Rocky Balboa and The Karate Kid have nothing on Kevin Thayer.
Unatego senior Thayer starred in perhaps the biggest underdog story of the high school wrestling season, winning New York’s award for best 152-pounder in Division II on Saturday at the Times Union Center in Albany.
“I think he’d rather have a state title than a sectional title any day,” third-year Unatego coach Mike Hamilton said of Thayer, a Section Four runner-up who turned a wild-card berth into a D-II state championship with a 4-0 run during the two-day tournament. “He never gave up. He’s just that type of kid.”
Thayer capped his title run with a 6-5 decision over Section Three champion Rowdy Prior, slipping out of what appeared to be a match-ending cradle for a two-point reversal with less than 25 seconds left.
“I’ve been taught all the way through pee-wees that the best way to get out of cradle is not to get into one,” said Thayer, who did the exact opposite while holding a 4-2 lead with less than a minute to wrestle.
Phoenix senior Prior, who entered the D-II tournament as the No. 1 seed at 152 pounds, chose the top position for the final period and immediately attempted to lock Thayer into his signature move.
“We were watching some videos of the kid and we knew he had a cross-face cradle,” Hamilton said. “At the beginning of the third period, Rowdy chose top. So we kept saying, ‘Just watch out for the cradle.’ “
Thayer often lifted his head while maintaining the down position for the first half of the last period, but Prior finally found the right hand grip and rocked the seventh seed to his back.
“He hit that cradle and we were like, ‘Oh, man,’ “ Hamilton said. “We knew (Thayer) wasn’t going to lay down, though. I probably seemed like, ‘Oh man, this is bad,’ but in the back of my mind, I knew he was going to fight out of it. He’s a fighter.”