Andrew Cerniglia looked like he’d been there before.

When Nazareth’s 106-pound freshman stepped on the Giant Center mat in Hershey for a key bout in Friday’s PIAA 3A semifinal against Council Rock South sophomore Max Mendez, he looked like a poised and assured veteran.

And he wrestled like one too, crushing Mendez, ranked No. 6 in PIAA 3A by PaPower Wrestling, via a 15-0 technical fall in 5 minutes, 22 seconds that erased whatever chances the District 1 champions had of upsetting the District 11 champion Blue Eagles.

Nazareth went on to a 45-19 thumping of the Golden Hawks to move into Saturday’s (1 p.m.) state final against old rival Bethlehem Catholic, a match where Cerniglia may well play a major role as he did in the 33-24 defeat of Becahi in last week’s District 11 final.

But it turned out Cerniglia really hadn’t been there before.

“This tournament is my first time on the floor of the Giant Center,” he said. “It brings back all the memories of when I’d sit in the stands and watch states; I always came to watch. I was a little nervous but I remember what I came here to do, which was go out and wrestle.”

And the matchup with Mendez was a first-time affair, too, perhaps a little unusual in these days of off-season elite tournaments and events.

“This was the first time I’d ever wrestled him,” Cerniglia said. “I knew him a little from the J Robinson wrestling camp I went to this summer. Max is a good partner to practice with, and whenw we wrestled it kind of went like it did tonight.”

Which was all Cerniglia. Once he took Mendez down the Nazareth freshman was able to deploy his formidable array of top moves. Unlike many wrestlers these days his mat wrestling is spot-on, combining crisp technique with overwhelming power and plenty of quickness. He scored 10 near-fall points in four different times in the match.

“Andrew’s pretty good,” Nazareth coach Dave Crowell said.

Good enough that he can peek ahead a little and still dominate.

“It was really hard not to look ahead (to Becahi),” said Cerniglia, who did not wrestle in the Blue Eagles’ 40-20 loss to Becahi in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference final Jan. 28; his presence in the D-11 final made a huge difference. “But we had to stay focused on wrestling tonight.”

Cerniglia seemed to pass that test.

“It was a pretty good win for me,” he said. “I controlled the ties, had good takedowns. He was hard to figure out at first, but I did well on top and felt pretty good.”

Given Cerniglia’s special skills and spot-on attitude, he will soon become as much a regular on the Giant Center floor as he once was in the stands. He has to be on any short list of contenders for the 3A championship at 106, which, it should be noted, Nazareth has won the last two seasons (Tyson Klump).

And seeing Cerniglia wrestle so well on the Giant Center floor Friday makes it clear that the Blue Eagles may well make three 106 PIAA titles in a row – but the team comes first for one more day.

“I think we wrestled pretty well as a team tonight,” he said.

All in all, a good Friday night for Nazareth – which could lead to an even better Saturday afternoon.

Brad Wilson may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.


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