CHAMPAIGN – Reaching the state finals is getting to be old hat for Newman's Brian Bahrs.
He's at that level for the third time in 4 years, and he's got some company. Oregon's Brandon Sklavanitis, Rock Falls' Shawn Skinner and AFC's Jake Kaecker each won semifinal bouts Friday night at the IHSA state wrestling tournament in Assembly Hall.
They'll be back in action Saturday night. Bahrs will be seeking his third title, having won as a freshman and a junior. For the other three, it is their first championship bout appearance.
Bahrs (42-1) moved on with a 9-2 decision over Winnebago's Layne Palm, who had made life difficult for the Comet in the past. Palm nearly pinned Bahrs in the semifinals at the Oregon Sectional last Saturday, but this time, it wasn't all that close.
Bahrs got a takedown and two back points in the first 1:15, and was never in danger the rest of the way.
"It comes down to whoever wants it the most," Bahrs said, "and I want it the most right now. That's what my mindset was going into this. I was saying to myself there's no way he wants this more than I do."
In the finals, Bahrs will get Clinton's Kyle Reczek. When they hooked up at the Princeton Tournament last month, Bahrs won a 13-4 decision. He's confident he can get another win, but didn't want to get too far ahead of himself.
"God blessed me with a lot of talent," Bahrs said. "I'm just grateful to be here right now."
Sklavanitis survived one of the most exciting semifinal bouts with a 5-3 overtime decision over Wilmington's Sean Liaromatis at 170 pounds.
Sklavanitis had a good chance to win in regulation with a late 3-2 lead, but was hit with a stalling penalty with 5 seconds remaining to send it to OT.
"I was tied up with a front headlock with the kid and couldn't get out of it," Sklavanitis said. "The refs made the call, but I didn't let it affect me going into overtime."
In overtime, Sklavanitis (48-2) wasted little time making his move. A mere 15 seconds into the 1-minute period, he latched onto Liaromatis' left leg and finished the takedown for the deciding two points.
"It's my favorite shot out of all of them," Sklavanitis said. "I love to hit the sweep single. Once I had it, I knew I had to finish."
In the finals, Sklavanitis will get Pittsfield's Zach Abney (44-2), the who has been ranked No. 1 at 170 by Illinois Matmen all season. It will be their first meeting.
"I just know that he's freaky strong," Sklavanitis said.
Skinner seized control in his semifinal bout against Terry Martin of Chicago Douglass with a takedown and 3-point nearfall at the end of the first period on his way to a 9-4 victory.
"He tried throwing me," Skinner said. "I've wrestled guys that have thrown me in the practice room every day. I just hooked his leg and I had his head hooked. I wasn't going to get thrown."
Martin scored a takedown with 1:46 left in the third period to get to within 6-4, but Skinner (38-3) responded with an escape and a bout-clinching takedown with 30 seconds left. He was ecstatic afterward, as it helped wash away the memory of a trip to state as a junior that ended with him just missing the medal round.
"From the beginning of the season to the end of last year, this is where I wanted to be and this is what I wanted to do," Skinner said. "I'm achieving what I've always wanted, which is greatness."
He'll have to be great to fulfill his ultimate goal. Standing in the way is Lena-Winslow junior Ty Harmston (39-1), who pinned Skinner in the Oregon Sectional finals.
"He got the best of me with my emotions high," Skinner said. "I'm going to come in there a lot calmer, and I'm expecting nothing less than a win."
Kaecker was in control most of the way in his semifinal bout against Herscher's Terry Neubeck before hanging on for a 6-5 victory.
Neubeck got a reversal at the buzzer to get within a point, but the key move was a takedown by Kaecker with 35 seconds remaining in the third period to give him a 6-3 lead.
"It was a matter of who was willing to finish it the most," Kaecker said. "We both were so tired and having trouble finishing shots. He had my leg tight, so I just kept trying to circle around and kept going and going until he gave up. I knew eventually he'd give up."
Kaecker (30-4) will hope the third time's a charm in the finals, as that's where he'll tangle with Mercer County's Zach Nelson. Nelson (40-0) won decisions against Kaecker at the Orion Tournament and Oregon Sectional.
"Watch my stance and keep going all three periods, that's all I know," Kaecker said, when asked how he could get things to go his way vs. Nelson. "That's all I can think of right now."
West Carroll's Jacob Klein also qualified for the Class 1A semifinals, but dropped a 12-4 decision to Lena-Winslow's Logan Staver.
"He's just really good with all his moves," Klein said of Staver. "He knows what he's doing, and he's really good at keeping me down. I knew that was coming. My strategy was to tire him out, like I did, and pin him at the end. He did a really good stall at the end, and I couldn't turn him."
Klein (35-12) was nonetheless thrilled with his state tournament performance thus far.
"I was the underdog big time in my matches," Klein said.
In Class 2A, the third time was not a charm for Sterling's Isaac Anderson, who dropped a 9-1 decision to Sycamore's Kyle Akins. It was third time Akins has defeated Anderson this season.
Akins picked up a pair of first-period takedowns, then steadily increased his advantage. Anderson managed only a first-period escape.
"He's able to capitalize on the mistakes I make," Anderson said. "I worked my hardest and left it all on the mat, but now I've just got to keep my head up and focus on my next match."