Chase Frye played out move after move in his head while stretching, desperately trying to figure out what it would take to beat the top seed in the semifinals of the 132-pound weight class. The Pine Creek senior felt his stomach knotting, knowing this was probably his last opportunity to make it to his first tournament-finals match since middle school.
Once he touched the mat, however, his mind slowed down and his nerves were replaced with confidence.
Frye pinned Donte Landry of Arapahoe during the third period of the semifinals match and followed it up with a dominating performance over Alex Bezugly of ThunderRidge in the finals, as Pine Creek won four titles and qualified 11 wrestlers for state during the 5A Region 2 meet on Saturday at Coronado High School.
The Eagles won with a score of 240, while Coronado took second at 177 in the 16-team region.
In hindsight, it was a nothing short of a gritty performance by Pine Creek. Because although the Eagles were thought to be the favorites coming into the meet, they still benefited from their underdog mentality every chance they got.
With 11 of 14 wrestlers new to varsity competition this season, Billy Gabel said his team continued to get better, and once again "overachieved" in their latest victory.
"It's great to see how these guys performed all season, and they didn't drop off when it mattered," Gabel said after Pine Creek won its eighth regional tournament in the last 16 years. "They didn't waver."
Along with Frye, Jordan Martinez (106), Juan Rodriguez (120) and Dakota Colonese (138) won titles despite not being the top seed in their respective class.
Frye's performance, however, may have been the most spectacular of them all. Through the final two rounds, the fourth seed looked to be overmatched on paper, and it appeared only time was in the way of his early exit from the bracket. But it never happened. Frye won 8-2 and 5-0 decisions, and pinned two others on his way to a crushing performance.
"I was actually a little surprised when I got to the semifinals match, and how that turned out," said Frye, who was up 12-1 to Landry before he collected the pin 41 seconds into the final period. "I mean, the only way I can describe it is, well, I guess I wanted it more. I wanted this title and I wanted to get to state."
There was one sour note for Pine Creek. At 113, top-seed Anthony Salazar missed weight and was disqualified from the tournament. The freshman was likely to be a big points getter at state for the Eagles, who will now be without his services.
Gabel declined to comment on the matter.
Host Coronado, meanwhile, had the second-best day in the field, sending seven wrestlers to the state tournament. Jess Hankin (126) and Grady Pina (152) led the charge and won regional titles.
"It's real good to see Jess and Grady do so good for us, but we're happy with how all the kids did," Coronado coach Matt Brickell said. "It was a great region."
In the final match of the day, Pine Creek's Ryan Bollar pinned Coronado's Zeb Foster in the wrestle-back match at 195. Bollar took the fourth and final qualifying spot in the class, while Foster will have to wait another year.