Undefeated Baxter gives Butler school's first WPIAL wrestling title
CANONSBURG — In two seasons, Cole Baxter has been scaling new heights for the Butler wrestling program.
On Saturday, standing atop the awards podium, he reached the pinnacle.
The sophomore became the Golden Tornado's first WPIAL Class AAA champion by earning a 3-1 decision over Penn-Trafford's Devan Jones in the 145-pound title match.
Baxter, who also kept his undefeated record intact by improving to 42-0, will advance to the PIAA Championships, scheduled Thursday through Saturday in Hershey.
"It is meaningful, even if it was not the first," said Baxter, who improved to 75-8 in his career. "It's something for the guys to shoot for for years to come.
"I didn't need people to talk to me about being undefeated ... I'd feel pressure even if I was not undefeated. Just the pressure of being undefeated puts a bull's-eye on your back for everyone," Baxter added.
Baxter earned a takedown with 44 second left in the first period to take control of the match early.
"(Jones) is the No. 2 seed and going out and getting that first takedown was big," said Baxter.
"To come into the match, I get the adrenaline going, but Cole's calm and cool," said Butler coach Scott Stoner. "He was more aggressive than his opponent."
Jones got an escape with 15 seconds left in the second period to make it 2-1. Jones allowed Baxter to escape unhindered to start the third period for a 3-1 lead and assume the neutral position.
Jones, however, could not get anything going offensively against Baxter to force a tie in the match.
"I was confident on my feet, but it was only 2-1 and if he got a takedown it would have been 3-2 and I didn't want that," quipped Baxter.
Baxter is the first Butler County wrestler to win a WPIAL Class AAA title since Seneca Valley's Shawn Cully in 2001. Butler has had a pair of runner-ups in Lyneil Mitchell (1998) and Don Geibel (2000).
Stoner, now in his 16th year as the Tornado wrestling coach, has seen Baxter's rise through the program and knew it was apparent he could reach this point.
"Cole, coming up, was always a competitor," said Stoner. "He does not want to lose. He's very humbling, unassuming and works hard every day.
"He's a bright kid, a straight- A student who definitely deserves it. He's worked hard and it's come to fruition. I would hate to see him lose to some very good wrestlers," Stoner added.
Baxter certainly had to earn his trip to the WPIAL finals when he edged West Allegheny's Aaron McKinney 3-1 in overtime in the semifinals earlier Saturday.
McKinney, hampered by an ankle injury, was taking a defensive approach, which allowed Baxter to receive a stalling point during the match. In overtime, Baxter earned a takedown to advance to the championship bout.
"I was taking all the shots and he was on the edge," said Baxter. "I wanted to keep the pressure on."
"They both wrestled cautiously," said Stoner. "McKinney didn't push it and Cole also stayed back. McKinney knew he had to back off.
"Cole attacked him on the edge and McKinney was out of bounds, but Cole hung on. The ref allowed it to go on and he got the two," Stoner added.
From there, Baxter used that aggressiveness to seize the championship match.
"I feel like every tournament is my tournament," said Baxter. "I feel you have to go out and win. If you think you'll get beat, your chances of losing are a lot better."
Elsewhere, Seneca Valley junior Nate Cully (140) fell one match shy of reaching the consolation finals, where he would have had the chance to battle for the third and final PIAA qualifying berth out of the WPIAL.
Cully defeated Vincent Camps of Waynesburg 3-1 in overtime, then defeated Mike Crawford of Butler 4-2 before dropping a 7-1 decision to Robert Blotzer of South Allegheny in the fourth-round consolations.
Crawford had defeated Jordan Bonham of Bethel Park by major decision 8-0 in the second-round consolations before his loss to Cully.
Butler had two other wrestlers win second-round consolations.
Dillon Weston (135) decisioned Andy Hawley of Norwin 4-0 before losing to Nicholas Whipkey of McGuffey by major decision 11-0 while Zach Reges (112) decisioned Tanner Cogar of West Allegheny 4-2, then was pinned by Mike Wanner of North Allegheny in 1:49 in the third-round consolations.
Seneca Valley's Grant Evans (119) and Jordan Williams (215) and Butler's Derek Hays (152) lost in their second-round consolations Saturday morning and were eliminated.
Baxter's title Saturday was fueled not only by the support of family and friends, but just as important was a large contingent of former Tornado wrestlers who came back to watch a little history in the making.
Stoner, grateful for all, also wanted to see Baxter finally reach the top.
"He was destined to get to this level," said Stoner. "This is an emotional rush for me. I didn't want to fail him."
145 — Cole Baxter (Butler) dec. Devan Jones (Penn-Trafford), 3-1
145 — Cole Baxter (Butler) dec. Aaron McKinney (West Allegheny), 3-1 (OT)
140 — Robert Blotzer (South Allegheny) dec. Nate Cully (Seneca Valley), 7-1
112 — Mike Wanner (North Allegheny) pinned Zach Reges (Butler), 1:49; 135 — Nicholas Whipkey (McGuffey) major decision over Dillon Weston (Butler), 11-0; 140 — Nate Cully (Seneca Valley) dec. Mike Crawford (Butler), 4-2
112 — Zach Reges (Butler) dec. Tanner Cogar (West Allegheny), 4-2; 119 — Ron Schram (Canon-McMillan) dec. Grant Evans (Seneca Valley), 7-0; 135 — Dillon Weston (Butler) dec. Andy Hawley (Norwin), 4-0; 140 — Nate Cully (Seneca Valley) dec. Vincent Camps (Waynesburg), 3-1 (OT); Mike Crawford (Butler) major dec. over Jordan Bonham (Bethel Park), 8-0;