HERSHEY Milton's Ryan Preisch and Hughesville's Kyle Barnes took two very different routes to the third-place match in the 152-pound bracket.
Barnes, a returning PIAA runner-up, lost his first match of the tournament Thursday, but proceeded to win four consecutive consolations matches to find himself wrestling for third.
Preisch, the top seed out of the Northeast Region who's been spending his last four weeks proving he's one of the top 152-pounders in the state, found himself rebounding from a semifinals loss Friday night he couldn't explain.
But here they are, two of District 4's best, set for their second career meeting. The two will meet with a bronze medal on the line today at the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships.
Barnes is approaching the match with something to prove, trying to avenge the 1-0 loss in last week's region semifinals. Preisch doesn't particularly care who he's wrestling. He just wants to win.
"I like him," Barnes said. "But I got to beat him."
"I don't care who it is, personally," Preisch said. "The kid could be from anywhere and I'm going to go out there and try to beat him and wrestle my hardest."
Preisch earned his first trip to the state semifinals with a stellar 3-0 win over Halifax's Robbie Moretz in the morning quarterfinals. Barnes then eliminated Moretz with a 2-1 win in the second round of consolations. In the two matches against the District 4 wrestlers, Moretz spent nearly six combined minutes in the bottom position getting pounded on by two of the toughest riders in the state.
Preisch lost 16-7 in the semifinals to returning state runner-up Austin Matthews of Reynolds. Matthews is the same wrestler who two years ago upset Montoursville's Luke Frey in the 140-pound semifinals as just a sophomore.
Matthews hit a five-point move early which Preisch had no words to describe.
"My arm still hurts from that first whatever it was," he said after winning his consolation semifinal against Freedom's Boe Bonzo, 7-0. "I have no idea what it was. It really just messed me up."
Preisch still battled back to tie the score at 5-5, but Matthews scored 11 of the final 13 points to pull away for the win. He'll look for his first state title against Coudersport's Kyle Bova, the wrestler who upset Barnes in the preliminary round of the tournament Thursday.
"It was kind of ridiculous," Preisch said. "I haven't wrestled someone that scrambles that well, ever."
Barnes did maybe his best wrestling of the season in his three consolation matches yesterday. He beat Moretz, 2-1, and followed that up with a 3-2 win with a last-second escape against Blairsville's Andrew Doak in the consolation quarterfinals.
His 13-6 win against Northern Lehigh's Ty Herzog was the first time all weekend Barnes got his offense going the way he wanted, but he still wasn't satisfied.
"I really have to commit to my shots," Barnes said. "I moved on my feet much better. I felt like I had better motion and I shot more against Herzog and Doak. I'm still not where I want to be finishing shots every time I touch a leg."
Barnes is one of just four wrestlers in the Class AA field to lose their first match of the tournament and win four straight in the consolation bracket to wrestle for third. Burrell's Phil Marra (145), Moshannon Valley's James Stodart (195) and Susquenita's Brent Sterner (285) all lost their first match but wrestle for third place today.
"I loved wrestling in the finals (last year), but everyone knows when you lose it's much harder," Barnes said. "That's the harder road. It feels good coming back. It feels good fighting through a tough bracket all the way back. And I got a D4 kid, too. That's pretty cool."