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, July 29, the 210th day of 2014. There are 155 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: Col. H.F. Sickless informs us that there will be new organization of troops in this state under the call for more men. 1889 -- 125 years ago: James Normoyle arrived home after graduating from West Point with honors in the class of 1889. He was to report to Fort Brady, Mich., as second lieutenant in the 23rd Infantry. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Austria Hungary declared war on Serbia. Germany and Austria refused an invitation of Sir Edward Grey to join Great Britain at a mediation conference. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Dr. William Mayo, the last of the three famous Mayo brother surgeons, died at the age of 78. 1964 -- 50 years ago: One of the biggest horse shows of the season was held yesterday at Hillandale Arena on Knoxville Road under the sponsorship of the Illowa Horsemen's Club. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Davenport is like a gigantic carnival this weekend with the Bix Arts Fest taking over 12 square blocks of the downtown area. A festive atmosphere prevailed Friday as thousands of people turned out to sample what the Arts Fest has to offer.