By NATE HECKENBERGER
HERSHEY -- In the first trip to the Giant Center, the magnitude of it all tends to team up with elevated talent.
Downingtown East, the runner-up from District 1, found out the hard way Thursday night. In a dual meet that had nine decisions, the Cougars won just two of them and a contest that was close through 12 bouts got away from them.
Erie McDowell, the District 10 champ and returning state runner-up, proved a little savvier on the big stage and bumped East to the consolation bracket with a 38-17 victory in the first round of the PIAA Duals in Hershey.
The Cougars will face District 3 third-place finisher Spring Grove, who was bounced by the returning champs, Canon McMillan, 42-22, at 10 this morning.
"No doubt about it," East coach Joe Horvath said of his team’s first showing in the Giant Center. "A number of the kids have never been to Hershey, even to watch the team or individual championships. We were awestruck a bit, and we talked about how that can’t be an excuse. We have to gather ourselves and put together a better effort (Friday)."
East kept itself in nearly every bout, but lost seven decisions, two in overtime and two others by two points. Down by nine after the first three matches, Jason Gibson (182 pounds) got the Cougars on the board by holding onto a 1-0 victory.
Adam Pleines (195) was the second East wrestler to force overtime in three bouts, but was taken to his back in the first rideout and fell, 7-4.
"The amount of decisions there were at least indicates to me that we battled," Horvath said. "We attempted to stay in matches and get better positioning, but (McDowell’s) athleticism was too great."
Matt Bartolotta (220) cranked a cradle for the second consecutive night and brought East within three with a 35-second fall. Wade Cummings (113) added an easy technical fall, but in between East dropped two more decisions.
McDowell won four of the final five matches, minus a well-earned 2-1 decision by Jared Leonetti, who bumped up to 126.
"I was thinking I really just have to win the match for my team," Leonetti said. "Wrestle the entire six minutes and win it for my team."
Leonetti’s win made it a five-point margin with three to go, but T.J. Nelson fell to returning state qualifier Nick Gibson, 7-3. The Trojans finished the contest with two pins to swell the point differential.
Spring Grove will hardly be a step down in competition, as East will have to find a way to win the close ones.
"Everyone’s gotta be ready and everyone has to show up to wrestle," Leonetti said.
Erie McDowell 38, Downingtown East 17
152-Dailey (EM) dec. Wait, 5-3 (3-0)
160-Campanella (EM) dec. Meyer, 5-1 (6-0)
170-T. Spearman (EM) dec. Jarani, 3-1 SV (9-0)
182-Gibson (DTE) dec. Rogers, 1-0 (9-3)
195-Bradley (EM) dec. Pleines, 7-4 RO (12-3)
220-Bartolotta (DTE) pinned Mclean, :35 (12-9)
285-Austine (EM) dec. Snodgrass, 3-2 (15-9)
106-Lenox (EM) dec. McDowell, 8-2 (18-9)
113-Cummings (DTE) tech. fall Yates, 4:44 (18-14)
120-Deitz (EM) tech. fall Carosiello, 5:22 (23-14)
126-Leonetti (DTE) dec. Cousins, 2-1 (23-17)
132-Gibson (EM) dec. Nelson, 7-3 (26-17)
138-S. Spearman (EM) pinned Fischer, 1:28 (32-17)145-Nolan (EM) pinned Sager, 5:42 (38-17)