ATLANTIC CITY - Hammonton High School senior David Williams had to search through his duffle bag for his "wrestler pass" at the state individual wrestling championships on Saturday.
Wrestlers need their passes as identification to get in and out of the staging area and onto the Boardwalk Hall arena floor during states.
"They know who you are now," Hammonton coach Dave Mauriello told Williams.
Williams won a 1-0 decision against defending state placewinner Nick Zak of Jackson Liberty in the quarterfinals and then burst into the 182-pound state final with a 55-second pin against Newton's Josh Sibblies in the semifinals.
Williams is the only local athlete wrestling for a title today.
Holy Spirit sophomore 106-pounder Pat D'Arcy can still finish as high as third place with a pair of wins today. Egg Harbor Township's Nigel Toussaint will wrestle in the seventh/eighth-place match.
"I'm pretty fired up," Williams said through a smile that filled Boardwalk Hall. "I made it to the finals. I have to win it now."
Williams will face defending state champ Johnny Sebastian of Bergen Catholic in the finals. Sebastian won his first state title last season as a sophomore against 2012 Hammonton grad Phil Bakuckas (now wrestling at Rutgers).
Williams said after winning his second Region 8 title last week that he was looking forward to a match with Sebastian, ranked seventh in the country by InterMat, and a chance at a bit of retribution.
Williams, like Bakuckas, didn't win a match at states as a junior. Bakuckas, coincidentally, was knocked out by Sebastian in the prelims his junior season.
"I've always wanted to get here since last year," Williams said. "Last year, I had a bad tournament. This year is different. I worked hard for it this year. I'll see Sebastian in the final."
Hammonton never had a wrestler reach the finals until Bakuckas last season.
Now, coach Dave Mauriello and the Blue Devils have had finalists in back-to-back seasons and both have had to face Sebastian in the finals.
"It's awesome," Mauriello said. "It's kind of funny. David came in as a junior with a similar outcome to what Phil had as a junior and the placement in the bracket was identical this season.
"It's amazing how similar. And now he sees Sebastian in the finals."
In his quarterfinal match, after a scoreless first period, Williams escaped in the second to take a 1-0 lead.
Williams made the lead stick, riding Zak out in the third period for the narrow victory. Zak finished sixth in the state last season at 170 pounds.
In the semifinals, Williams made things look easy with one of the fastest pins in the first two days of the tournament.
"I tried to end it fast," Williams said. "I went out there and did what I had to do."
Williams will take a 43-0 record into today's final.
"He's been so focused since day one," Mauriello said. "He never takes a rep off. He works as hard as humanly possible, and he deserves all good things that come to him because he's working for it."
Bakuckas is Hammonton's all-time wins leader with 132 career wins. Williams now has 130 and may have been able to reach the mark if he had to come through wrestlebacks.
"It feels good to be a state finalist," Williams said. "It also feels good not to have to wrestle four matches after this."
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