Hunter, Brensinger crowned champions at Coal Cracker Tournament
Northwestern’s Mason Brensinger tries to turn Dalton Klinges of Lackawanna Trail onto his back during their 138-pound finals match. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Jim Thorpe’s Derek Hunter, top, tries to fend off a shot attempt by Bronson Strouse of Tamaqua during their 285-pound championship bout at the Coal Cracker Tournament. Hunter won a 2-1 decision. For a video, visit www.tnonline.com. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Derek Hunter’s status among the top heavyweights in the area was cemented well before the Jim Thorpe junior claimed his second straight title at the Coal Cracker Tournament.
Mason Brensinger’s place among his peers wasn’t quite as certain ahead of the two-day tournament. But Saturday, Brensinger went from darkhorse to champion with arguably the best performance of the Northwestern sophomore’s career.
For both, it was simply a matter of building on what was already in place.
“It feels pretty great, honestly,” said Hunter, also a state qualifier a year ago. “It feels pretty good to be able to compete against 40 other teams and come out No. 1, it feels pretty good.”
Hunter prevailed in another classic with Tamaqua’s Bronson Strouse, posting a 2-1 decision in the 285-pound final, reversing a 3-1 loss to his counterpart in the final at the Schuylkill League Tournament a week earlier.
Brensinger capped a remarkable tournament as the 18th seed with an 8-6 decision over top seed Dalton Klinges of Lackawanna Trail in the 138-pound final.
“It means a lot,” Brensinger said. “I had a tough tournament, and there are a lot of good kids here. In that final match, I was losing … and came back to win.
“Seeds don’t really matter much; I just came here and wrestled.”
In addition to Hunter, Strouse and Brensinger, Tamaqua’s Nate Wickersham also advanced to the championship round, but fell 6-3 to top seed Jake Marnell of Hazleton in the 182-pound final.
After a scoreless first period, Hunter took a 1-0 lead, getting out from the bottom in the second. The junior went up 2-0 late in the period when Strouse was hit for stalling.
Strouse cut it to 2-1 following a neutral start to the third period.
“The game plan mostly stayed the same,” said Hunter. “I just had to switch a few things … I improved my conditioning, positioning, and just how I wrestled.
“I just built on what I already had. I tried to work with what I got.”
And it’s something Olympians’ head coach Shawn Albert always knew was there.
“I think he understood that he had to wrestle three strong periods, without looking at the clock, without stopping,” Albert said of Hunter. “Bronson is a really good wrestler, he stays in good position, and I think he feels comfortable to hit a shot at almost any time.
“He understands that it’s not a physical mountain to climb, it’s mental. And that’s important. I’m sure Bronson’s going to come right back at him next time, and he’s going to be ready. It’s always good to see two kids like that going at it in the finals of a tournament like this, and it’s huge for Derek to get the win.”
Hunter, who was seeded third, opened the tournament with three straight pins, dispatching Kennett’s Juan Zurita (0:46), Berwick’s Noah Craig (0:45) and Northern Lehigh’s Josh Schaffer (2:26) to reach the semifinals.
Hunter edged Western Wayne’s Jack McAllister, the No. 2 seed, 3-2 in the semis to setup the showdown with Strouse.
“It feels like the most complete performance I’ve had,” Hunter said of the tournament. “Because you know the other person is a god wrestler, and they won’t lay down for you.
“You just have to stay strategic with a wrestler of that caliber.”
Strouse, who was the top seed in the bracket, was equally impressive in his run to the finals. The senior pinned Williams Valley’s Jeremiah Lott (2:00), Berks Catholic’s Logan Conlon (0:51) and Meadowbrook Christian’s Gunner Treibley (5:47) to advance to the semis, where he earned a 5-2 decision against Overbrook’s Daishawn Tilghman, who was seeded fourth.
After topping Hunter with a takedown in the final 30 seconds at the Schuylkill League Tournament, Strouse wasn’t able to land another late shot in the rematch.
“He came right at me, just like last time,” said Strouse. “I just couldn’t get my shot at the end. I did take a shot at the end, but he was able to block it.
“But if I hit the high-crotch to a knee exchange I would have had it. But it is what it is, and I’ll be seeing him again a few more times later this season.”
Brensinger stayed aggressive in the final, pushing the pace and tying the score at 2-2 near the end of the first period.
