By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
HERSHEY - Athens freshman Gavin Bradley split a pair of decisions in the late-night session at the PIAA Class AA wrestling championships Friday, and will wrestled for fifth-place in a loaded 106-pound bracket here Saturday afternoon at the Giant Center.
"With this bracket, I don't think there's anyone outside of us who would have predicted Gavin finishing in the top six," said Athens assistant coach Jay White. "He wrestled well, it's been a good weekend for him.
"106 here is the deepest 106 in the country, four of the top 12 kids in the country are in this weight class," added White. "He's going to finish in the top six, that's phenomenal for Gavin."
Bradley becomes just the second Athens freshman to win a state medal, joining two-time state champion Brian Courtney in the exclusive club.
Bradley opened the night with a dominating 4-0 win over Pope John Paul II sophomore Matt Vulakh in the fourth round of wrestlebacks. Vulakh opened his tournament with a 5-2 win over top-seeded sophomore Gary Steen of Reynolds, who is ranked third in the nation.
Bradley scored a takedown with 23 seconds remaining in the first period for a 2-0 lead, then added another takedown just nine seconds into the second period to up his advantage to 4-0. He rode Vulakh for the remainder of the period, but was unable to turn him.
Vulakh chose top to start the third period, and controlled the action throughout, but could not turn Bradley.
"That was a solid match for Gavin," said White. "Good on his feet, strong on top, and he moved on bottom - kept moving forward ... kept moving forward.
"And, he didn't get high in his legs," noted White. "We worked on that beforehand, he listened and he paid attention. He did what we asked of him on his feet, he wrestled great.
"(Vulakh) placed here in Class AAA last year, and beat the No. 3 kids in the country (Gary Steen) in the first round," added White. "That's a really good win for Gavin."
In the consolation semis, Bradley dropped an 8-1 decision to South Park sophomore Joey Fischer, who suffered his first loss of the season - 3-1 to unbeaten Troy junior Sheldon Seymour.
"(Fischer) is another of those nationally-ranked kids in this weight class," said White. "(Gavin) wrestled well. He gave up the turn late in the bout, but he was in it for all five minutes.
"Those kids have so much more experience than Gavin," noted White. "This is his first time being here, and those kids have been on the national stage several times through the PJW system.
"I'm proud of Gavin, he had a great day," he added.
Bradley, now 34-11, will face sophomore Kai Burkett (36-6) of Chestnut Ridge in the fifth-place match Saturday afternoon.
IN PHOTOS: Athens freshman Gavin Bradley. ... PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.