Gator Wrestlers

Braedon and Bryent Johnson, just after receiving their matching bronze medals at last weekend’s PIAA Northwest Regional at Sharon High School.

Two years ago, Bryent Johnson wrestled in the PIAA State Championships, with younger brother Braedon watching from the stands. The roles were reversed last season, with Braedon making it to Hershey but Bryent coming up one win shy of joining him.

This time, for the first time in more than a decade, they’re making the trip to states together. The Smethport standouts, in their second season of competing for Port Allegany, each rebounded from a tough semifinal loss to claim a bronze medal at last weekend’s Class AA Northwest Regional, earning a spot on the mat at the Giant Center.

“It felt really good,” Bryent said after securing his second state berth. “I didn’t make it last year, which was really hard on me. So I just worked a lot over the offseason and obviously it turned out in my favor this weekend.”

Explaining that he and Braedon were still in youth wrestling the last time both qualified for states in the same season, he added, “Every other time we’ve always been like, either I haven’t made it or he hasn’t made it. This is the first time we’ve went together in 13 years. Pretty awesome for being my senior year.”

Braedon echoed the sentiment, saying, “I knew in the semifinals, I didn’t really get on my offense as much as I’d like to. So I just had to keep the same attitude of winning and not lay an egg out there, just try to make it to states with Bryent. Once I saw he made it, it was kind of an energy booster for me. Especially in Bryent’s senior year, it’s awesome that we can get to go together one more time, and hopefully we can get on the podium together next week, too.”

Finishing third instead of fourth at Sharon means they’ll avoid the preliminary round where a win earns a match against one of the regional champions, which usually means a quick trip to the wrestlebacks.

“For Bry it’s not as bad, but I think Braedon has two returning state champs and a returning runner-up in his bracket, so getting that draw to not have one of those three kids is going to be really good for him,” Port coach B.J. Greenman said. “He’s got a stacked bracket. But once you get down there, if you find the right path like Braedon said, you can easily wrestle your way into a place just by having a good draw. Everybody’s a really good wrestler; everybody’s as talented as each other.

“The biggest thing next week is just wrestling hard. Everybody is there to win. At the lighter weights, it’s a little tougher because you don’t see as many seniors, but there’s upsets that happen all the time. You’ve just got to be ready to wrestle, ready to compete. Anybody can place; it doesn’t really matter where you’re ranked or what you’re seeded. If our kids just go there and compete the way they can, the way we’ve seen them with some highs, then we’ll do really well.”

With senior Eli Petruzzi just missing out on giving Port a program-record third state qualifier, the Gators placed ninth in the 41-team field, their first top-ten finish since 2015 and just the fifth in school history. District 10 power Reynolds scored 187 points to claim its eighth consecutive team title, with D-9 schools Brookville (123.5), Johnsonburg (84), Brockway (71) and Kane (61) rounding out the top five.

“When we originally got the brackets, we kind of figured that Braedon and Bryent should be there as long as they wrestled okay,” Greenman said. “We were hoping to be able to sneak one or two other kids through if they wrestled up to where they’ve wrestled at times in the year, but I know it’s tough to stay on a high the whole time through. We didn’t get any big upsets, which you almost need to have down here, but everybody wrestled well.”

Six other AMWL grapplers will join the Johnsons at the PIAA tournament, which will begin at the Giant Center on Thursday morning with preliminaries and first-round matches and continue through Saturday’s medal rounds. Kane is sending two-time qualifiers Teddy Race, the league’s only regional champ, and silver medalist Cameron Whisner. Sheffield’s Ethan Finch is also making his second trip, while Johnsonburg qualified the trio of Aiden Zimmerman, Cole Casilio, and Stahli.

Coudersport junior Cale Ayers went 1-2 in the tournament, finishing his junior campaign with a 26-4 record and a 70-21 career mark, with Oswayo Valley’s Colton Gietler finishing 0-2 to close out his career at 72-42.

Port wrestlers:

113: Bryent (24-4, 89-23 career) dominated his tournament opener with a 14-0 win over D-10 No. 3 seed Joey Gabler (Harbor Creek), knowing that three-time district champ Gary Steen would be waiting in the semis for the second year in a row. Johnson battled against the Reynolds star and Pitt recruit, who held just a 4-0 lead going into the final period before turning a tilt into a pinning combination.

Johnson wouldn’t lose again, beating 40-match winner Gunnar Gage (General McLane) 4-0 in the blood round to punch his ticket to states, then scoring the only takedown in a dramatic 2-1 medal-round win over D-10 runner-up Connor Saylor (Hickory). The referees initially called a late takedown for Saylor to put him up 3-2, then a last-second reversal to give Johnson a 4-3 win, but decided on a do-over of the final 20 seconds of the match.

