By Frank Dimon
For The Daily Item
Mifflinburg’s Cole Walter has been chasing Blake Marks all season. Based on his eighth-place finish at 152 pounds during the PIAA Class AA wrestling tournament last March, Marks, Southern Columbia’s superb sophomore middleweight, was tabbed the best at that weight by Off The Mat rankings in early December and, despite a pair of losses at the rugged Escape The Rock tournament last month, has remained at the top throughout the season.
Walter, who burst on to the scene with a third-place finish at the state tournament as a freshman and then gutted out a seventh-place medal at 132 last March while wrestling with an injury that inhibited his breathing, has hovered several notches below the top position at No. 4 even though he claimed a Top Hat title, was the runner-up at the Powerade, and third at the King of the Mountain.
Fans were hoping for a Walter-Marks showdown when the Wildcats drew the Tigers in the first round of the District 4 Team Tournament three weeks ago. But the dual meet was too close — Mifflinburg eventually pulled out a 39-37 victory — for the Tigers to risk that meeting. Walter collected a forfeit and Marks, in one of his four ventures up to 160 this season, handed Southern six important team points with a second-period fall.
Walter finally caught Marks both literally and figuratively in the finals of the South Sectional tournament on Saturday night and it’s safe to say the Mifflinburg junior is leading slightly after the first turn on the road to Hershey.
Walter stunned a full house at the Cats’ Den when he reversed Marks midway through the second period and then locked up an airtight cradle that produced a fall in 3:18.
Neither wrestler scored in a tense first period. Walter just missed an ankle pick at the edge of the mat early in the first twenty seconds and Marks had a takedown waived off as time expired in the period.
“I didn’t really watch the rankings that much this season, but I knew it was a match that had to happen in the postseason,” Walter said. “I really don’t scout other guys, I just go out and wrestle my match.”
Walter escaped to start the second period, but Marks converted the only takedown of the match when he countered a Walter shot at the edge of the mat.
“I thought I dominated him on our feet early in the match,” Marks said.
But the dangerous Walter funked his way off the bottom and collected Marks’ head and leg and ended the bout with the fall.
“I’ve been in that position countless times,” said Walter after improving to 34-2. “I work on it every practice so I was comfortable. His head was there so I took it and made sure it was tight.”
“This was a learning experience for me,” said Marks, who lost for the third time in 30 matches. “I was very happy with how I was performing that match. I really didn’t game plan for him. I just wanted to get the feeling for him and not be defensive. I think we are very equal and our matches could go either way.
“I am not too upset because this is just sectionals. I will see him at districts, regionals, and states, and when is it going to matter more?”