Wrestling: Nelson eighth at states, first Ridley medalist since 1985

HERSHEY — Kennett’s John Pardo knew he belonged in Hershey and knew he could be one of those guys on the podium, but he just needed another win or two to validate those beliefs.

Saturday, on the final day of the Class 3A PIAA Championships, Pardo even impressed himself.

The junior won his last two bouts in the Giant Center in Hershey to tie a program-best with a third-place finish at 215 pounds.

“I learned that I can really go all the way,” Pardo said. “I’m better than I thought I was. I don’t really need to overthink anything anymore.”

Pardo was the highest area placer, tying Kyle Bove’s third-place finish in 2009 as a Kennett record. Fellow Blue Demon, Bailey Shindle (285 pounds), capped his career with an eighth-place medal, and Ridley sophomore Curtis Nelson finished eighth as well.

Ridley’s Curtis Nelson lets out a smile in the waning moments of his win over Central Dauphin’s Thunder Beard in the 107-pound blood round. (Nate Heckenberger – For MediaNews Group)

Nelson was all smiles despite two losses Saturday.

“I’m pretty happy,” Nelson said. “I hate to end it on a loss, but I still got my medal and I still came here did what I did.”

In the fourth round of consolations, Nelson got in a 5-0 hole and couldn’t complete the comeback against Altoona’s Braiden Weaver, in a 5-4 loss. For seventh, Nelson led 3-2 at one point, but gave up the next four points before getting pinned by Easton’s Nicholas Salamone.

The progress was evident for Nelson, and ending a 37-year state medal drought for Ridley didn’t hurt, either. He was the first state medalist for the Green Raiders since Ron Venit finished fourth at 185 pounds in 1985. Nelson still has two more years to add to his accomplishments.

“I put myself in a good spot,” Nelson said. “Every year I try to work up. Last year I got here but didn’t medal. This year I got here and medaled. I’m always hoping for first, so I’ll be going for gold.”

In the morning session, Pardo ran into Nazareth’s eventual two-time state champion Sonny Sasso, who pinned Pardo in the first period.

After dropping to the consolation semifinal, Pardo took care of Crestwood’s Magnus Bibla, 7-3.

“You’ve always seen, when (Pardo) gets his motion going and gets in on his shots, he’s hard to defend,” Kennett coach Kevin Reigel said. “He started having confidence in himself and I think that’s why he was able to do this at this level.”

Pardo had seven takedowns in his five matches in Hershey, giving up only two takedowns, to Sasso. In the consolation final, Pardo faced Waynesburg Central’s Eli Makel for a second time. Again, he defeated him 3-1 to claim third.

“I didn’t know how far I could make it,” Pardo said. “I wanted to place but didn’t know how high I could get. I gave the other guys so much credit.”

Shindle’s Saturday didn’t go as planned, with a loss to Penn Trafford’s Joe Enick in the fourth round of consolations. In the seventh-place bout, Shindle gave up a late reverse to trail, 4-2, before taking a shot to the head and injury defaulting.

Despite a frustrating ending, Shindle walked out of Hershey with hardware.

“At the beginning of the year I knew I had a chance of placing,” Shindle said. “Actually doing it was a lot more fun.”

Shindle finishes his career as a two-time state qualifier and Kennett’s fourth state medalist, with a record of 83-34.

“It’s just nice, for the team as a whole, even the kids who didn’t medal, to come up here to such an elite tournament,” said Reigel, who brought six wrestlers to states. “To get a couple medals is just awesome.”

Owen J. Roberts’ Dillon Becthold (215) reached the finals but lost to Sasso, 7-5. Sam Gautreau (152) placed fourth and Dean Bechtold (189) finished sixth for the Wildcats.

In total, District 1 earned 16 medals in 3A. Quakertown’s Collin Gaj (145) was its only champion.

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