Hershey fought their way back Saturday at the C-4 district wrestling tournament in Bridgeport to earn four spots at state.

Jacob Mackley, 145, Bryan McGahan, 195 and heavyweight Nathan Louder started Saturday morning competition just needing to win their semifinal match to punch their ticket.

But all three lost, putting them in dire straits and needing a victory in their heartbreak matches to reach the consolation match and qualify.

The three seniors were up to the task. Mackley, (37-13) won both matches and finished third. Louder (36-12) followed suit and pinned his final opponent for a third-place finish. McGahan (36-7) won the heartbreak and finished fourth in the consolation match.

Friday, when Hershey’s 220-pound entry, Tripp Nicholson (14-8), lost in the second round and dropped to the losers’ bracket, he faced an even bigger challenge.

In order to move to the medal round he had to win three matches or be eliminated. But Nicholson was up to the task, dug deep and not only won the three matches but pinned his opponent in the consolation to win the bronze.

Hershey coach Cale Streeter said with Valentine, Broken Bow and Ord being three of the top ranked class C teams, the Panthers faced some stiff competitors, but they never gave up,

Hershey’s 75 team points gave them sixth place in the 16-team tournament. Valentine squeaked by Broken Bow 216.5-215.0 to claim the team championship.

Streeter said he thought each of his semi finalists had a shot to win even though they were the underdog.

Even though all three lost and went to the wrestle back bracket, he was confident they would fight back.

“McGahan actually reinjured his leg against the Bridgeport kid in the semis,” Streeter said. “He got pinned, was in pain, but when the doctor looked at it, Bryan just walked away and said he had another match coming up.”

McGahan’s knee was taped and he pinned his next opponent to advance to the consolation. “We had him medically forfeit and finish fourth since he qualified. That will give him more time to heal up before state.”

He was proud of all the comebacks.

“Sometimes when a wrestler gets beat in the semifinals, they lose focus and don’t qualify, but our guys stayed on track,” Streeter said. “I think Tripp’s (Nicholson)) is the best story in the entire tournament. A second-year wrestler setting a goal to make it to state, maybe not even really believing it possible and then to lose in the second round. He had to go 5-1 in the meet and win four straight to take third.”

Streeter had great things to say about freshman Blake Bruns, the Panthers 126-pound wrestler.

“That kid, I keep saying, is going to be the poster child of my program at Hershey.” Streeter said

Streeter said he works hard, is easily coached and tries to perfect his craft. Bruns came within one win of qualifying.

“I haven’t confirmed it, but I think his 27 wins is a Hershey record for a freshman,” he said. The Panthers will join 12 other wrestlers from Lincoln County class C and D schools at the state championship meet Feb. 15-17 in the Century Link Center in Omaha.

Team scores

1. Valentine, 216.5. 2. Broken Bow, 215. 3. Ord, 149.5. 4. Bridgeport, 124.5. 5. Kearney Catholic, 91.5. 6. Hershey, 75. 7. Mitchell, 74. 8. Gordon-Rushville, 60. 9. Chase County, 48. 9. Southern Valley, 48. 11. Arcadia-Loup City, 45. 11. Ravenna, 45. 13. Minden, 41. 14. Ainsworth, 35. 15. Kimball, 29. 16. Loomis-Bertrand, 10