HERSHEY — This is how you want to win a state wrestling championship: With a bang.
Chambersburg senior Luke Nichter not only capped a brilliant career with a PIAA gold medal, not only defeated his rival Clayton Ulrey in the final, but he did it with a pin that sent the Giant Center crowd into a roar Saturday night.
“It makes it so much better to get a pin in the state finals,” Nichter said. “I even said to myself in warmups that I wanted to pin him.”
Nichter led Lower Dauphin’s Ulrey 3-1 in the second period when he caught Ulrey’s leg, pulled in Ulrey’s head to lock in a cradle and took him to his back for a pin in 3:43.
He becomes the third Trojan to capture a wrestling gold medal — Craig Helmuth in 1974 and Garett Hammond in 2012 and 2013 were the others.
Nichter, who is bound for Drexel next year, finishes with a 43-5 record this season and 155-25 for his career. He is the only four-time PIAA placewinner for Chambersburg and holds school records for wins and pins.
But none of those accolades will mean as much to Nichter as that 3-second span of time when he heard the slap of the mat and raised his arms in victory.
“I started wrestling in second grade and this is like a dream come true,” he said. “And it was so nice to do it with my great family around and this great coaching staff.”
It is a measure of the amount of respect Nichter has in the wrestling community that he was besieged by wrestlers from all over the state who wanted to congratulate him in the tunnel afterward.
The key to his gold medal: confidence.
“I didn’t doubt myself for the last two weeks (since losing in overtime to Ulrey in the District 3 final),” Nichter said. “I was ready for each match up here.”
Chambersburg coach Matt Mentzer said, “Luke had a quiet calm all week; he was very relaxed. He just went about his business. But … he was very confident.”
Ulrey, who split four matches vs. Nichter this season, can be a real buzzsaw when he gets going, but Nichter never let that happen. The first period ended scoreless and Nichter kept forcing Ulrey to the edge of the mat, resulting in a stall warning for the Falcon.
“There’s not a lot of room for error at this level, so you don’t want to make mistakes,” Nichter said. “I was pushing and trying to figure out where I could score from.”
Wrestling can be a very strategic sport, with video available on everybody. But Nichter chose to ignore all of that, particularly since he knew Ulrey anyway.
Nichter said, “I didn’t want to game plan; I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. Just go out and have a six-minute fight.”
The bout opened up in the second period. Nichter escaped quickly, then was able to get in double underhooks on Ulrey, and scored a takedown on an inside trip to take a 3-0 lead.
“Usually he buries his head and I can’t get that,” Nichter said, “but sometimes he doesn’t and I can usually score 100% of the time then.”
Nichter cut Ulrey loose, so he led 3-1. Ulrey then took a shot and it was blocked. Nichter quickly spun behind and reached for Ulrey’s near leg. He grabbed it behind the knee, pulled his head into a cradle and took him to his back.
Ulrey rolled slightly through, but as soon as Nichter rocked him back, he was stuck.
Mentzer said, “Luke had two good scoring positions and he made them both work. The inside trip that put him up 3-0 I think made Clayton feel like he had to force it a little bit.”
Nichter said, “He took a bad shot and I just moved my feet to pick up the two (takedown). I snatched a single and I still had the head, and got into the cradle.
“Once I got it locked up and got my hips on top, there was no way he was getting out.”
“When you get a kid like that on his back, you need to finish him right then, and Luke did,” Mentzer said.
Ulrey (37-3) was in the finals last year (Nichter was two years ago), and Ulrey was trying to become the first wrestler from Lower Dauphin to win a state title. He had plenty of fans cheering for him, but it was not to be.
Mentzer, who said he wore the same jacket he did when Hammond won his two titles, said, “I told Luke right before the match started that Clayton had all the pressure on him.
“This is just the cherry on top of his career. Win or lose, it wouldn’t have changed how I feel about him. He was the hardest worker in the room and he earned this. But I do think this validated his career for him.”
Validated with a huge exclamation mark.