Class AA Wrestling Tournament and then comes back to win four consecutive matches and earn a spot in Hershey for the state tournament next weekend.
Naglic did just that, capping his run with a 3-1 victory over Huntingdon’s Jacob Oliver for third place at 145 pounds on Saturday. The Richland senior is one of 23 wrestlers from The Tribune-Democrat’s coverage area that placed to qualify for the state tournament.
Naglic also qualified for the state tournament last season, but after losing to South Fayette’s Brett Beltz on Friday afternoon, a return trip was a long shot. Locked up in a tie match with District 5 champion Trent Crouse of Chestnut Ridge in the closing seconds of a win-or-go-home bout on Friday night, Naglic tried a dangerous throw. He tied up his opponent’s arms and fell onto his own back in an attempt to launch Crouse to his. At first, it didn’t look like it worked, but eventually Naglic forced Crouse to his back for a takedown and the victory.
“I knew I had to do something. It was either then or the first minute of overtime. I had it locked up and I like that throw, so I went for it,” Naglic said.
From there, he picked up momentum.
“Today I knew I had the pressure, I had to come out. I knew if I lost my first match I was done,” Naglic said. “I wouldn’t get back to Hershey.”
He scored a major decision over Mount Pleasant’s Austin Mears, then pinned Marion Center’s Isaac Stewart – the same wrestler who beat him in the District 6 tournament two weeks ago – to ensure a spot in the top four and a return trip to Hershey.
“This season, I’ve had some troubles,” Naglic said. “Coming out last year and being a state qualifier – nothing’s easy, but I thought I could come out and dominate a little more this year. But I had to come out and wrestle my best. I had a whole lot of guys that were very good.”
Arguably, none is better than Oliver. The freshman entered the tournament with a 34-1 record and the District 6 title. But Naglic frustrated him from the neutral position – when the match wasn’t being stopped for the bleeding from the cut above his eye – and held on for the victory.
“I like to go and grind on him,” Naglic said of trying to wear out his opponent. “It was hard to get him tired. We both got breaks the whole time.”
Richland’s Nico Pecora also qualified for the state tournament by placing third at 170 pounds. Adam George fell just short, placing sixth at 126 pounds.
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Fresh face: Somerset’s Austin Hemminger made his first trip to the regional tournament a memorable. The third-place finisher in District 5, he wasn’t expected to do much. In fact, he said his goal coming into the tournament was to survive until the second day.
The freshman did much more than that. Hemminger scored a reversal in the closing seconds to stun Meyersdale’s Tanner Hetrick, which was good for fifth place at 132 pounds and a place in the state tournament.
“I never would have thought I’d even make it to regionals as a freshman,” Hemminger said. “It’s pretty exciting.”
So was his 5-4 victory over Hetrick. The Meyersdale senior trailed 3-2 for much of the third period, but he scored a reversal to take the lead in the final 30 seconds. Needing only to ride out Hemminger for the victory, Hetrick looked to be in control.
“I thought I was getting in trouble there,” Hemminger said. “I just wrestled to the end. You go hard to the end. That’s what we work for.”
It paid off, as Hemminger scored a reversal with about four seconds remaining for the victory.
The Golden Eagles also have a qualifier at 170, where Landon Lohr took third place. Quinn Cole finished just short, placing sixth at 106.
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Late heroics: Not all of the drama was reserved for the medal round. Westmont Hilltop’s Logan Blackburn used a headlock in the closing seconds to force overtime against Huntingdon’s Collin Glorioso, then scored a takedown in overtime to beat the sophomore, who placed third in the state last season.
Blackburn, who lost to Glorioso in the District 6 finals two weeks ago, trailed 2-0 in the closing seconds, when he came up with the desperation headlock.
“I knew he’d be ready for a shot, so I thought I’d just rush him,” Blackburn said. “What’s the worst that could happen? There wasn’t much time left. You just can never give up.
The takedown gave him the confidence to get in on a shot and score the winning takedown in the overtime period.
“I felt like I had a little edge, just because I had the momentum,” he said.
Blackburn didn’t need any drama in his third-place bout. He won via medical forfeit over Bedford’s Jon Gabriel.
Bedford coach Brian Creps didn’t say what Gabriel’s injury was, but said that with a trip to Hershey already assured, there was no sense risking further injury.
