MIFFLINTOWN - Sean Heggs has felt the pressure of wrestling on the state's biggest stage, when he competed for the bronze medal in last year's PIAA championships.
The pressure was back on for the Juniata grappler Tuesday when the fate of the team rested largely in his ability to pin Penns Valley's Seth Decker at 145 pounds in the District 6 Class AA team wrestling quarterfinals.
Instead, Decker came out victorious, capturing a 4-2 decision that dispatched Juniata from the tournament. The Rams went on to win the match 33-26, and will travel to Tyrone Saturday for the semifinals and a shot at the state event.
Sentinel photo by JEFF?FISHBEIN
Juniata’s Luke Nanna, right, tries to pin Penns Valley’s Dalton Zerbe during the 138-[pound match Tuesday in the District 6 Class AA team quarterfinals in Mifflintown. See more photos online at cu.lewistownsentinel.com
The Indians have not made it past the quarterfinals since 2004, a year after they won it all.
Juniata coach Mike Robinson was quick to admit that Heggs was in between a rock and a hard place - a situation not of his own making.
"That's a tough situation. You put the pressure on these guys to come through for six and they're looking for the fall," Robinson said. "His opponent was a good solid kid. He did what he had to to slow down the match."
Where Penns Valley - which beat Juniata in its own tournament by a wider margin earlier this month - really made the difference in this one was in a few key matches, the 145 bout being one of them. But just as crucial was 120, where Richie Gilson had a first-period takedown and chose to start the second on defense - then got caught on his own move and was pinned. Even a decision for the Indians in that one would have more than offset the seven-point spread at the end.
"They bumped a 113-pounder and he was a tough kid," Robinson said of the Rams' Curtis Decker. "Should we have that match? I think we should have."
And before that, at 285, Patrick Fitzgerald found himself matched with Penns Valley's Mike Mindt, an opponent who had a similar style and size, and was able to offset Fitzgerald's efforts to get back points. By the time his coaches urged him to cut Mundt and chase him for takedown points, it was too late to build enough of a margin for even a major decision, so the Indians settled for three there.
"He did nothing," Robinson said of Mundt. "His job was to go out and not give up six and he did that."
Bonus points were the key for the Rams, who had three falls and a major decision in the dual. Robinson said that was a major concern, and the outcome justifies his pre-match worries.
"We knew that coming into the match, that we could not afford to give up any bonus points," he said. "They had some solid kids and they have some good depth - to not give up bonus points is a pretty good feat.
"The score was a little closer this time, the margin's a little closer, but we still walk away with a loss. Penns Valley's got a nice squad and did a good job."
The Indians kept it tight, though, fighting for points in the upper weights before coming up short at the low end, which has been their strong spot this season.
After Derek Beitz lost a wild 12-8 decision to start the match at 160, Tyler Hershey and Taylor gave Juniata at three-point edge on the scoreboard. Fitzgerald's decision was the next win - although Juniata got a break when Penns Valley was charged a team point for unsportsmanlike conduct following the 220-pound bout.
But Penns Valley took the next three before giving a forfeit at 125; an Adam Barrick technical fall and a decision by Luke Nanna set up the Heggs-Decker bout. Jared Benner scored a decision to end the night.
Robinson dismissed the lineup change strategy Penns Valley employed, and said there was nothing he would have done differently with his own lineup.
"The coin toss meant nothing because we had our lineup set in stone. For that team that is not bumping it doesn't matter," he said. "We went with the strength of our lineup - we went with the lineup we felt was the strongest. There's no doubt we couldn't have substituted or changed anything to throw at them.
"You just have to wrestle."
Juniata ends the dual-meet season with an 18-4 record and the Tri-Valley League title. Up next is the District 6 Class AA individual tournament, Feb. 15-16 at Altoona Area High School.