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As a freshman and former club gymnast in 2015, West Allis Hale wrestler Peyton Mocco burst onto the WIAA state grappling scene with a fourth-place finish at 113 pounds.

It took close to two years to get back to that rarefied level as he adjusted to about 40 pounds of additional weight, but Mocco was back on the scene in a big way Saturday night at the Kohl Center in Madison in the WIAA Division 1 individual state wrestling finals at 152 pounds.

Now a junior, Mocco broke through the weight of expectation and the pain of a dislocated pinkie as he avenged a sectional final loss of a week ago to Shane Gantz of Waukesha West with a 5-4 decision to win the state title.

In doing so, he claimed just the second wrestling crown in Hale history. Joe Semrad earned the 120-pound top spot in in the one-class format in 1962.

To honor the moment and while still on the mat, Mocco embraced his inner gymnast and did a celebratory backflip.

"It feels good to fulfill all the expectations, not only of other people but those I put on myself, because I do expect a lot out of myself," he said. "This is one of the most exciting moments in my life."

Loss was motivator

His coach Randy Ferrell said the sting of the 7-5 loss to Gantz in the WIAA sectional final on Feb. 18 was a major motivation.

"The mindset all week was to go back to what we do best," he said. "He was a little out of sorts at the sectional, but we got back to what we do best in terms of stance, motion and transitions. Sometimes, you have to take a lump in order to realize how hard you have to work."

Mocco (46-3 overall), who lost 7-5 to Gantz (41-2) at the sectional, displayed all that he did best right from the start in the final. It looked like an extension of his surprisingly dominant technical fall semifinal victory the previous night over Hudson's Jacob Anderson (45-4).

He got a first-period takedown on a solid rush. Gantz escaped, but Mocco went into the second period up, 2-1.

"That first takedown was big," said Ferrell. "it allowed us to open up a little more. He could calm down and keep moving forward."

Gantz was down in the second and escaped to knot the match at 2-2. The bout was delayed briefly for some blood time for Gantz. Shortly thereafter, the pair engaged in an acrobatic display of escape skills before Mocco hit Gantz with a single-leg takedown. After another Gantz escape, it was 4-3 going into the third. The period was not without cost, as in one exchange, Mocco dislocated a pinkie finger, which needed to be taped up.

"I really didn't feel it much at the time," said Mocco. "It'll probably hurt like heck tomorrow."

The third period had Huskies fans on the edge of their seats at the packed Kohl.  After getting more tape for his finger,  Mocco earned an escape to take a 5-3 advantage.

That escape would prove to be enough to earn the victory as Mocco stayed the aggressor the rest of the match.

"I knew I needed to keep up the pace and not let him get any momentum," said Mocco.

When a final Gantz rush failed to net the winning takedown, Mocco shook hands, took a step back, smiled, and then did his backflip.

"I had thought of that for awhile," he said. "I had done gymnastics until my freshman year, and I thought it was a good way to incorporate what it all meant to me."

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A video slideshow showing the area's state wrestling champions and the runners-up from the Milwaukee-Waukesha area. Christopher Kuhagen/Now Media Group

Hale gets its champ

Mocco understood fully what this title meant. West Allis has always had a strong wrestling tradition, but in the last decade or so, a lot of that tradition had gone rival Central's way, as the Bulldogs always seemed to have someone in the state-title mix.

This time, it was Hale's turn.

"It feels good to get it back on our side of the city," he said. "Good to get it back to Hale."

Ferrell felt the same way.

"We've had great wrestlers like Tim Costigan (who came up just short of a title about a decade ago)," he said, "but we're proud of Peyton. He pulled through to become our second state champ."

Mocco was one of four Hale wrestlers at state. Charlie Wagner (41-11) lost two matches at 113 pounds, Marshall Rushton (42-7) dropped his only match at 138 pounds and Dylan Allen (38-12) went 1-2 at 182 pounds.

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