“He’s just a little banged up and it wasn’t worth wrestling this weekend,” Creps said. “If everything goes well, he should be OK for next weekend.
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Milestones and medals: Taylor Cahill and Bryce Fochtman made sure Saturday was memorable for Berlin Brothersvalley fans.
The juniors each picked up their 100th career victory and clinched a second consecutive trip to Hershey.
Cahill did it in the consolation semifinal round, when he pinned Highlands’ Nolan Wise. Cahill ended up losing his consolation final match to South Fayette’s Grant Fetchet – who also beat him on Friday night – but earned the PIAA appearance with a fourth-place finish at 152 pounds.
Fochtman, who was the second seed, lost back-to-back matches and was in danger of not getting the milestone or a medal on Saturday. He lost 5-2 to Cambria Heights’ Levi Niebauer in the semifinal round on Saturday morning, then was pinned by Jefferson-Morgan’s Ryan Zalar.
“Getting knocked off, it’s like an ego check,” Fochtman said. “You have to bounce back. I didn’t get it that first round of consys, but that fifth-place match is a gut-check. You win, you go on, you lose you go home.”
Fochtman made sure he wasn’t going home as he beat Mount Union’s Dylan Smith 6-3. While Fochtman hit the century mark with the win, it was the PIAA berth that really was important to him.
“I’d much rather be headed down to Hershey than getting my 100th win,” he said. “Getting to Hershey is much more important to me.”
Berlin’s Joe Swank also qualified for the state tournament by placing fifth at 120 pounds.
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Talented trios: Cambria Heights is one of four local teams that is sending three wrestlers to the state tournament. In addition to Niebauer, who placed second at 160 pounds, the Highlanders have heavyweight Aaron Gill, who placed fourth, and 126-pounder Joe Davis, who beat Richland’s George for fifth place.
“Three guys going is awesome,” Cambria Heights coach Mike Eckenrode said. “The places – you always want one better. I’m delighted to have all three of them going. The match for Levi to get into the finals was big, but the match for Davis to go for fifth? That just made my day.”
In addition to Cambria Heights and Berlin, Chestnut Ridge and Bedford each had three qualifiers.
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Dominant district: There have been complaints from local wrestling fans over the past few years about the fact that District 7 gets seven regional qualifiers while District 6 gets four and District 5 gets three.
But the WPIAL flexed its muscles again on Saturday, as District 7 wrestlers won 11 of the 14 titles. Burrell captured the team championship with 98 points. Jefferson-Morgan, South Fayette and Valley – all District 7 schools – claimed the next three spots.
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Holding out HOPE: James Bennett, a 195-pounder from Hyndman, won the lone title for a District 5 team.
But Chestnut Ridge coach Greg Lazor said it wasn’t as bad as it looked for District 5, which had 14 qualifiers.
“That’s more than usual,” he said. “We’ve been hitting seven, eight, nine (qualifiers). So the numbers are up. There’s a lot of fourths and fifths in there where we’d, obviously, like to have a couple more up top. But we’re going to have to take a lot of the blame for that. Us and Berlin, two of the better teams (and) Bedford – we were supposed to have the guys do what I’m talking about and we didn’t. We’re going to have to shoulder a lot of the blame. But overall, I think District 5 is sending a good number.”
Chestnut Ridge’s qualifiers are Aaron Burkett (106), Conner Buttry (182) and Austin Buttry (285).
Bedford can send Gabriel, Ryan Easter (132), Garrett Thomas (138) to the state tournament and the Bisons finished fifth in the team standings. Chance Williams finished sixth at 182 pounds.
“When you get four placewinners, that moves you up in the standings pretty well,” Bedford coach Brian Creps said. “Ryan and Garrett wrestled really well. They had good tournaments, were able to get third.”
Meyersdale’s Gavin Berkley took third at 182 pounds to give District 5 another qualifier.
District 6 didn’t do much better in the producing champions, as Central Cambria’s Max Murin (106) and Penns Valley’s Corey Hazel (170) are its only champions.
Other local District 6 wrestlers to qualify for the state tournament are: Central Cambria’s Tom Opdenhoff (106), Forest Hills’ Triston Law (120), Penn Cambria’s Nolan Link (106) and United’s Tyler Oliver (195).
Eric Knopsnyder covers wrestling for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/eric_knopsnyder.