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Billy Barnes learning to compete as the hunted
February 23, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
Billy Barnes has sensed all year how differently his opponents treat him. It always used to be a battle for wins, kids willing to open up and actually wrestle him.
It’s different this year, though. Maybe it’s because he’s a returning state medalist. Maybe because he’s carried the No. 2 state ranking the entire season at 145 pounds. Maybe it’s because he’s elevated himself to a different level of wrestler than in his previous two seasons.
Whatever the reason, the Williamson junior has noticed the difference. It hasn’t stopped him from being one of the most dominant wrestlers in District 4. And Saturday night at Williamsport, it didn’t stop him from winning his second District 4 Class AA championship.
“It seems like a lot of kids are just trying to keep it close instead of wrestling me to win,” Barnes said after topping Milton’s Zack Bennett in the 145-pound final Saturday. “So it’s kind of frustrating when I’m out there trying to score all the points and they’re just kind of sitting back most of the time. It’s a little different approach on their part.”
It hasn’t dissipated Barnes’ domination, though. He entered the district tournament as one of six undefeated wrestlers left in District 4. When the tournament ended, only he and 106-pound champion Brian Courtney of Athens remained undefeated.
It’s all a new position for Barnes. He suffered five losses in each of his first two seasons, but more than that, he’s never been the top dog before in his weight class. As a freshman, he was the new guy trying to establish himself just as Williamson was beginning its great run of state qualifiers and medalists.
Last year as a sophomore, Barnes was the 145-pound runner-up at both the District 4 and Northeast Regional tournaments to Benton’s Colt Cotten, a four-time state placewinner who eventually finished second in the state. But now, Barnes is the overwhelming favorite to win bracket.
For next weekend’s PIAA Northeast Regional tournament, he’s the only wrestler at 145 pounds with fewer than four losses. District 2 champion Gino Setta of Meyers is 28-10. So it’s all new territory for Barnes, but it’s a role he’s embraced.
“My confidence has gotten a lot higher since last year,” Barnes said. “I felt like I’ve been wrestling better. It’s a little different being the top dog, but I don’t know if I like it or not because everyone is expecting me to win. But I just have to go out and do what I know how to do.”
This is the reality Barnes is going to have to deal with for most of the rest of his career now, though. As a wrestler Division I coaches have been keeping an eye on since his freshman year, Barnes is now the wrestler lesser wrestlers will be happy keeping the score close with.
Barnes, who constantly pushes the pace of his matches, is going to have to do it even more now in order to score points. He is now the wrestler who is 8-1 in his career at the District 4 tournament and has been in the finals all three years. He’s the wrestler who’s won over 100 matches in just three years - he’s now 102-10 in his career.
This is his new reality. But it comes with a more determined focus because he still has unfinished business. He was in the state semifinals a year ago against eventual three-time state champion Mikey Racciato of Pen Argyl when Barnes hurt his hip and forfeited his final three matches to finish sixth. So no matter what the reality of his new situation as the top dog at 145 pounds in the region, Barnes is focused on getting back to Hershey and getting to the top of the podium.
“I’ve been looking forward to it for the whole season. This is what we work hard for,” Barnes said. “I can’t change anything about getting hurt, but it’s going to push me a lot harder to get back to the state finals and win it.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Zack LeBarron was the only one of his family to capture District 4 gold on Saturday, but it was still a banner day for the LeBarron family. Zack qualified for his second consecutive regional tournament, as did his brother Eric Hunt, who finished fifth at 113 pounds. And Brian LeBarron took third in a brutal 126-pound bracket, meaning the three brothers will be sharing the experience of the regional tournament together.
“This is pretty big. Last year Brian didn’t wrestle his greatest here,” Zack said. “But now I want to see us all make it to the next level and then make it to states and place. But even if we don’t place, it’s a good experience for the family.”
LeBarron continued his stellar two-year run through the district with his second consecutive district championship on Saturday. The Warrior Run sophomore, who finished third last year at the Northeast Regional, didn’t have to carry a burden on his shoulders which he had last year.
He entered the district tournament with one loss on his record for the season. A year ago, he was undefeated until losing in the regional semifinals to Line Mountain’s Cameron Newman. LeBarron said that was a tough burden to carry, but this year after losing earlier this year to 126-pound district champion Lewis Williams that he’s more free and easy in the postseason.
“I don’t have to worry about losing and having that first loss in the postseason,” LeBarron said. “I can just go out and worry about wrestling my match. Last year losing here put me down.”
He responded from that loss at regionals last year to make the run to his third-place finish and earn a spot in the state tournament. But it’s a burden he’d rather not have to deal with. He looked more confident even as he wrestled Williamson’s Tyrus Hamblin, a 2012 state qualifier, in Saturday’s 120-pound final.
His quick takedown of Hamblin set the tone as he went on to a 5-0 win in the final.
“That’s the biggest match-setter, knowing you have the lead,” LeBarron said of the first takedown. “I can focus on him doing the shooting and me going around instead of me shooting. I don’t have to worry about scoring so much and I can just try to break him.”
ALL SMILES FOR BOBOTAS … KIND OF
There was plenty of reason for Isaiah Bobotas to be all smiles Saturday after winning his first District 4 championship. But standing on the top step of the podium at Williamsport’s Magic Dome, he was stoic, nary a smile to be seen. It took some coaxing from him grandmother only after he got off the podium, but he finally cracked a smile for a photo.
But it was business as usual for the Montgomery senior Saturday night. The win in the 182-pound final over Benton’s Brad Miccio didn’t come as a surprise for Bobotas. He thought he was capable of winning a district championship, and Saturday night he proved it.
“It was all there, it just took getting it together,” the returning state qualifier said. “Me and my coach Patrick Sparks had a lot of talks here in the last couple weeks that this is my last go and my last time to place at states, so it’s go time. I got (Saturday’s) goal accomplished, but it’s not the ultimate goal.”
Bobotas put on one of the best shows of the weekend. His three wins in the tournament came over the eventual second, third and fourth-place finishers at 182 pounds. The only other wrestler to beat the second, third and fourth-place finishers in his bracket was Line Mountain’s Cameron Newman at 113 pounds.
Bobotas has put the focus on wrestling his style and it’s worked out in the past two weeks. He’s picked up two wins over both Montoursville’s Lucas Shaheen and Hughesville’s Matt Herr since the postseason started, and Saturday night’s win over Miccio sealed his spot as the top seed for this weekend’s Northeast Regional tournament.
“If you want to win, you have to wrestle your way,” Bobotas said. “Whatever your opponent’s style is, if you wrestle your way, then you’re going to win. That’s what my coach, Patrick, has been saying. Just go out and wrestle and it’ll happen.”
Who knows, one of these days it might even elicit a smile from the senior.
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MARK?NANCE/Sun-Gazette Williamson’s Billy Barnes, front, wrestles Milton’s Zack Bennett in the 145-pound finals of the District 4 Class AA tournament at Williamsport High School on Saturday.