First-time champs savor golds in District 4 AA wrestling

Eric Hunt is well-aware of just how hard it is to score a takedown against a wrestler from Central Columbia. He’s wrestled them enough in the two years of his varsity career to know Blue Jays wrestlers aren’t uncomfortable if their opponents can get in deep on a leg.

So when Hunt scored the first takedown in his 113-pound final against Central’s Taylor Johnson during the District 4 Class AA tournament Saturday night, the Warrior Run sophomore knew it was a big deal. Blue Jay wrestlers are taught a funk roll seemingly from the time they’re infants, and by the time they reach the varsity level, they’ve perfected it.

The funk roll is a counter to a single-leg takedown attempt, something Hunt has been victim of before. But when he took down Johnson less than a minute into their match last night, Hunt never gave Johnson and opportunity to funk out of it.

He rode that takedown and a pair of escapes to a 4-3 win over Johnson and his first District 4 Class AA wrestling title. He was one of three local wrestlers to capture their first district title last night, joining his brother and Warrior Run teammate Zack LeBarron and Lewisburg’s Brandon Smith.

Of the other local district champions, Milton’s Ryan Solomon won his third, Milton’s Ryan Preisch won his second and Muncy’s Troy Hembury won his third.

Hunt said he had a great week of practice leading up to the tournament where his main focus was finishing on his takedowns. He ended up wrestling a brilliant tournament winning his final three matches by a combined five points.

He was also the only one of 14 district champions which did not win a sectional title a week ago.

“It was a meat-grinder from the beginning,” Hunt said. “But I knew what was coming, so you just prepare for it and do your best.”

What Hunt has prepared for is the funk roll that’s likely to come from Johnson. He had already suffered two losses this year to the Central Columbia sophomore, one by a 4-2 score in last week’s East-Central Sectional final, and a 4-3 loss in the regular season.

Hunt’s 2-0 lead at the end of the first period was a role reversal from the past when he has often had to play catch-up to Johnson. He still held a lead when Johnson wrapped up both his ankles on the edge in the second period. And it was all the momentum he needed to win his first district title.

“There’s so much to say right now, I don’t even know,” Hunt said after a lengthy pause as he tried to find the right words to describe what the win meant to him. “It’s been a fun ride so far. But I’m not done yet.”

LeBarron earned his third win of the season against Muncy’s Angelo Barberio to win his first District 4 title at 106 pounds. Barberio, who was outscored a combined 13-3 in the first two meetings, enacted a new gameplan in which he mimicked LeBarron’s penchant for wrestling from the neutral position on one knee.

It helped Barberio keep the score 0-0 after one period, but LeBarron, one of four remaining undefeated wrestlers in the district, used an escape and a takedown in the second to take control of the match. He rode Barberio for the final 3:32 of the match to win, 3-0.

“In the second or third period I knew I had to score two or three points and just keep it that way for the rest of the match,” said LeBarron, who improved to 32-0. “I’m happy I controlled most of the match and I didn’t let him get a reversal or even to neutral.”

LeBarron got into the final after a wild 11-9 semifinal win over Midd-West’s Corey Stauffer. It was a bout in which neither LeBarron nor Stauffer seemed to be able to gain complete control on top. They both scored points in bunches on top, but could never keep the other one down.

The win over Barberio likely means that LeBarron could see Stauffer in the first round of the regional tournament on Friday night at Williamsport after Stauffer took third. It’s all a part of the process LeBarron hopes to make to get to Hershey in two weeks.

“I want to show that I am good and I can make it to states and hopefully place,” LeBarron said. “I know next week should be basically the same people with just a couple more from District 2. Hopefully I can pull out another win.”

It seems hard to believe, but of the 119 wins in Brandon Smith’s career, none of them have come with a District 4 championship. The returning state fifth-place finisher is a two-time state qualifier and was a regional fourth-place finisher as a freshman.

But Smith always had quite the roadblock in his way at the district level. As a freshman he suffered losses to eventual state qualifier Ryan Longenberger of Bloomsburg and Ryan Solomon in the third-place match. As a sophomore he lost in the finals to eventual state champion Ryan Hembury of Muncy. As last year as a junior, he lost in the sectional, district and regional final to eventual state champion Solomon.

So last night’s 8-0 win over Wyalusing’s Dylan Otis lifted a large weight off the shoulders of the Penn State football-bound 220-pounder.

“This is huge,” he said. “I’ve been coming in second the last two years against pretty good kids. I had some good competition this year, and this was a tough match, but I’m excited I finally got one.”

Smith was dominant as the top seed in the 220-pound bracket, pinning Muncy’s Nick Roberts in 50 seconds in the quarterfinals, and Montoursville’s Connor Bassett in 47 seconds in the semifinals.

And he wasn’t fazed in the least when the final match with Otis got extra physical, to the point which Otis was penalized a point for unnecessary roughness. It wasn’t anything Smith wasn’t used to, and it wasn’t anything he was concerned about.

“I’m used to wrestling some pretty tough dudes in the mat room. I get beat up pretty good,” Smith said. “During the match there’s a lot of adrenaline. Coach said (Otis) elbowed me in the face and I didn’t even notice. It’s just another day.”