By Harold Raker
For The Daily Item
Saturday was a memorable day for Shikellamy wrestling fans.
Braves senior 220-pounder Dwayne Pepper became the school’s first Class AAA state medalist since 2011.
He beat Antonio Pelusi of LaSalle 8-5 Saturday night to finish fifth in the PIAA championships in the Giant Center.
“I feel accomplished. That was my goal. I not only qualified, but I placed, so I feel accomplished,” Pepper said.
Earlier, Kennard-Dale’s Chance Marsteller, coached by former Shikellamy wrestling standout and two-time state place-winner Mike Balestrini, won his fourth state title and completed his high school career unbeaten at 166-0. He was named the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler.
Marsteller’s remarkable career ended with a 14-2 major decision over Kyle Coniker of Pittsburgh Central Catholic and brought three standing ovations before he made his exit.
Marsteller became only the 11th to four-peat in this the 77th year of the state tournament.
The previous medalist for the Braves, who now have 57, was Dominick Wolfe, who was eighth at 189 in 2011.
Pepper won his third-round consolation Saturday morning, 9-7 over Fred Mantsch, of Hempfield Area, before falling 5-2 in the fourth round Saturday afternoon to Jake Gunning, of Liberty.
That moved the Bloomsburg University-bound Pepper into the fifth-sixth-place bout.
Pepper saw an early lead slip away in his win over Mantsch, so when he took the early lead against Pelusi, he knew he couldn’t let that happen again.
After a scoreless first period, Pepper escaped and scored two double-leg takedowns in the second period, giving the escape after the first one.
Pelusi escaped at the buzzer and Pepper took a 5-2 lead into the final period.
“Yeah, that was the goal, to dominate the whole time,” Pepper said. “I did pretty well at that. There were plenty of things I did wrong, but I won, so that’s something to smile about.”
Pelusi got a takedown on a trip with 1:17 to go to tie it at 5-all, and Pelusi immediately cut Pepper loose to make it 6-5. Pepper clinched it with a go-behind takedown for the 8-5 win.
The takedown by Pelusi was just a setback, Pepper said, and he just needed to get back up and score more points. “I was able to come back and score.”
The Oklahoma State-bound Marsteller, who participated earlier in the season at Shikellamy’s first Phil Lockcuff Duals, again ran roughshod over some of the state’s best wrestlers.
Before the final, Marsteller won by fall in 1 minute, 23 seconds; by a technical fall in 4:47 and, remarkably, with a first-period technical fall (16-1 in 1:48).
After his history-making win, and his first standing ovation, he and Balestrini exchanged four high-fives.
Then Marsteller met another wrestling legend, four-time winner Jerry Maurey, of Clearfield, who won his fourth title in 1950. As the two shook hands in front of the scorers’ table, the crowd provided another standing ovation.
The final came when the medals were presented and Marsteller received his gold medal.