- Associated Press - Friday, March 10, 2017

HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) - Before Gavin Teasdale considered the accomplishment within his reach, he reached for a scroungy looking water bottle labeled “Bug Juice.”

One of his coaches brought the off-white, medical-tape-covered jug over and set it at Teasdale’s side after the Jefferson-Morgan 126-pounder wrestled his way into his third-straight PIAA Class AA championship match inside Giant Center Friday night.

“That’s kind of like our team thing,” Teasdale said. “The team drinks out of every year.”

A few sips from the “Bug Juice” bottle isn’t the secret fueling Teasdale’s quest to become the 44th three-time champion in PIAA history, however. His always-evolving technique and aggressive attacks are behind his charge.

Teasdale remained perfect for his career in the championship tournament and has ravaged three opponents with 67 points thus far. His 20-5 technical fall over Boiling Springs’ Kollin Myers - a grappler Teasdale dispatched in the 113-pound championship bout last season - propelled him into a finals showdown with Bermudian Springs’ Austin Clabaugh on Saturday night.

“I knew if I take it one match at a time, not overlooking anyone, I know (a championship) is going to come,” Teasdale said. “And if I wrestle like I know how to, there should be no one that can keep up with my pace.”

It was a feeling shared by most of Class AA’s returning champions.

Huntingdon’s Jacob Oliver (170 pounds), Montoursville’s Gavin Hoffman (195) and Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt’s Cole Nye (220) advanced to the finals. They’ll defend their titles when the wrestling finals begin at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Nye and Hoffman did so in similar, breakneck pace to Teasdale.

Hoffman posted his third technical fall of the tournament with a 22-6 semifinal win over Brookville’s Xavier Molnar. He’ll face Bishop McCort’s Anthony Walters in the finals.

Nye, who strung together a fall and major decision to battle into the semifinals, kept pushing forward against South Side Beaver’s Bishop McCoy and secured a late takedown to post a 13-5 major decision. It set up a rematch of last year’s 220-pound championship bout with Bishop McCort’s Josiah Jones. Nye won 2-1 in tiebreaker last year.

Nye’s bonus-point win helped his team stay ahead of Brookville for second in the team race. But the Crusaders won’t be able to catch Reynolds, which qualified 10 wrestlers for the tournament and led by 30 points with eight wrestlers still alive.

“I feel a lot better this year,” Nye said. “I’m a lot more confident in my offense. I’m putting up a lot more points so I think that’s the biggest thing. I’m wrestling a very familiar opponent. I’ve wrestled him a lot of times throughout my career so it’s shaping up to be a great match as always.”

A pair of returning champions familiar with one anothers’ successes will square off in the 138-pound title match.

Central Cambria’s Max Murin and Reynolds’ Cole Matthews will look to return to the top of the podium after winning titles at 113 and 120 pounds, respectively, in 2015. Both wrestlers bumped up a weight to 126 pounds last season where Murin lost in the finals and Matthews won the third-place match.

Both returned to form up a weight where they fastened their semifinal foes to the mat in less than minute.

Matthews flattened Tri-Valley’s Sammy Hepler in 37 seconds for his second fall of the tournament just after Murin rolled Slippery Rock’s Michael Doerflinger up in a cradle for a pin in just 21 seconds for his third pin.

“If I wrestle Max Murin style and grind him and wrestle hard-nosed, make it a dogfight, I can win against anyone,” Murin said. “Last year was terrible taking second. But it definitely helped me in the long run. It definitely made me a better wrestler. It motivated me.”

If second place stung Murin, it’s been doubly tough for Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt’s John Pipa.

The senior has lost in the finals twice, his most recent championship defeat coming last season at 132 pounds. He jumped up two weight classes in the offseason and will make his final push for a championship at 145 where he’ll face Chestnut Ridge’s Justin McCoy.

“I don’t really have any nerves, Pipa said. “I’m just here to let it fly and go hard so that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m not too worried about winning or losing. I’m just trying stuff, having fun and going hard.”

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