Last dance for Baxter
Butler senior seeks PIAA wrestling crown

By John Enrietto
Eagle Sports Editor

BUTLER TWP — The face of Butler High wrestling wants to end his career there in only one place: on top.
Golden Tornado senior 171-pounder Cole Baxter (41-2) begins his final quest for a state championship Thursday when he takes on Dustin Taubert (27-6) of Corry in a first-round match at Hershey’s Giant Center.
“I want to finish my career on the top of the podium,” Baxter said. “This may be the last weekend I ever wear a wrestling uniform and I want to go out with a bang.”
Undecided about his collegiate future, Baxter is weighing opportunities in football and wrestling.
Baxter is 156-15 in his high school career — posting 38 more wins than any other Tornado wrestler — and owns team records in nearly every category.
“I get attached to every wrestler who comes through here,” Butler coach Scott Stoner said. “We form lifelong bonds.
“But when you have a guy like Cole, a stud you can count on for four years to go up against almost anybody and come out a winner — saying goodbye will really be tough,” he added.
Baxter is a three-time WPIAL finalist and was a WPIAL champion and state placer as a sophomore.
“Looking at the draw, being in the bottom bracket may work out well for Cole,” Stoner said. “The two unbeatens are in the top bracket and one will knock the other off.
“The bottom bracket has a bunch of guys with a few losses on their record.”
Baxter dropped a 6-0 decision to Ethan Orr — a defending New Jersey state champion — at the King of the Mountain Tournament in December. His only other loss this year was 5-0 to unbeaten Nick Bonaccorsi (39-0) of Bethel Park in the WPIAL finals.
If Bonaccorsi wins his first-round match Thursday, he likely will face Jim Staudenmayer (38-0) of Plymouth Whitemarsh in the second round.
Taubert lost by technical fall to Zach Towers of Meadville during the regular season. Baxter scored a 6-1 decision over Towers this year.
“Maybe we drew an opening opponent Cole has a decided advantage over,” Stoner said.
Baxter isn’t buying it.
“Just because A beat C doesn’t mean B will beat C,” he said. “This is the top 16 wrestlers in the state. Every match is tough. Every opponent can beat you.
“The fact this may be my last tournament won’t change how I wrestle. I’ll stay aggressive and look to score early.”
A wrestler needs at least two wins in the PIAA Tournament to be a state placer.
Baxter said he knows nothing about Taubert right now, “but I’ll know plenty about him before we take the mat.”
If Baxter wins his first match, he likely will face Neal Grudi (31-4) of Spring Grove in the second round. Grudi faces Nick Burns (46-6) of LaSalle in the first round.
“Burns is a fourth-place qualifier from a comparatively weaker region,” Stoner said.
Even if Baxter opts for football in college, he said this likely won’t be the last weekend he’s involved in wrestling.
“I’ve been wrestling since I was 5. It’s been a big part of my life,” he said. “I may have a kid wrestling someday or I may help coach at some level.
“If this is goodbye, I’m sure it will be a short goodbye.”