An early escape in the second gave Klinges a 3-2 lead, but Brensinger quickly responded with a reversal to make it 4-3. Klinges got another escape to tie it at 4-4, but Brensinger retook the lead at 6-4, and held a 6-5 advantage at the end of the period.
A reversal in the third pushed Brensinger’s lead to 8-5 and he held on from there, showing the skills he had displayed throughout the tournament.
“He fought really hard through some really tough wrestling in tough situations that, they don’t only score you points, but they keep you in good position and keep the other guy from scoring points,” said Northwestern head coach Jim Moll. “He was smart and aggressive.
“We kind of preach urgency and scoring points, and he did it and he kind of knew when to do it. His timing was good, he was fast, he wrestled strong, and he had a really good tournament.”
In the semifinals, Brensinger picked up a 4-2 decision over Carlisle’s Jarrett Wilson, who was seeded third. Brensinger posted a 5-3 decision over Selinsgrove’s Garrett Paradis, the 10th seed, in the quarters.
The sophomore reached the quarterfinals with a 6-4 win in sudden victory overtime against Berwick’s Nicholas Yule, the No. 2 seed. Brensinger opened the tournament by pinning Northern Lehigh’s Nathan Ellan, who was seeded 15th, in 3:16.
“We’ve seen flashes from him before,” Moll said of Brensinger. “Like last year, he would wrestle really well in some matches, but he would kind of wrestle to the level of his competition and wrestle down to kids who he should beat easily. He’d give some tough kids good matches, but in between, he didn’t always have it.
“Today, he had technique, he was smart and he had everything he really needed.”
No matter the circumstances, Brensinger never got rattled.
“I know that I just have to be cool, wrestle how I wrestle, and I’ll be fine,” Brensinger said. “Everyone gets nervous before a match. But you just have to put that aside and wrestle your best.”
Reaching the final
Wickersham, the No. 3 seed, was impressive in his push the final. The junior ripped off five straight pins, starting with thee in under a minute: Pope John Paul II’s Jacob Rau (0:52), Bangor’s Gabe Woolverton (0:32) and Jim Thorpe’s Caleb McDermott (0:39).
The Blue Raider junior, who also advanced to the finals at last week’s Schuylkill League Tournament, flattened Gettysburg’s Samuel Rodriguez (5:36) in the quarters and handled Faith Christian Academy’s Leo Muzika (1:21), the No. 2 seed, in the semis.
“I think I’ve improved a lot, working on things from all over – top, bottom, and neutral,” said Wickersham. “I think it’s really helping me, because last year, I was taking fifth and not placing as well at a lot of tournament, and now I’ve been wrestling in the finals a lot. So I think I’ve really improved.”
MEDALISTS … In addition to Brensinger, Hunter, Strouse and Wickersham, 16 other Times News area wrestlers also placed in the top eight: Jim Thorpe – Will Schwartz (113, eighth), Gabe Heaney (126, seventh), Jared Newhall (170, seventh); Lehighton – Richard Fronheiser (170, fifth), Alex Zeigenfuss (182, eighth), Brett Gasker (220, fifth); Northern Lehigh – Brenden Smay (106, sixth), Trevor Amorim (145, seventh), Matt Frame (195, seventh), Josh Schaffer (fifth, 285); Northwestern – Ben Griffith (132, eighth), Ryan Haverkamp (182, sixth); Palmerton – Dennis Lombardi (132, third), Shawn Gardner (160, seventh); and Tamaqua – Aaron Coccio (138, third), Carson Krell (170, sixth).
CHAMPS … Gettysburg won the team title with 231 points. Carlisle (213), Hazleton (207.5), Faith Christian Academy (192.5) and Selinsgrove (157) rounded out the top-five. Tamaqua (143) was eighth out of the 42 teams competing, while Northwestern (93) tied for 10th. Jim Thorpe (88) was 15th and Lehighton (81) tied for 16th.
HELPING HANDS … It took tremendous cooperation to make the tournament’s first stay at Lehighton a success. “Everybody did a really good job as far as the facilities. Kyle Spotts (Lehighton Athletic Director) and Floyd Brown, (Indians’ wrestling coach) were both great,” said tournament director Tim Robb. “The three booster clubs – Tamaqua, Panther Valley and Lehighton were phenomenal. Stuff like this doesn’t happen with one or two people. It’s a serious project. The National Guard donating the mats is a big deal. Lehigh Valley Health Network donated the trainers, which is huge. Everybody came together really well.”