CHAMPAIGN -- Strategically holding back from displaying his full offensive arsenal, Zach Nelson waited for the right opportunity to open up.
On cue, the low single-leg became a weapon.
Needing a takedown midway through his Class 1A state semifinal bout on Friday night, Nelson, the Mercer County 152-pound senior wrestler, worked a textbook single-leg to complete the two-point move on Kankakee Bishop McNamara freshman Kyle Betourne. Given a lead, he completed the 5-3 victory at the Assembly Hall to reach the state championship match for the third consecutive season.
"When it comes down to the wire, that (the single-leg) is my go-to move," said Nelson, who meets Ashton-Franklin Center senior Jake Kaecker in the finals. "I wanted to save the best stuff when I had to use it. That was definitely the time."
Facing what many considered to be Nelson's biggest obstacle, Betourne properly defended every shot he faced in the first period. An escape gave Nelson a 1-0 second-period lead before he worked the single-leg.
Once he got Betourne taken down, Nelson scored two back points to build a 5-0 lead.
"I saw that was open," Nelson said. "I definitely knew that would be there to hit."
Nelson did allow an escape in the third period before being taken down for the fourth time this season, but that could not keep him from the win. He joins Clayton Rush as the only wrestler in Aledo/Mercer County history to reach the state finals three times.
In his previous two finals appearances, Nelson lost.
"I just keep telling myself, 'One more to go,'" Nelson said.
For the first time in program history, Mercer County has two finalists. Sophomore Tristen Finch outlasted Lena-Winslow's Austin McPeek in the 138-pound semifinal by a 6-3 decision to make it a daily double.
It was the third time this season Finch beat McPeek.
"I've been coming down here with my dad (Mercer County coach Jeremy Finch) since I was a baby," Finch said. "It means a lot to know I'm going to be wrestling for a state title."
Finch never trailed in the bout, using a takedown to build a 2-0 first-period lead. Up 4-2 after two, he worked another takedown to extend the advantage.
The third point he surrendered came off a stalling call.
"I started doubting myself when he took me down (in the second period)," Finch said. "I was kind of scared, but I started feeling it. I wanted to be in the finals and knew he couldn't beat me. I knew one more takedown would win the match, and I got it done."
Up next is Dakota sophomore Carver James, who has beaten Finch twice this year. James earned a 7-0 win in the Bob Mitton-Orion Invitational finals and a 2-1 win in last week's Oregon Sectional championship.
"I'm closing the gap," Finch said. "I figured I'd get him in the finals. I'm going to close the gap and take it."
Ricke, Corlett lose: Mercer County 170-pound senior Jon Ricke and Sherrard 285-pound junior Ben Corlett each dropped semifinal bouts against top-seeded opponents, both falling in close decisions.
Ricke dropped an 8-6 decision to Pittsfield senior Zach Abney.
"I showed a lot more technique than I usually do," said Ricke, who moves into the wrestlebacks. "I'm not settling for fifth or sixth -- that third-place match is mine. I'm one of the top dogs here, so I've got to get that third-place medal."
A second-period escape was the difference in Corlett's 1-0 loss to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley-Fisher junior Josh Wallick. Corlett tried to tie the score, but Wallick rode him out in the third period.
"This is an accomplishment being here," Corlett said. " ... He's a really good rider. There are some things I should've done. I'll review the tape and see what I can do to get third."
Ricke and Corlett are guaranteed a state medal.
Ten advance in wrestlebacks: Ten locals rebounded from quarterfinal losses to advance to the wrestleback quarterfinals.
Sherrard's Hunter Spengler (106 pounds) and Chance Teel (113); Mercer County's Devin Morford (160) and Bobby Lincoln (220); Orion's Jacob DeVolder (126) and Joe DeVolder (145); Erie-Prophetstown's Brandon McCullough (106); Kewanee's Mark Breedlove (132); Riverdale's Terry White (182); and Alleman's Ben West (220) each won their wrestleback openers.
West earned his 26th victory by fall, setting an Alleman single-season record.
A wrestleback quarterfinal win assures a state medal.
Q-C state finalists
138 pounds: Tristen Finch (Mercer County) vs. Carver James (Dakota) 152 pounds: Zach Nelson (Mercer County) vs. Jake Kaecker (Ashton-Franklin Center)
120 pounds: B.J. McGhee (Rock Island) vs. Vince Turk (Lombard Montini) 170 pounds: Markus Murphy (United Township) vs. Cameron Mammen (Urbana)
Today is Tuesday, March 11, the 70th day of 2014. There are 295 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Much damage is being done by hogs that are running at large about town. The marshal will take them up and sell them if their owners do not contain them. 1889 -- 125 years ago: George Newberry, Daniel Strecker, Al Webb and James Dixon returned from a voyage down the Mississippi River as far as Memphis, Tenn., on a flat. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Augustana College was put out of the running for the state collegiate basketball title when defeated by Millikin. The Viking lineup included Sten, Samuelson and Swanbeck, forwards, and Holtgren, Johnson and Berg, guards. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The coronation of Pope Pius XII and preliminary ceremonies were broadcast by WHBF on the Mutual Radio Network. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Reactivation of a portion of the J.I. Case Co, plant in Rock Island as a supplier for component parts for the firm's manufacturing centers at Racine, Wis., or Burlington, Iowa, is under consideration. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Downtown Moline business owners will have a chance to help shape the city's future through a survey being done by the Bi-State Metropolitan Planning Commission.