Catholic Memorial 285-pound senior wrestler Gabe Bautz is a patient man.

He had a hard time busting the varsity lineup last year (competing behind Crusaders state-qualifying Sam Gromacki) and wasn't even the Classic 8 Conference champion this year (he lost to Muskego's Jorin McGuire in the finals).

But because Bautz had a great deal of high-level experience, focus and more than a small amount of skill, he became the first WIAA state wrestling champion in the school's history as he downed second-ranked in state Cole Warzynski of Almond-Bancroft in the D2 finals, 8-3, at the Kohl Center in Madison on Saturday night.

Though Bautz was new to this particular spotlight, the moment was not too big for him.

"The main thing for me," he said, "was that you see guys come into this place and they get caught up in the noise and the large crowd, but I didn't do that. And I know those other guys (in the field) have good records, too, but they don't wrestle in the Classic 8. "This is my first year really (on varsity),so to now be the first state champion, wow! I just felt I owed it to my school to go out with a bang."

It was a great milestone for 41-year Crusaders coach Bill Young, who had 29 state champions in the old WISAA private schools state tournament, but none up to this point after well more than a decade in the WIAA.

Young refused to take any credit, pointing to the team's upper-weight coach Justin Staebler and Bautz himself.

"He (Bautz) was actually sick in the conference final (against a Muskego opponent), but once he got into the tournament series, he was just so dialed in," said Young, "and our heavyweight coach Justin (Staebler) was his guy. He worked with him for four years.

"Just a phenomenal way for him to go out."

Bautz (45-6 overall), entered the tournament ranked seventh among D2 heavyweights by Wisconsin Wrestling Online, but he cut a powerful swath through the state field, starting on Thursday, Feb. 25, when he beat sixth-ranked Sam Skornicka of Two Rivers (31-12) by a 5-3 count.

Then on the morning of Friday, Feb. 26, he blanked fourth-ranked Nick Rueth of Neillsville (40-7), 7-0. Later that evening, he advanced to the finals with a 6-4 semifinal victory over third-ranked Skyler Kurt of Lodi (42-3). Bautz did not have to face topranked in state Quinton Reed of Wisconsin Lutheran, to whom he lost four times this season including at sectionals on Feb. 20. Reed was on the other side of the bracket and eventually took third after losing to Warzynski in the semifinals.

That run put Bautz in with the powerfully built Warzynski (47-2) in Saturday night's finals.

Warzynski got the first takedown, but the battle-tested Bautz, who was a three-year starting All Conference offensive tackle for the WIAA State D3 runner-up football team in the fall (also coached by Young), quickly recovered for a reversal later in the first

period. The pair exchanged escapes in the second period and at the start of the third period. Warzynski kept trying to work for trips and upper-body throws, but Bautz kept his feet.

He eventually countered one of those moves for a decisive third period takedown where he also put Warzynski to his back. Warzynski could never recover as Bautz held on for win.

Staebler, a former collegiate wrestler himself, was impressed with the work of his protege.

"He's worked on his underhooks and his footwork a great deal," said Staebler, "and he's a lot stronger than he looks.

"Coming in from the first match on (at state) and the whole week leading into it, his prep work was so dialed in. He didn't look at anything ahead of him or behind him. Just the match that was directly in front of him.

"This is just very exciting. We're so happy for him. He's put in all this hard work."

Bautz said he couldn't have done it without his coaches, calling them "phenomenal." When he was struggling this year, he said, they just kept after him to stay positive.

"They told me I was just thinking too much about what the other guy was doing," he said. "He (Staebler) said, 'just focus on what you do best.'" Which was more than enough for him to "go out with a bang" and make a little school history in the process.