HERSHEY >> Not many expected Church Farm senior, Emmanuel Lawal, to navigate his way to the Class 2A PIAA finals, but this was Lawal's plan, all along.
Up 1-0, heading into the third period, Lawal (285 pounds) rode out Meyersdale's Jalen Stephens, Friday night, to clinch a trip to the state finals.
"I started wrestling in ninth grade and I made regionals my first year and got knocked out quick," Lawal said. "After that, I told my coaches, I'm making states as a sophomore, I'm gonna place as a junior and senior year I'm gonna try and win it. So far, the plan has been working."
As a third-place finisher from the Southeast Regional, Lawal stayed solid in both his matches of day two, in the Giant Center, getting past Southern Columbia's Lear Quinton, 4-2, in the quarterfinals, thanks to a late reversal.
Against Stephens, who placed third last year after defeating Lawal in the first round, Lawal rode hard on top in the third, going 90 seconds before the first whistle. The final 30, the returning eighth-place medalist held on.
"I've been working on my top game for a long time," Lawal said. "Every year it just gets better."
Last year, Lawal was the first Griffin to win a state medal, and Saturday, he'll be the first to compete in the finals, which begin at 2 p.m. His task will be returning state champion, Colby Whitehill of Brookville.
"I'm just happy," Lawal said. "It's amazing to finally be going into the state finals."
Two locals are hoping to follow Lawal's lead, with wins in the Class 3A tournament quarterfinals. Coatesville's Nate Lucier (120) and Downingtown West's Max Hale (182) are in the semis, which begin at 9 a.m. West Chester Henderson's Sammy McMonagle (126) and West's Chase Mielnik (220) also clinched medals with wins in the consolation bracket.
In his second trip to Hershey, Lucier also won without scoring on offense, keeping Bellefonte's Lane Aikey down in the third period for a 1-0 win.
"He kept it tight and wasn't doing a whole lot," Lucier said. "I kept my composure and wrestled through it."
The Coatesville junior will face state runner-up, Dylan Chappell of Seneca Valley, in the semis, becoming the first Red Raider to reach that point in the tournament since Mike Boykin in 2014.
"I'm going for gold, man," Lucier said. "I gotta get that first place."
Hale is in the state semis for the second straight year. He became the first wrestler from West to win three state medals.
"It feels good," Hale said. "I know I have two more matches to wrestle and I'm looking forward to them."
In the quarters, against Nazareth's Drew Clearie, Hale finally found a takedown on a counter-attack, to take a 3-1 lead with 54 seconds to go. On the restart, Hale returned Clearie to the mat, but was called for an illegal slam, making it 3-2 with 43 seconds left.
Hale was a third caution or escape away from giving up the tying-point, but the senior rode out Clearie the rest of the way.
"I was just thinking, 'don't be stupid,'" Hale said. "I tried to keep my head and finish out solid. I locked into my ride, which I'm not known for doing."
Hale faces Peters Township's Donovan McMillan for a spot in the finals.
Mielnik took a loss to Selinsgrove's returning state champ, Nate Schon, in quarters, but rallied for a major decision over Central Bucks East's Danny Eckley to book his first trip to the podium. He gets Cedar Crest's TJ Moore, next.
"I know I'm not done, yet," Mielnik said. "I'm not done my journey. I'm gonna keep wrestling and staying tough, mentally."
McMonagle finally cleared that threshold, as well, in his third trip. After a 10-5 loss to Central Dauphin's Josh Miller in quarters, McMonagle used two takedowns to get past Hampton's Zach Wright, 5-2.
"I'm super excited," said McMonagle, who'll face Council Rock South's Kyle Waterman. "I had a tough first match, but thankfully I bounced back really well and cleared my head of that first match. I put a great match together against a great opponent."
There were just as many heartbreaks, however, especially for Henderson's two-time medalist, Killian Delaney (120). In his fourth and final trip to Hershey, he dropped a 4-3 loss to Manheim Central's Will Betancourt in quarters and then was taken down by Carlisle's Rafael Portilla in overtime to end his career.
Delaney finished with a school record 161 wins, with 33 losses.