Gateway senior thrower Anthony Bauccio's road to the winner's platform has been a long and hard-fought one.
As a freshman, his best throw was a little more than 35 feet. Now, he's on the brink of being the best in the state. He'll take the field at Shippensburg University on Saturday at the PIAA Class AAA track and field championship meet as the WPIAL's best.
His throw of 54 feet, 111/4 inches was good enough to edge his competition last Thursday at Baldwin High School.
"I'm super-excited right now," Bauccio said. "I've honestly never felt better in my life. I'm just hoping to end this process on a super-high note."
His process has included many sessions of physical therapy from a lingering knee problem that could have stunted his progress to this point.
"The possibilities of what could have been accomplished this season [had he been 100 percent healthy] is scary," Gateway throwing coach Maurice Miles said. "But, he hasn't let any of that stop him. He's gone full speed ahead and it's paying off."
Miles also pointed out the fact that Bauccio has gotten significantly better each year, from a distance standpoint, since his freshman year. He's added, on average, around 7 feet per year.
The coach, over his 13 seasons at Gateway, said he's seen 3 to 4 feet as a normal benchmark.
Meanwhile, Bauccio tossed for a career-long 57-111/4 -- his career-long -- at the Mars Invitational last month.
"[Anthony] is one of the hardest workers that I've seen throughout my time here," Miles said. "There isn't something that he's not willing to work on. He's always asking if he can just get one more throw. That one or two normally will turn into 10. That's how serious the kid is about his craft."
There has been no shame for coach Miles to call on help for his star thrower. His friend, former North Allegheny throwing coach Mike Hambrick, has worked with youth all over the area after stepping away from that post.
"I've always wanted him to receive a second opinion," he said. "So, he'll get in his car and drive 45-50 minutes, head north, and work with coach Hambrick for an hour or two when I ask him to."
"Coach Brick is awesome," Bauccio said. "He did a great job of reinforcing things that coach Miles has taught me over the years. Having the two work together on my skills has really helped me."
Bauccio has attracted interest from colleges from every level of competition. He seems to have the school that will host this weekend's event at the forefront of his thoughts.
"I've attracted some pretty heavy interest from Shippensburg," he said. "They have been a school that I've seriously considered."
Akron was a visitor at the WPIAL championship meet to take a look at him and Duquesne has shown interest. The latter doesn't carry an engineering major -- Bauccio's likely field of study -- which has weakened his interest there.
"I'm hoping that he'll get more looks based off his performance at states," Miles said. "I want to see him get the best offer out there, because he has certainly put in the time to get it."
First, Bauccio's goal is to fire his best throw at the PIAA meet.
"I'm so focused right now," he said. "I know more than anything that I want to take home the gold. That's my goal and I'm sticking to it."
Bauccio wasn't the only Gateway athlete to bring home a gold medal from the WPIAL championship meet.
Montae Nicholson also had a first-place finish in the boys Class AAA 110-meter hurdles and teammate Julius Rivera did the same in the 100-meter dash.
The Gators 400-meter relay team comprising Cameron Gray, Daniel Hill, Jae'Len Means and Nicholson also claimed WPIAL gold.