HERSHEY - Garth Lakitsky was mad, but he found the perfect way to channel that anger.
After getting slapped in the face a couple of times during his Class AA 215-pound semifinal bout against Northern Bedford senior Joel Suter, the Tamaqua senior kept his composure and turned his aggression back on Suter.
As a result, Lakitsky is one victory away from becoming the Blue Raiders' first-ever PIAA State wrestling champion.
In an awesome display of brute strength, Lakitsky clamped a headlock on Suter, lifted him into the air and suspended him until he could adjust a half-nelson, bringing Suter down to the Giant Center mat and showing him the lights for a fall in 1:41.
Lakitsky remained undefeated at 41-0 and will take on Milton sophomore Ryan Solomon for the 215 crown in the final of this afternoon's PIAA Class AA Championships, which begin at 2:30 p.m.
Northern Lehigh senior Colin Hedash lost his semifinal bout against Grove City junior Wes Phipps by a 7-4 decision. Hedash (32-4) will now wrestle for fifth place today against Bentworth senior August Mizia (38-5) after dropping a 7-6 double overtime verdict to Saucon Valley's Ray O'Donnell in the consolations.
Lakitsky is the third Tamaqua wrestler to make it to the finals, all in Class AA. Andy Breiner was a silver medalist as a junior at 145 pounds in 1999, while Matt Benza ended with silver at 125 in 2001.
His father, Garth Lakitsky, Sr. was a two-time State medalist for the Raiders, placing third in 1985 and fourth in 1986, both at AA 167 pounds.
The younger Lakitsky has been pretty much unstoppable all season. Just three of his bouts have gone the distance, as he has racked up 33 pins, a major decision, two decisions, four forfeits and an injury default among his 41 wins.
Lakitsky's semifinal opponent, Suter, carried 26-1 record into battle. In the quarterfinals, Suter stunned defending AA 215 champion Eric Laytos of Lackawanna Trail with a pin in 1:06.
A year ago, Lakitsky advanced to the AA semis at 189, only to drop a 7-2 decision to Travis Chesla of Towanda before finishing in fourth place. That was fresh on his mind as he took on Suter.
"I really want to take that last step," said Lakitsky. "Last year I lost in the semifinals. Now I've taken one more step."
Suter tried to get Lakitsky to lose his composure, hitting him in the face twice when they were in close range. Tamaqua coach Jim McCabe said Suter also put his arm on Lakitsky's throat when they landed out of bounds.
If Suter was hoping to force Lakitsky into a mistake, that was his biggest blunder.
"He (Suter) punched him in the face, hit him in the eye and had his arm on his throad," said McCabe. "After that, I saw the fire in Garth's eyes, and he was not going to do that again."
Lakitsky then headlocked Suter, holding him airborne and being careful not to slam Suter too hard to the mat.
"It felt good," said Lakitsky. "I wanted to go hard at him right off that bat like I usually do, because I didn't want to wear myself out. When he punched me in the face, I just kept my cool, took a step back and went for it.
"I felt him going over the top, and I got in on headlock. When I got in deep on the half-nelson, I just kept him there until I could get him on his back and pin him."
"One of the things he has improved upon this year is his ability to keep his cool under pressure," related McCabe. "The last two years, he would have gotten called for a slam, and that cost him in the semis last year. He's improved because he wants to score some points offensively, and he's under control.
"Of course, if you have the opportunity to finish it, then finish it," added McCabe.
Lakitsky's final opponent, Milton's Solomon, is the Northeast Regional runner-up and has a record of 34-2. Solomon has an overtime pin over previously undefeated Matt Mongera in the semifinals and won a 2-1 OT tiebreaker against Burrell's Brian Beattie in the semis.
If there's any pressure on Lakitsky, one wouldn't know it.
"It's just my personality, how I am," he stated. "This is what I trained for all year. I want to finish it. If I can win the next one, I'll be really happy."
Hedash goes for fifth
No. Lehigh's Hedash, who placed fourth as a sophomore and fifth two years ago, took on the unbeaten Phipps (29-0) in the semifinals.
Hedash used a snap and spin for a 2-0 lead after one peiod. During the bout, he also twisted his ankle, which played a role in the outcome.
Phipps started the second period on the bottom, escaped to cut it to 2-1, then tackled Hedash with 40 seconds left for a takedown an a 3-2 edge. Hedash, escaped but was also penalized a point for grabbing a finger during hand fighting.
Following a second injury time by Hedash, Phipps had his choice of position, chose defense and escaped for a 5-3 lead after two periods.
Hedash took the bottom to start the third period and escaped to cut it to 5-4, but Phipps grabbed Hedash by the ankle for the clinching takedown with 35 seconds left.
Against Saucon Valley's O'Donnell (40-7), who he defeated for the District 11 title two weeks ago, Hedash ended up getting bandaged around his forehead late in the bout due to the reopening of a cut above his eye.
O'Donnell used a second period reversal to take a 2-0 lead, but Hedash escaped, cutting it to 2-1. Hedash tied the score with an escape to start the third period, then took a 4-2 lead on a takedown. He released O'Donnell and took him down again for a 6-3 edge.
After another escape, however, O'Donnell got a takedown at the buzzer to end regulation with the score tied at 6-6.
The bout went into the tiebreakers. O'Donnell escxaped in the first tiebreaker, but Hedash's tying escape attempt at the buzzer in the second tiebreaker was waived off.