HERSHEY -- There isn't a more grand stage in Pennsylvania high school wrestling than the Class AAA PIAA tournament in Hershey, and Downingtown West's Gabe Hale completed a pair of his finest personal achievements on it Thursday.
On day one of the three-day tournament, Hale shook off a slow start to earn his first win at the Giant Center, as well as his 100th for his career.
Coatesville's Mike Boykin (220 pounds) was the only other local to win his preliminary bout, setting the Ches-Mont duo up a win away from clinching a state medal. Class AAA action will pick up again today at 1:30 p.m. Winners of their quarters matchups clinch a top-six finish while winners in the second round of consolations also book their trips to the podium. Losers in the second round of consis go home empty-handed.
Great Valley's Shane Ruhnke (145), Avon Grove's Caleb Edwards (182) and Downingtown East's Sean Snodgrass (285) survived in the consis after prelim losses. Hale (170) was happy to take care of business early and reach the century mark.
"It's awesome, in front of all these people and my family,' Hale said. "I would have liked to get it last week, but getting a win at states is better.'
A win by Hale in quarters would shake the wrestling world with Kennard Dale's Chance Marsteller, the three-time champion with a career record of 163-0 in high school, on deck.
Thursday, though, Hale gave up the early takedown, but scored the final two takedowns in the second and third periods to win, 6-4, against Ringgold's Devin Fallenstein.
"I had to trust that my conditioning was better than his,' Hale said. "I didn't know anything about him but I knew I had to try my best and I figured it out the last two periods.'
Boykin had a very workmanlike, 12-4, major decision over Mechanicsburg's Lucas Chestnut. The returning third-place finisher had five takedowns and a reversal, dominating the match on his feet. Next up is Greater Latrobe's Dylan Davis, the Southwest's runner-up. Boykin admitted his big win over Boyertown's Jordan Wood in the regional final stole some of his zest on the first day.
"When you have a win like that sometimes it's hard (to refocus),' Boykin said. "The first match of states I'm always pretty psyched up over it. I should be alright (today).'
Snodgrass had a moment that drew a gasp from the crowd when he put three-time state champion, Thomas Haines of Solanco, on his back in the first period. It only lasted a moment, though, and Haines recovered to win, 8-2.
The senior Cougar carried the momentum to the consis where he pinned Bald Eagle's Josh Fye in the second period. He will get the loser of the match between Erie McDowell's Scott Augustine and Pottsgrove's Pat Finn.
"The first match I was a little nervous until I stepped out on the mat,' Snodgrass said. "I felt confident and when I had (Haines) on his back my head just stopped and I didn't finish. He got out and took me down a couple of times and he's so tough on top. I wanted to win, but it's all good.'
Ruhnke dropped a 5-2 decision to Central Mountain's Demetri Probst in the prelim, knocking him to the consis where he found Exeter's Ethan Stever. Ruhnke trailed early but eventually took a lead into the third. Stever forced overtime, but Ruhnke registered the winning takedown for a 6-4 decision.
Ruhnke will have a tough task to earn his first medal in two trips with the loser of the quarterfinal bout between Father Judge's returning state champ, Joey Galasso, and Franklin Regional's two-time fifth-place finisher, Josh Maruca.
"I just want to get a medal and I want to get third (place),' Ruhnke said. "I want to wrestle back and win all my matches.'
Edwards couldn't find an answer to North Allegheny's Clay Byerly in a 6-4 prelim loss, but the senior responded well, majoring Mifflin County's Trey Hartsock, 9-1, in consis.
He awaits the loser of the quarter between Northern York's Kyle Koser and North Penn's Alex Price.
"I was disappointed with the first match because I felt good mentally and physically,' Edwards said. "I just made a couple of dumb mistakes. Winning (the consi) gives me enough time to prepare myself mentally to get ready for (today).'
Downingtown East's Wade Cummings (120), West Chester Henderson's Brad Patton (138) and Coatesville's Wesley McGuire (195) lost both of their bouts and were eliminated.
Cummings took returning third-place medalist, Tyrone Klump of Nazareth, to the ultimate tiebreaker period, but could not escape and fell, 3-2. He then caught a tough break in the ever-unforgiving state tournament when three-time medalist Jake Gromacki of Erie Cathedral Prep was upset in the first round. Gromacki bumped Cummings, 6-2, giving him a final record of 43-3 on the season.
Patton hung tough against two-time state runner-up, Mike Kemerer of Franklin Regional, but lost, 7-3. In consis, Patton was edged, 4-2, in a hard-fought match against Dallastown's Wes Hoover.
McGuire fell victim to DuBois' Tom Sleigh, a four-time state qualifier, via technical fall. In consis, North Allegheny's Zach Smith was an 11-0 winner over McGuire.