HERSHEY — Ryan Hayes couldn't get away from Derek Gulotta.
It took a trip to Hershey for the PIAA Championships to finally get some separation.
The 113-pound tussles between Spring-Ford junior Hayes and Owen J. Roberts junior Gulotta were matched only by the heavyweight battles between Pottsgrove senior Pat Finn and Methacton senior Tracey Green as the preeminent rivalry in the Pioneer Athletic Conference this season.
No matter the tournament — PAC-10, districts, regionals — Hayes and Gulotta were bound to battle, each time in the final round.
Two days into the state championships, neither have seen that familiar face at the opening handshake. Two days into the state championships, both can begin to imagine the feeling of a PIAA medal.
Gulotta, a two-time medalist who is the Hershey veteran of the PAC-10's bunch, is into his first semifinal after finishing eighth in his first two seasons. Hayes kept himself in the medal hunt by bouncing back from defeat in the quarterfinals to win his consolation match and still be invited to the final day of the tournament.
It's a similar setup for the other big local rivalry, Finn finding his way into the 285 semifinals while Green continued in consolation following a 1-0 loss in the quarters.
The weekly wars were installments of a rivalry to be sure. But that isn't to say they didn't end up one-sided.
If anyone would want to shy away from talk about his matches with his top rival it would probably be Hayes. Going 0-for-8 would do that to most.
Yet that couldn't be farther from accurate for the upbeat Hayes, who recognizes his battles with Gulotta played a role in his trip deep into the PIAA Tournament.
"Wrestling him made me a better wrestler,' said Hayes. "At PAC-10s I got so close. With 30 seconds left, I didn't even know I was up, so I shot and he capitalized like he usually does. Wrestling him over and over made me think I'm a better wrestler.'
The PAC-10 Championships meeting was the closest Hayes came to Gulotta, falling 11-7 after losing 9-0 during the regular season. In districts, the margin was 6-0 and most recently a 9-3 decision in Gulotta's favor in the AAA Southeast Regional.
On Friday, the always-attacking Hayes' resiliency was on display after suffering a 6-4 setback to Central Dauphin's TyShawn White in the quarterfinals. He came back shortly thereafter and defeated Nazareth's Travis Smith, 7-1, in the consolations.
Just qualifying for the PIAA Championships achieved a goal for Hayes, something that his most recent defeat to Gulotta couldn't take away.
"I was upset with the loss (in the regional final). I wrestled him eight times and he beat me all eight times, but all I knew was I'm going to states,' Hayes said. "That was my goal for the year. Now that I got here I want to get a medal and represent Spring-Ford because I'm the only one who got here. I'm going to try my best to get a medal.'
That is something Gulotta is already assured of after pinning Philipsburg-Osceola's Chris Thompson in 3:47 to make his first Final Four.
"I've never been to the semis,' he said. "I just want to go out there and keep wrestling. I woke up (Friday) morning and felt good. I kind of got nervous when I walked in here realizing, ' Wow, I really have a chance to do something there.' I feel great and I just want to keep it going and get to the finals.'
Gulotta, who spoke about taking a more relaxed approach trip to states, knows Hayes factored into getting him battle-tested.
"Wrestling different kids, it's nice to get different styles, but Hayes does it all,' Gulotta said. "He changes it up and he's the kind of kid who's battling all the time. You come to this tournament and you have to be prepared for that.'
And now that they have the whole of Pa. to compete against, the foes have shifted to friends.
"When it comes to (states), the PAC-10 is rooting for one another,' Gulotta said. "I root for (Hayes), he roots for me. If we have to wrestle we have to put that aside, but we're rooting for each other.'
The ability to do that is rooted in the respect they have for each other.
"Off the mat, he and I are good friends. I root for him,' Hayes said. "I might say I hate wrestling you all the time. It's on the mat. Off the mat you can't hate a kid for beating you. You can be disappointed in yourself but it can make you a better wrestler.'
Follow Austin Hertzog on Twitter @AustinHertzog