Higley, Pietkiewicz keep perspective after match

Walking to the center of the circle to shake hands one final time, Devin Pietkiewicz’s head nodded in approval. The Shamokin state qualifier was far from happy with his loss to Sullivan County’s Nate Higley on Saturday, but the freshman’s effort and third-period push got Pietkiewicz’s endorsement.

There was no ranting, no thrown head gear, no tantrums over the two near-fall points on the edge of the mat which gave Higley the 12-11 win. Instead, Pietkiewicz was complimentary of Higley and his win in the 132-pound final of the South Williamsport Tournament.

And on the flip side, Higley’s reaction to the win over the fifth-ranked Pietkiewicz was very similar. He heaped praise upon Pietkiewicz’s use of the fireman’s carry for a handful of takedowns, and how when Higley looked for it, he still couldn’t stop it.

Higley didn’t point to the win as some kind of ‘gotcha’ moment, and instead put it in its proper perspective, knowing he needs more matches like Saturday’s to be the wrestler he thinks he can be.

For a match which lived up to all the excitement and hype as it unfolded on the mat, it was even more exciting to see the wrestlers’ reactions to it afterward. There was a mutual respect among the two and a healthy competitiveness in hopes the matchup happens again somewhere down the road.

“Losses happen all the time. I’ve had many defeats in my life, and I’ve overcome many defeats in my life,” Pietkiewicz said. “It just happens. There’s nothing you can do about it. Keep your head high, walk off with a smile on your face and get him the next time.”

“I actually needed that big time,” Higley said. “I’ve been getting them easy Ws and waiting for the opportunity to knock off some of these higher-ranked kids and see where I actually am in the region and the state.”

Saturday was all about opportunity and perspective for Higley. He came into the season as the 58th-best incoming freshman in the state of Pennsylvania by papowerwrestling.com. But prior to Saturday, he hadn’t had a victory to prove his worthiness of that ranking.

It’s why he was anxious to see Pietkiewicz in the final. And it’s why he almost made the big mistake of looking past his semifinal against Loyalsock’s Dakota Mosser, who threw Higley for a five-point move to start the bout. Even though Higley came back from the big move to eventually win the bout by fall, it taught him the lesson of treating each match with the intensity of the way he treated his bout with Pietkiewicz.

And when he finally did get the opportunity to go after Pietkiewicz, he did just that. Never shied away from the senior. He attacked as often as he could and never panicked when Pietkiewicz got to his offense and scored points.

Instead, Higley kept fighting. Higley scored a crucial reversal at the end of the second period to cut his deficit to 6-4. And even when he was down 10-5 midway through the third, he didn’t try to force the issue, he just waited for an opening.

And when he was done completing the comeback, Pietkiewicz nodded in approval. The match wasn’t the case of someone gassing or tightening up in a big spot, or someone putting together a super human effort.

Saturday’s match was the rare case of a match living up to the hype. Both athletes fired their threw their best shots, and both of them hit. It was exhilarating, especially at a tournament which featured so many young wrestlers just getting their feet wet in the sport.

“What I learned from this match is to expect anything. Obviously anything can happen in a wrestling match,” Pietkiewicz said. “I thought that match was going my way and then bam, he hits a nice move twice. I should have seen it coming. But I learned you have to move on.”

“I need a couple more matches like that,” Higley said. “That’s the match that makes you push it in practice, those close, hard-fought matches.”

Mitch Rupert covers wrestling for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.