HERSHEY - When he walked off the Giant Center floor Friday night, Bedford's Ryan Easter was out of breath as he walked with the media.
It was a mixture of excitement and aftermath of a seriouc cardio workout on the mat.
Easter scored eight third-period points in his 120-pound semifinal bout against South Side Beaver's Nathan Reckner at the PIAA Class AA Championships and advanced to this afternoon's state finals with a 9-2 win.
Easter became the first Bedford finalist since Eric Gibbons made it in 2001. The finals and bouts for third, fifth and seventh are scheduled for 2 p.m.
"It's awesome right now," a breathless Easter said. "I can't describe the feeling right now. It's amazing."
Easter is the only area finalist as Huntingdon's Collin Glorioso (106), Claysburg-Kimmel's Josh Brown (113) and Chestnut Ridge's Austin Buttry (285) lost in the semifinals.
Brown came the closest to joining Easter in the finals, rolling out to a 6-3 lead on South Fayette's Eric Carr, but losing in overtime, 10-8. Buttry dropped a 4-3 decision to Port Allegany's Nick Budd, and Glorioso was beaten by Bethlehem Catholic's Luke Karam, 11-0.
Eleven area wrestlers entered the tournament, and eight will place. Glorioso and Moshannon Valley's James Stodart (195) will wrestle for third, while Brown and Buttry will go for fifth. Ridge's Tyler Dibert (170), Mo Valley's Jake Ludwig (220) and Tussey Mountain's Mitchell Hall (285) will wrestle for seventh.
For Easter, it's third time he's placed in Hershey, but after a fifth-place medal as a freshman and a sixth-place medal last season, this one is much sweeter.
"This is what I've dreamed of ever since I was a little kid," Easter said. "Wrestling in front of everyone is going to be amazing. I'm going to go out and have some fun."
After a scoreless first period, Reckner actually drew first blood, scoring a takedown, but Easter escaped with 39 seconds left in the second and trailed, 2-1, entering the third. It was all Easter in the third period.
Easter escaped immediately, tying the score, and he went ahead, 4-2, when Reckner tried to throw him. One of the toughest riders in the state, Easter tilted Reckner for three nearfall points and scored two more back points right before the buzzer.
"I kept a high pace, [because] I knew he couldn't stay with me," Easter said. "I just kept my composure and said 'Hey, I can get back into this one point at a time.'"
When the buzzer sounded, Easter's customary smile was evident.
Today, Easter (36-2) will wrestle in the finals against Bethlehem Catholic's returning state champion Darian Cruz (44-1). He'll be looking to become only the third Bedford state champ and the first since Ron Hamilton in 1964.
"He's out there pretty much not to lose," Easter said of Cruz, "because I'm pretty much the underdog now. So, I'm just going to go out there and let it all hang out."
For Glorioso (38-5), the challenge was mentally recovering from the loss to Karam.
"I knew I had to get my head back," he said. "After that semifinal, I was down pretty far. I thought I would be going fifth and sixth, and thanks to my coaches, I got myself back up. Me and my coaches took a walk, and we started to think how I'd have to get back to my main game I've been wrestling throughout the last two tournaments.
He showed no signs of the against Southmoreland's Austin Griffiths - last year's third-placer. He scored four points in the first period with a takedown into a nearfall-scoring low-leg cradle. He rode Griffiths the entire second period and reversed with 16 seconds left in the bout.
Glorioso, who will wrestle Palisades' Jacob Wasser (39-7) for third, slapped coach Jon Mykut's hand after he left the mat and he was pumping his fist as he was leaving the floor.
"It feels really good," Glorioso said. "I never wrestled the kid before, and he placed last year at the PIAAs, and I knew it would be a tough match."
"He wrestled extremely well in that last match," Mykut said. "You have your goals set to get gold down here, and you get knocked off in the semis. He was able to clear his head out and put together a good match against a good kid."
Stodart (36-4) has come all the way back from losing his opening bout, winning four bouts over two days. He earned two decisions Friday to get to the consolation semis, where he earned a breathtaking 4-3 ultimate tiebreaker win over Kittanning's Zac Croyle, who he lost to at the Southwest Regional.
"It came down to the last second. That's about as close as it gets," Stodart said.
"James went out and wrestled tough," Mo Valley coach Justin Fye said. "He went out and wrestled two good matches here, and that was a great win. It was kid who just beat him last week, but he stayed in good position and looked to score a couple times."
Stodart escaped with a second left in the ultimate tiebreaker to reach the third-place finals, where he'll face Trinity semifinalist Adam Geiger (31-3).
"I know I took the long road losing my first match at the beginning," Stodart said, "but hey, you get there regardless of how you do it."
"That's hard to do," Fye said, "because you've got stay focused for three or matches in a row to accomplish that. He did an excellent job of staying positive, and going out wrestling, and he did a great job."
Buttry's only win of the day was a big one - over Hall, who was 3-0 against the Ridge junior this year - in the quarterfinals. Down 4-2, Buttry escaped with 10 seconds left and took Hall with about 2 seconds left and scored two nearfall points at the buzzer.
"It was a great finish by a young man who is working hard until the end," Ridge coach Greg Lazor said. "He's had a good tournament, got to the semis wrestling real tough, lost a close one. It's hard to get back and battle back."