HERSHEY, Pa.: Easton’s Andrew Balukas stood in the hallway under the stands at Hershey’s Giant Center with dried blood all over his face.
There was blood on his singlet, on his arm, and a few drops on his leg. His right eye lid had five stitches to repair the cut he suffered 30 minutes early during his PIAA Championship semifinal match.
Balukas looked worse than his opponent, Dorian Crosby, of Cathedral Prep, but looks were deceiving in this particular match-up. The Red Rover senior was the one who got his hand raised.
This is a true underdog story. Balukas has never qualified for states. In fact, he took off last year and entered this year’s state tournament with a career record of 40-22 and ranked 14th in the state.
But, numbers didn’t wrestle one bout in Hershey this year. Balukas did, and he blew through the bracket and capped off his run to the state finals with a fall over Crosby, the No. 4-ranked wrestler in the state, in 0:48.
“The first thing I said when I came back out for wrestling was, ‘I’m going to win states,’” Balukas said. “That’s been my goal the whole year. Throughout all of the practices, that’s all I’ve wanted.
“We went to a lot of big tournaments, and I’ve been in big matches my whole life. I know I can wrestle with the best, even if I lose a close match.
“The confidence has always been there, and now that I’m out here, I’m proving it to everyone. Everyone is looking at me as, ‘He’s not bad, but he isn’t one of the top dogs.’ It just motivates me to prove it.”
And Balukas has responded.
Crosby didn’t just have a lofty ranking coming into this bout. He also had previous success in Hershey, when he placed fifth a year ago.
None of that mattered to Balukas. The Red Rovers 220-pound wrestler was feeling confident when he took the mat.
“Technique and learning the moves was there,” Balukas said. “I was just rusty and had to clean things up early in the year. The main thing was my stamina, because I wasn’t in wrestling shape at all.
“I could go out and wrestle with anyone the first period, but then I was gassed. I was just trying to fight through it the last four minutes. Right before districts, I could run miles a day and felt like I didn’t get tired on the mat. That’s when I started to peak.”
Balukas didn’t have to worry about getting deep into his match with Crosby. In fact, it didn’t even last a minute.
Crosby shot and was close to a takedown. Balukas fought the move and finished off a lateral drop for a fall in 48 seconds.
“He shot and had a single,” Balukas said. “I was confident he wasn’t going to take me down. I was fighting it one way, and he went to crack me back. I used his momentum to throw him, and when he was on his back, I knew I had it.”
The crowd erupted when Balukas secured the fall. Blood was dripping down his face, but he had no idea when the cut occurred. He was too focused in the moment.
Now, Balukas will be a featured attraction in front of a Primtime crowd Saturday night. His opponent, Selinsgrove’s Nate Schon, the No. 3-ranked wrestler in the state.
“It would mean everything to win a state title,” Balukas said. “My last high school sport ever, getting on the wall at Easton, to go down as one of the legends, it would mean everything to me.”