HERSHEY >> It's the round where dreams are renewed ... or shattered.
The third consolation round of the PIAA Championship tournament - also dubbed the "blood round" in some circles - is where the thrill of victory and agony of defeat collide. The winners are rewarded for their successes with qualification for the tourney's medal round, while the losers see their seasons end short of that fulfillment.
Friday afternoon's action at the Giant Center saw area wrestlers deal with both experiences. Five of the 15 grapplers whose seasons were still alive at the start of the day's Class AAA action punched their tickets for Saturday, while 10 others saw the road to the medal podium end abruptly.
"That round ... there's such a range of emotions," Boyertown head coach Pete Ventresca, who saw his "Slick Six" halved by the end of the third-consi round, said afterward. "You have the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.
"You can't prepare for it, either. You've got to live the moment."
Jakob Campbell qualified for a third medal with a pair of victories in the 126-pound wrestlebacks while teammates Matt Wilde (113) and Elijah Jones (182) positioned themselves for their first trips to the tourney's medal round. Also in the hunt - in admittedly a greater capacity - are Owen J. Roberts seniors Ryan Resnick and Nick Duliakas, both of whom remain in the chase for gold at 160 and 195, respectively.
The Wildcats secured their medal qualifications by winning through the championship brackets. Resnick followed up his inspired 7-3 Thursday victory over highly-touted Eric Hong of North Allegheny with a 6-2 decision of Nazareth's Cade Wilson at 160, and Duliakas followed suit with his 9-1 major verdict over Big Spring's Blake Barrick at 195.
"We've never had that," OJR head coach Steve DeRafelo said. "Those two kids have paid the price. They're the leaders on this team."
Duliakas left no question about his first state medal bid, controlling Barrick the entire bout. It was the latest in a run of success since his return from a month-long absence in mid-January - the Roberts senior mounting a 22-1 record in that span.
"They'd said he was big and strong," he said of Barrick. "It was hard to pass him off. But he hurt his ankle, which worked to my advantage.
"I want to be relentless ... to keep going."
Two of Boyertown's medal qualifiers had to keep going after sustaining first-round losses Thursday. Campbell (37-5) did that with a 6-3 decision of Canon McMillan's Matt Oblock and 7-3 verdict over Harry S. Truman's Gunnar Fuss.
"I didn't start the way I wanted to," Campbell, the Boyertown program's first four-time state qualifier, said after securing his berth in Saturday's action. "I won my first match the other years. I'm not used to wrestling back.
"I'm always super excited about this. It's what I've worked for. I can't be more pleased."
Wilde (45-4) rebounded from his opening loss at 113 with a 7-2 decision of Carlisle's Rafael Portilla, then a 5-2 win over Shikellamy's Cade Balestrini.
"It's awesome," he said. "It (loss) left me feeling down. But all year I've kept on fighting, and the results showed.
"I'm extremely excited. This was my goal at the beginning of the year, and I met it."
Jones (45-7) got dropped into wrestlebacks with a quarterfinal-round loss to start the day. He rallied with a narrow 2-1 decision of Palmyra's Leo Higgins, but not before enduring one uneasy moment in the closing seconds.
The Boyertown junior, after scoring a takedown on Higgins, was checked out for a hard hit on the mat while making the drop. He passed the concussion test, then held Higgins at bay as the final seconds ticked off.
"There was a short time left, and I wanted to finish the match," he said. "I felt I could.
"It's a matter of where I place Saturday," he added. "I'm going to go out and wrestle my best."
The "blood round" casualties were Spring-Ford's Brandon Meredith (113), who missed on a chance to go for a second state medal after placing fourth at 106 last year; Boyertown's David Campbell (120), who was seeking a first state medal; and Pottsgrove's Ryan Finn (170). Upper Perkiomen's Mike Modugno and Daniel Boone's Jesse Enck also bowed out at 220, the latter looking to upgrade the seventh-place medal he scored last year.
Earlier in the day, OJR's Luke Resnick (120), Cole Meredith (138) and Daniel Mancini (145) were eliminated with their second losses of the tournament. Boyertown's Chris Berry (152) and Upper Perkiomen's Jacob Folk (160) also saw their scholastic mat careers ended short of state medals.
"You have to deal with adversity and disappointment," Ventresca said. "This isn't like any team sport ... you win and lose as an individual. I have a lot of admiration for the kids who participate in it."
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Exeter advanced two of its three wrestlers to Saturday's AAA medal round.
Austin DeSanto (126) scored a second-period pin on Mifflin County's Noah Myers in the quarterfinal round, and Tyler Bagoly (170) moved on with an 8-0 major decision of Oxford's David Cox. A third Eagle, Oscar Daniels (285), bowed out in the "blood round."
Other Berks Conference wrestlers eliminated Friday were Muhlenberg's Stefahn Mayo (145) and Governor Mifflin's Ben Maack (182).
NOTES >> With his two victories Friday, Wilde positioned himself to reach the 100-win mark for his scholastic career. He goes into Saturday's session with 98, looking to duplicate a feat achieved by teammates Hunter Vogels, David Campbell and Berry this year. ... David Campbell's 1-0 decision of Luke Resnick eliminated the Roberts senior from the state tournament. It also left him one win short of the 100 mark for his scholastic career. ... Saturday's Class AAA session kicks off at 9 a.m. with semifinals and fourth-round consolations. Fifth-round consolations follow at 11:30 a.m., with medal matches slated for 7 p.m. ... The Class AA teams will have their medal round at 2 p.m.