HERSHEY - It wasn't too far into his 120-pound state finals bout at the PIAA Class AA Championships that Bedford's Ryan Easter realized he wasn't going to beat the monster with the cat-like quickness he was wrestling.
"A little bit through the second period, I was like 'Man, this isn't looking too good for me,'" Easter said. "But, I kept fighting. I wasn't going to give up."
Bethlehem Catholic's now two-time state champion Darian Cruz can do that to opponents.
Photo for the Mirror by Jon Christoff
Bedford’s Ryan Easter tries to escape the hold of Darian Cruz during the PIAA Class AA 120-pound final on Saturday in Hershey.
Cruz, a Lehigh University recruit, parlayed seven takedowns into a 16-4 win over the Bisons junior on Saturday afternoon at the Giant Center.
"Yeah, he's pretty good," Easter said. "He's just so fast. I tried to slow him down a little bit, but I really couldn't get into my offense. He's probably the best person I've ever wrestled because he wrestles so much different than everyone else. He's always moving, always looking to score and you really never get a break with him.
"I'm glad he's a senior. He's out of here."
Seven other area wrestlers placed in the top eight, including a third-placer in Huntingdon freshman Collin Glorioso (106), a fourth-placer in Moshannon Valley's James Stodart (195), two fifth-placers in Claysburg-Kimmel's Josh Brown (113) and Chestnut Ridge's Austin Buttry (285) and three seventh-placers in Ridge's Tyler Dibert (170), Mo Valley's Jake Ludwig (220) and Tussey Mountain's Mitchell Hall (285).
Not only did he have two placewinners, Ridge coach Greg Lazor was voted the PIAA Class AA Coach of the Year by his peers. That will go with his second straight District 5 Coach of the Year he was awarded this season.
"It's probably the most unexpected thing that's happened to me," Lazor said.
When did he find out?
"About five minutes before the presentation," Lazor said. "Thank goodness we had guys place or I wouldn't have been [in a suit and tie]. It's a program award. It comes from the top down, with the school, administration and board allowing us to do big things. It's a very nice recognition for our program and where it's going."
Cruz (45-1) exploded for three takedowns in the first period for a 6-2 lead. He chose neutral for the second, scored another takedown, released Easter (36-3) and took him down at the edge for a 10-3 lead.
In the third, he added a an escape, two takedowns and a stalling point.
"I was definitely trying to pin him," Cruz said. "It's a show out there, so just have fun out there. [Easter] is only a junior, and he has a whole year ahead of him. Hopefully, he gets a state title."
"Every kid he wrestled placed," Bedford coach Brian Creps said. "He had a great tournament. In the finals, he was outmatched a little by Cruz's athleticism. He was just a little quicker, a little stronger. To finish second in the state, he did a super job."
It was Easter's third state medal after placing fifth as a freshman and sixth as a sophomore. His second, fifth and sixth matches what his dad, Joel, did when he was in high school.
"That's definitely cool," Easter said smiling. "I definitely want to get another medal so I can top him. This is the only thing he had on me. It will be good to top him so I can maybe go one up on the Easter family."
His performance a kickstart for next season, when he becomes the hunted.
"I still have another year, so I can train over the summer and end up on top next year," Easter said. "It definitely gave me a big confidence boost knowing I can wrestle with all of these guys and having the respect of these guys. I'm at the top now and people are going to have to respect me a little bit more. If I can get to the finals of Pa. states, I can get to the finals of any tournament, and win any tournament in the country."
"Getting out there in the finals and the parade of champions, that gives you a lot of confidence for next season." Creps said. "He did a super job of managing his nerves. Even when he came off the mat, he held his composure well."
Speaking of composure, Glorioso (39-5), a Friday semifinalist, earned a 1-0 tiebreaker win over Palisades freshman Jacob Wasser (39-8), riding Wasser in the first tiebreaker, escaping in the second avoiding danger the rest of the way to finish third.
"It's nice to get third," Glorioso said. "It's good to do it in a tournament like this with all these great kids, but you can never be satisfied. You always have to think how you could have done better, what you need to improve on and get ready for next year."
"It's awesome," Huntingdon coach Jon Mykut said. "He battled back in a tough setback yesterday. Today, he kept plugging away against a tough kid and got the victory."
Like Easter, Stodart (36-5) ran into a buzzsaw in his final high school bout. Trinity takedown artist Adam Geiger (32-3) took him down eight times en route to a 20-5 technical fall in 3:27.
"I'm happy I got fourth," said Stodart, who won four consy bouts after a preliminary round loss. "I wish it didn't turn out the way it did, but there's nothing you can do about it now. Fourth is pretty good in my eyes, I guess."
"I'm just proud of both of those guys," Mo Valley coach Justin Fye said of Stodart and Ludwig. "James just ran into a beast. That guy was non-stop. He didn't give James a chance to start any offense."
Brown (30-9), who suffered a wild and somewhat controversial loss to South Fayette's eventual runner-up Seth Carr in the semis, took Tri-Valley's Caleb Bordner (36-13) down with a second left in overtime to win, 4-2, in his fifth-place bout.
"I was just waiting near the end to get a takedown." Brown said. "I knew I could get a takedown."
"It's a tough situation with what happened last night," C-K coach Dave Marko said. "He, a lot of other people and myself are going to be reliving that match over and over and over again, but I was real proud to see him rebound here today."
Buttry (40-8), a semifinalist, scored five third-period points in his fifth-place bout against Bethlehem Catholic's Andrew Dunn to win, 10-2.
"He's everybody's favorite little big guy," Lazor said. "He moves. He busts his tail and he has about as much mat sense as anybody out there on the mat. He did great. He came down here and got a medal as junior at heavyweight weighing in the 230s."