HERSHEY Draped precariously upside down behind Jason Nolf, Billy Barnes could have bailed and given up a sure takedown. But he was OK with the position he was in.
It was the third time Kittanning's Nolf had shot on the Williamson junior in the first period, forcing Barnes to try and hang on for dear life. The first two times Barnes forced a stalemate.
Not this time.
Area medalists in the PIAA wrestling championships
Nolf became the 43rd three-time PIAA wrestling champion when he maneuvered to get Barnes on his back and pinned him from the neutral position in their Class AA 145-pound final Saturday at the PIAA Wrestling Championships. Barnes earned the state silver medal, the highest finish ever in the state tournament for a Williamson wrestler. He also became just the second two-time state placewinner for the Warriors.
But it wasn't the finish Barnes had been hoping for. He knew he was in for a test against Nolf, a Penn State recruit who finished his career with a 176-1 record, but this kind of finish was beyond his imagination. It was the first time in his career Barnes has been pinned.
"I knew my shot defense had to be pretty good that match because he's always getting in on shots," Barnes said. "I got sloppy one one of the defenses and it cost me the match."
Barnes was one of eight local wrestlers to claim a state medal on the final day of the tournament. Central Mountain's Chad Reese finished seventh/eighth in the Class AAA tournament at 160 pounds. In the Class AA tournament, Milton's Ryan Preisch (160 pounds) and Canton's Garrett Wesneski (195) finished third. Montgomery's Isaiah Bobotas took fourth at 182, and teammate Kyle Drick was eighth at 113. Muncy's Dakota Nixon finished sixth at 145 to give Muncy a state placewinner for the seventh consecutive season. Montoursville's Garrett Hoffman took sixth at 170 after forfeiting his two consolation matches because of a concussion he sustained during Friday's semifinal.
Barnes knew it was a match he could lose. Only one wrestler to stand on the line across from Nolf hasn't been beaten. That was Trinity's Ryan Diehl, who beat Nolf in the semifinals in 2012. Diehl was a two-time state champion in West Virginia before moving to Pennsylvania, where he won two more.
But Barnes never imagined the match would finish like it did. He spent the majority of the first period defending shots by Nolf, the nation's No. 7-ranked college recruit by Intermat. He never got to really try to make a splash in the match.
Instead, just 1 minute, 42 seconds in, he was walking off the mat with his hands on his hips, head hanging low in disappointment.
"It was a good run, but you didn't finish it off the way you would like to," said Barnes, 42-1 and is 108-11 in his career. "I know what I've done is a good accomplishment and everything, but then again I have another side where I want to win a state championship. It was a good season, but not as good as it could have been."
Barnes has been in the position - upside down, hanging on to his opponent's waist - many times in his career and says he actually feels comfortable being able to make something happen there. But he said he got sloppy as he defended the fourth shot of the first period by Nolf, who was leading 2-1 at the time.
He wasn't as tight on the waist as he usually likes to be. It allowed Nolf to inch toward his right and roll Barnes toward his shoulders where he finally got the fall.
"I was trying to rock him back," Nolf said. "I was just trying to get him out of position to take him down."
"I wasn't in a good position to be defending that shot," Barnes said. "I should have bailed out, but I tried to hang on for the stalemate. I could have bailed out probably and given up the takedown, but I didn't feel like I was in danger until the very last second, and then it was too late."
Barnes joins a club which includes Keystone Oaks' Nick Zanetta and Boiling Springs' Joey Byers as wrestlers who have fallen to Nolf in the state finals. Neither Zanetta nor Byers ever got back to a state final, let alone won a state title.
But Barnes has seen where he needs to be in order to become Williamson's first-ever state champion. He said it's Saturday's loss in front of more than 5,000 fans is what's going to drive him to reach that pinnacle.
"I still feel like I can get a lot better with transitioning from move to move and chain wrestling," Barnes said. "I'm really going to work on that over the summer and get better for next year to be on top of the podium."