HERSHEY - Billy Barnes understands very well he's not the favorite in today's PIAA Class AA 145-pound final.
In fact, he's probably an overwhelming underdog. It's just the nature of having to wrestle Kittanning's Jason Nolf.
Nolf has only lost once in his career and it came two years ago at states in the semifinals against a wrestler who won four state titles between West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Barnes, as talented as the Williamson junior is, doesn't quite have those kinds of credentials.
Williamson's Billy Barnes tries to stack Corey Falleroni of Burrell during the 145-pound semifinals. Barnes won a
But don't misunderstand, Barnes still has a lot to lose in that finals match.
"You don't get to make it to the state finals that often," Barnes said after beating Burrell's Corey Falleroni in the 145-pound semifinals, 5-3. "You have to go out and wrestle no matter who is standing on the other line. Go after it and the rest will take care of itself."
Barnes was the only one of six local wrestlers to win their Class AA semifinals Friday night at the Giant Center, and will be the area's only representative in the state finals. But local wrestlers claimed eight state medals Friday, seven in AA and one in AAA.
Central Mountain's Chad Reese earned his first state medal after going 1-1 Friday. He'll determine what place he wrestles for this morning in the Class AAA tournament.
Muncy's Dakota Nixon (145 pounds), Milton's Ryan Preisch (160), Montoursville's Garrett Hoffman (170), Montgomery's Isaiah Bobotas (182) and Canton's Garrett Wesneski (195) all fell in the Class AA semifinals.
Preisch, Bobotas and Wesneski will wrestle for third place after winning their consolation semifinal last night. Nixon and Hoffman will wrestle for fifth. Montgomery's Kyle Drick will wrestle for seventh place at 113 pounds after losing in the consolation quarterfinals.
Hoffman won't be wrestling anymore in the tournament after suffering a concussion during his semifinal bout with Richland's Nico Pecora. Hoffman led that semifinal, 4-0, after two periods and had completely controlled the first two periods. But in a scramble out of bounds toward the end of the third period, Hoffman got up hobbled and fell to the floor.
The athletic trainer was quick to approach Hoffman but cleared him to keep wrestling. Hoffman wasn't the same wrestler, though, in the third period. He gave up three takedowns in the final period, but nearly scrambled for a bout-winning escape at the end of regulation. He was taken down 6 seconds into overtime and lost, 8-6.
The sophomore will forfeited his consolation semifinal last night, and will forfeit his fifth-place match this afternoon to Penns Valley's Corey Hazel.
Barnes is well aware of the tall task which is ahead of him. He's facing a two-time state champion who is headed to Penn State as one of the nation's top recruits next year. But Barnes has wrestled Nolf during camps in the past and doesn't plan to change his gameplan against him.
"I feel like a lot of people don't wrestle him because he's one of the greatest wrestlers in the country," Barnes said. "So I'm not going to back down. I'm going to go at him and the rest will take care of itself."
It was the same mentality he took into his state semifinal last year against Pen Argyl's Mikey Racciato, who at that time was a two-time state champion on his way to winning his third. Barnes got hurt just over a minute into that match with Racciato, but he comes into this matchup with a much better resume.
He's been ranked No. 2 in the state at 145 pounds all season behind only Nolf. Barnes is clearly a Division I wrestling prospect. He became just the second two-time state placewinner in Williamson history - a mark shared with Chris Collum. And he's now become the first state finalist in school history, and regardless of whether he wins today or not, he'll be the highest-placing wrestler in school history.
"A lot of good wrestlers have come through our school. It's an accomplishment to be one of the only ones to place that high on the podium means a lot," Barnes said. "Our coaches have done a good job to put me in a situation like this and it means a lot to me."
But he's by no means conceding today's final. He described Nolf as a wrestler with "a good motor" and "perfect technique", but he believes he can be the wrestler who hands Nolf his second career loss.
Barnes loves to be the instigator of the action in a match. He likes to push the pace for six minutes. It's how he took control of last night's semifinal, scoring a first-period takedown and riding out Falleroni for more than a minute.
He added three more points in the second period to take a 5-0 lead before winning 5-3. He clapped his hands a couple times as he rose to his feet, maybe the most emotion the returning state medalist has ever shown on the mat.
He plans on carrying that push-the-pace style into today's final.
"If you sit back and let them take shots, they're going to score and they're going to beat you every time," Barnes said. "Go after it. Don't sit back and relax."
Bobotas was never able to get his offense going in his 182-pound semifinal against Bethlehem Catholic's Jose Ortiz. Ortiz, who was a state qualifier a year ago but missed weight on the first day of the tournament, rode out Bobotas for the entire third period. His takedown in the first period was enough to send the Montgomery senior to the consolation bracket.
But Bobotas responded well, beating Myersdale's Gavin Berkley, 3-0, to advance to today's third-place match. He'll be the first Montgomery wrestler to place in the top four in the state since Jaryd Steinbacher took fourth in 2005.
"Top four in the state is pretty good," Bobotas said. "I'm pretty proud of myself regardless, but I'm not content."
Ortiz slowed down the match, seeming to take Bobotas out of his style. He made his one good shot in the first period count. And when he got Bobotas on the bottom in the third period, he didn't work hard to turn Bobotas, but he was strong enough to keep him from getting to his feet.
"It's not a horrible thing (if he slows the pace), but your technique has to be crisp," Bobotas said. "If you're going to push the pace, it's OK to make a mistake because they're not ready for it. But when you're wrestling his pace and you make a mistake, he's waiting for it and he's going to attack it."