“They got into a scramble, and I didn’t think it was 2 for the Hickory kid,” Greenman explained. “But when they called it (the takedown), Bryent has to try to wrestle. He wrestled through and scored 2, but afterwards the refs talked about it. This is a great thing that we have two refs; they came together and made the decision that (Saylor’s takedown) probably wasn’t 2, but that’s going to affect how these kids wrestle. So we’re going to have ‘bad time,’ we’re going to put time back on the clock and let the kids decide the match. That was awesome. I talked to the Hickory coach when we were over there, and we were both appreciative that they didn’t put the match in their hands, they took the match out of their hands and let the kids decide.”

126: Braedon (26-5, 81-14 career) tech-falled quarterfinal opponent Carson Filer (Mercer), but couldn’t solve D-10 runner-up Alex Kightlinger (Saegertown) in the semis, dropping a 4-2 decision to the returning state qualifier and eventual silver medalist.

The Smethport junior left no doubt that he was going back to states in his blood-round match, racking up a near-fall in a 9-1 major decision over Liam Foore (Reynolds), then edged D-10 No. 3 seed Seth Donovan (Titusville) 3-2 in the medal round.

“I wrestled decent,” he said. “I didn’t really wrestle to my full ability; my coach has been telling me to get on my offense more. I haven’t been opening up, I’ve been relying on big moves. I guess that’s what I’m going to have to work on in practice on Monday and Tuesday.”

132: Isaiah Caden (27-9) wrestled two tight matches. The junior dropped 1-0 and 3-0 decisions, the second to D-9 runner-up Nolan Shaffer in the consis, and will start his senior year at 54-26.

“I knew Boots was going to have a really tough match, Bubba, Monkey,” Greenman said. “They all battled and wrestled hard matches, it’s just that the competition here is so high that you’re going to lose against good kids.”

138: Eli Petruzzi (30-5) went 4-2, rebounding from a 15-5 quarterfinal loss to D-10 runner-up Alex Ischo (Reynolds) with two consi wins before a 6-3 blood-round setback to Stahli dropped him to fifth place. He closes out his Gator career with an 87-42 career record, placing him 22nd on the PAHS all-time wins list.

“Truly, completely special kid,” Greenman said of Petruzzi, who will play in this summer’s Big 30 Charities Classic before beginning his Air Force career. “As coaches, you want that kid to be able to achieve his goal. He said that afterwards when he was talking to Chad (Saltsman); he goes, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do now. My goal was to be a state qualifier and I didn’t do it.’

“It’s a huge life lesson for a kid that you don’t always get exactly what your goals are, but the work that you put in builds you as a person and as a man. He’s an outstanding young man right now because of that, because of that work ethic he’s got.

“He put in the work and he got himself to the level that he’s at, where he had a real close match against a kid that he’s beaten before to go to states. If you would’ve said that his freshman year, probably wouldn’t have believed it, just because of the strides that he’s taken and the work he’s put in.”

145: Montgomery Tanner (25-11) went 1-2 in the tournament, beating D-10 No. 4 seed Nick Lapinski (Corry) in the consis. A senior, he ends his Gator career at 68-58, but is planning on continuing to wrestle at Pitt-Bradford next year after joining Petruzzi in the Big 30 Game.

“I think that’s what made this a lot easier, that I have something to look forward to,” he said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t go as far as I wanted to here, but… Gotta work for it. I knew what I was getting myself into, but I was down for it.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting it,” he said of his first trip to regionals. “I really had to work for it. A lot of us Port kids definitely put in the work to come here; huge props to everyone who made it.”

Greenman said, “Monkey had a really good tournament. He’s in a place to be able to win a match and then maybe have a chance to win a match and go on to states. He’s come a long way, too. Maturity-wise, his first couple of years, he had some tough bouts of just getting up for matches. He finally got through that, and he had a really solid year for us this year. Every single match, he wrestled almost the same way. He never really had any letdowns the whole year and always kept his head and wrestled well for us. He’s a really solid starter; it’s going to be really hard to replace a kid that you can always count on for points.”

195: Derek Kallenborn (19-13) had the misfortune of falling into the consis opposite D-9 champ Eric Johnson after the Brockway senior was upset in his quarterfinal match. Kallenborn finishes his junior season with a 43-45 career record.

220: Still gutting through the knee injury which will require surgery later this month, Justin Young (17-7) dropped a 3-0 decision to second-place finisher in his first match, then fell to Ayers in the consis. He’ll start his senior season with a 71-31 record.

“I’m glad that he’s out there competing, but by the same token, I wish he was out there healthy,” Greenman said on Friday night. “I wish we could see the Rudy we saw the first couple of tournaments of the year, where he’s beating really good kids.” With eventual silver medalist Joey King, who Young faced in the finals at the season-opening Hickory Tournament, “he was a last-second takedown away from winning that match. He’s right there with the best kids in the state if he’s healthy.”