Bedford coach Brian Creps says that Ryan Easter has been walking around with a smile on his face in the days leading up to the PIAA Championships.
It's not hard to figure out why he's been smiling. It's his third trip to the state tournament, and he's wrestled in the Giant Center two other times when Bedford was in the PIAA Duals. He also got a better bracket than Ligonier Valley's Josh Patrick, who beat Easter in the overtime tiebreaker at the Southwest Regional Tournament.
Patrick is in the same bracket as Bethlehem Catholic's returning state champion Darian Cruz. That's some reward for winning a regional title.
Anyway, as I make my Class AA picks, Easter should make the semifinals for the second straight year, but his run to the finals will come to an end against Benton's Matt Welliver, who beat Easter in overtime in the consolation semifinals last year.
Can Easter make it to the finals? Certainly. He's a determined young man. That was clear when he placed as a freshman despite wrestling with a hamstring pull. He loves the big bouts, and there's a lot of them at the state tournament.
I haven't picked any area wrestler to reach the finals.
Chestnut Ridge's Tyler Dibert and Austin Buttry, Huntingdon's Collin Glorioso, Claysburg-Kimmel's Josh Brown and Tussey Mountain's Mitchell Hall could all make deep runs. Heck, Buttry and Hall could tangle for the fourth time in the 285-pound quarterfinals.
Hall has won all three, but Buttry keeps making it close. I'm saying Hall, who actually does weigh 285, will win the fourth time and get a shot at Mifflinburg's returning state champion Nazar Mironenko. Mironenko, though, is my pick to win the weight class.
Glorioso proved in the Southwest Regional that you can't count him out of anything. I say he has a good shot at the semis at 106, where he runs into Bethlehem Catholic's Luke Karam, who is my pick to lose to Saegertown's Devin Brown in the finals.
The hard-working Dibert hasn't medaled yet in his two previous appearances in Hershey, but with his experience, talent and determination, he stands a good chance of doing that this year. The semifinals are also a possibility, where my pick, Brandywine Heights' Pete Renda, will likely halt his run.
Brown hasn't place yet, but his third trip should be the charm. With his big moves and low single, you can't count him out. He just hasn't been able to solve South Fayette's Seth Carr, whom Brown could take on in the semifinals. I'm giving the edge to Carr.
Somebody else could make an unexpected run through the brackets. Tyrone's Dylan Weston finished fourth at the regional last year, but he made it to the semifinals at Hershey, and lost by a point, 3-2, Hughesville's Kyle Barnes in the semis.
Making these state picks is always hard because there's so many great wrestlers at every weight. My friend, Jim Butler, who died unexpectedly at the age of 65 last year, was usually pretty good at making these picks because of instincts and wrestling knowledge. I think I only got the best of him once when we were working together in Clearfield at The Progress.
I'll miss him in Hershey, and it will be weird not seeing him, but the wrestling should be fantastic.
106 POUNDS: Finalists: Devin Brown, Saegertown vs. Luke Karam, Bethlehem Catholic. Champion: Brown. Comment: Brown will be tested right away with Burgettstown's McDermitt in first round.
113 POUNDS: Finalists: Seth Carr, South Fayette vs. Korbin Myers, Boiling Springs. Champion: Myers. Comment: If Claysburg-Kimmel's Brown is on his game, he could face Carr again for the second straight week in the semifinals.
120 POUNDS: Finalists: Darian Cruz, Bethlehem Catholic vs. Matt Welliver, Benton. Champion: Cruz. Comment: Last year, Cruz pinned Ligonier Valley Justin Patrick in semis. This year, he could get Josh Patrick.
126 POUNDS: Finalists: Ryan Diehl, Trinity vs. Zeke Moisey, Bethlehem Catholic. Champion: Diehl. Comment: Tough first-round draw for Southern Huntingdon's Myers, who opens with returning state champ Diehl.
132 POUNDS: Finalists: Nick Zanetta, Keystone Oaks vs. Jason Nolf, Kittanning. Champion: Nolf. Comment: I clearly underestimated Zanetta last week when I did my regional picks. Not doing that again.
138 POUNDS: Finalists: Sean Heggs, Juniata vs. Zain Retherford, Benton. Champion: Retherford. Comment: Penn State recruit Retherford had to sit out last year after transferring from Line Mountain to Benton.
145 POUNDS: Finalists: Mike Racciato, Pen Argyl vs. Tanner Sutton, Chartiers-Houston. Champion: Racciato. Comment: Benton's Colt Cotten could get a chance at wrestling two-time champ Racciato.
152 POUNDS: Finalists: Kyle Barnes, Hughesville vs. Austin Matthews, Reynolds. Champion: Matthews. Comment: Bedford's Williams gets a tough one right off the bat in Halifax's once-beaten Moretz.
160 POUNDS: Finalists: Cody Law, Forest Hills vs. Ty Schoffstall, Tri Valley. Champion: Law. Comment: Penn State recruit Law thought he should have won last year. This year, he should.
170 POUNDS: Finalists: Pete Renda, Brandywine Heights vs. Tristan Sponseller, Bermudian Springs. Champion: Renda. Comment: Renda outscored his opponents 26-0 before losing to Greenville's Copeland, 2-1, in 152-pound finals last year.
182 POUNDS: Finalists: Troy Hembury, Muncy vs. Dakota DesLauriers, Burrell. Champion: DesLauriers. Comment: Blairsville's Thompson will test Hembury in quarterfinals.
195 POUNDS: Finalists: Ryan Solomon, Milton vs. Garrett Vulcano, Chartiers-Houston. Champion: Solomon. Comment: If he wins his first bout, Mo Valley's Stodart will get returning champ Solomon.
220 POUNDS: Finalists: Ray O'Donnell, Saucon Valley vs. Jake Temple, Avella. Champion: O'Donnell. Comment: I became a believer in O'Donnell when he beat Stodart, 12-1, in the consolations last year.
285 POUNDS: Finalists: Nazar Mironenko, Mifflinburg vs. Allan Beattie, Burrell. Champion: Mironenko. Comment: Bottom half of the weight is up for grabs.
OUTSTANDING WRESTLER: Mike Racciato, Pen Argyl.
TEAM CHAMPION: Bethlehem Catholic. Comment: Bethlehem Catholic could run away with the team title.
LAST WEEK'S SOUTHWEST REGIONAL CLASS AA RECORD: 8 out of 29 correct situations. OVERALL RECORD: 81 out of 148 correct situations.
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at email@example.com. He can be followed on Twitter at ToddIrwin1.