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Meadowbrook’s Wirnsberger defeats top wrestler at 106 en route to sectional title

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette South Williamsport’s Bobby Gardner rolls Meadowbrook Christian’s Cade Wirnsberger during a bout at 106 pounds in the Central Sectional at Hughesville on Saturday.

HUGHESVILLE — Cade Wirnsberger’s face told the story. He had climbed what was the most difficult mountain to summit of Saturday’s 42 brackets throughout District 4, and the freshman’s face radiated confidence.

Wirnsberger gave Meadowbrook Christian its first sectional champion in the program’s first year of existence, and he did it in memorable fashion. Wirnsberger, ranked second in the state at 106 pounds, defeated No. 1-ranked Branden Wentzel of Montoursville in the semifinals, then defeated No. 11 Bobby Gardner of South Williamsport in the finals to win the Central Sectional title.

He was one of 14 champions crowned Saturday at Hughesville, and one of 42 throughout District 4’s three sectional tournaments. But his win will resonate most statewide. For the second time this year Wirnsberger defeated the top-ranked wrestler in the state at his weight class, and surely established himself as the top 106-pounder in Class AA with yesterday’s performance.

He was one of 10 local wrestlers to take the top spot on the podium at the Central Sectional. Muncy’s Scott Johnson (113 pounds), Jacob Blair (126), Bryce Vollman (132) and Mario Barberio (145) helped the Indians claim their third consecutive Central Sectional team championship by winning their respective weight classes. Muncy’s 186 points topped second-place Montoursville (161.5) and third-place Benton (123.5) as the Indians qualified all 10 wrestlers it entered for next week’s District 4 tournament.

Hughesville’s Luke Gorg (145) and Caleb Burkhart (285), and Montoursville’s Cael Crebs (170), Dylan Bennett (182) and Cameron Wood (220) all claimed individual titles as well. Bennett also reached 100 career wins with a fall in the semifinals.

In all, 40 area wrestlers finished in the Top 4 to qualify for next week’s district tournament at Williamsport.

But no win was as monumental as Wirnsberger’s. The bracket drew an audience of curious fans around the state because it featured five wrestlers in the state’s Top 14 of the 106-pound rankings, including the top two on the same side of the bracket. Warrior Run’s Kaden Milheim, who entered ranked 14th, went 0-2 and did not qualify for districts, losing to Wentzel and No. 10 Ethan Kolb of Benton.

Wirnsberger topped Gardner in the final and Kolb beat Wentzel, 6-4, for third place.

“This boosts my confidence a lot. I know I’m the No. 1 kid in the state now,” said Wirnsberger, who is the oldest son of Bucknell wrestling coach Dan Wirnsberger. “This is a tough tournament and I was able to compete hard and I came out on top.”

As unforgiving as District 4 can be in general, it hasn’t seen a bracket like the Central Section’s 106-pound tournament in quite some time, if ever. It was a gauntlet of landmines designed to single out the best prepared wrestler who executed their gameplan best. Saturday, that was Wirnsberger.

He avoided Wentzel’s propensity for capitalizing on his opponent’s bad shots by staying in good position for 6 minutes, and then jumping on Wentzel’s one mistake to record a decisive takedown. Against Gardner, an opponent he had beaten twice previously this season by identical 1-0 scores, he finally found his offensive footing, getting to his sweep single twice in the first two periods to build a 5-0 lead.

“I was really excited for this weekend because there’s a lot of good kids at my weight, an obviously the No. 1 kid was here,” Wirnsberger said. “But I knew it was going to be a battle and really test me to see if I’m ready for the postseason.”

It’s not as if Wirnsberger’s win was a surprise. He’s been a Top-5 wrestler all season and ascended to No. 2 when he knocked off then No. 1 Jaden Pepe of Wyoming Area at the Coal Cracker Tournament in late January.

But Saturday may have been the best collection of wrestling he’s put together all season. It’s the level of wrestling he knows he’s going to have to maintain over the next few weeks as state-ranked Isaac Landis, Seth Seymour and Aidan Kritzer are added to the field next week at the district tournament. And two weeks from now, Pepe along and state-ranked Owen Woods will likely enter the mix at the regional tournament.

“People are probably gunning for me,” Wirnsberger said. “But I’ve shown what I can do here and I’m confident I can keep it up.”

For everyone who advanced to districts not named Wirnsberger, just moving on provides an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and take another shot at climbing the mountain. Gardner made quite the statement when he battled back from a deficit in the semifinals against Kolb to lock up a cradle and get the fall.

The returning sectional champion didn’t repeat his title, but he channeled his inner Nuke Laloosh and announced his presence with authority in the 106-pound mix. One of the area’s most consistent lightweight performers all season, his loss in the final was only his fourth of the season. Three have come to Wirnsberger and the other came to Pepe.

“I came in wanting to get to the finals and wanting to wrestle Cade again, so I’m glad I did that,” Gardner said. “But there’s still things I can be better at and I’ll work on it this week.”

Wentzel probably took the biggest hit, coming in ranked first but losing twice by a combined five points. But even just a couple dozen minutes after that final loss, Wentzel found perspective in his performance.

The bottom line is he’s moving on. He’ll get another opportunity next week to put his stamp on the weight class and maybe force another shuffling of PA Power Wrestling’s state rankings.

“Our weight was easily the hardest in District 4. I think I’ll be fine with where I’m sitting,” Wentzel said. “I’m OK with wrestling anybody else from any other section. It’s just that with our section I got put in a tough spot. But nobody is going to remember that I took fourth at sectionals. They’ll remember the kid who wins districts and regionals and that’s what I’m going to try and do moving forward.”

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