Sachem North's Gio Santiago one of 15 Suffolk wrestlers into state wrestling semifinals

Sachem North's Gio Santiago walks to his corner Sachem North's Gio Santiago walks to his corner after his match against Yorktown's Thomas Murray during their 182 lb match at the NYS Wrestling tournament in Albany N.Y. on 2-22-13. Photo Credit: Pat Orr

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ALBANY -- Over and over, Gio Santiago pushed Yorktown's Tom Murray across the mat and out of the circle. The Sachem North senior was running out of time in his 182-pound quarterfinal at the state wrestling championships Friday at Times Union Center.

"Gio tried to force the action early in the bout and extended himself and got caught flatfooted and fell behind in the score," Sachem North coach Ray Pickersgill said. "I never felt like he was out of it because he kept pushing the action."

The pursuit of Murray finally paid off. Trailing 6-3 in the third period, Santiago escaped to cut the deficit to two and then stepped around Murray for a high crotch lift. He trapped his arm and stacked him on the mat for the takedown and near fall for five points. As Murray tried to wiggle free, Santiago pounced and squeezed for the pin at 5:32.

"It's one of the more satisfying wins of the season," said Santiago, who improved to 42-2. "He kept backing away from me because he didn't want to get thrown."

Santiago will meet top-seeded Shane Brady of Carthage in Saturday's semifinal round at 10 a.m. An upbeat and confident Santiago smiled to a horde of fans on his way out of the packed arena.There were upsets throughout the first three rounds of the tournament. Two of three defending state champions survived into the semifinal round. In perhaps the most shocking of upsets, unseeded Keanu Thompson of Grand Street Campus pinned Dylan Realbuto of Somers in 3:43 at 126 pounds. Realbuto won at 113 last year.Defending champs Kyle Kelly of Shenendehowa and Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville advanced, winning two decisions each. Kelly, the 99-pound champ last year, moved up to 113 and Piccininni, the 106-pound champ, also moved to 113. They are on opposite sides of the bracket and on a collision course for Saturday night's championship bout.

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"Only one defending champ will repeat," Eastport-South Manor coach Nick Garone said. "It is so tough to win the state tournament more than once."Eastport-South Manor's Travis Passaro used a late third-period tilt to break a tie at 2 and edge Blaise Benderoth of North Rockland, 4-2, at 120. Benderoth and Passaro had split two previous bouts earlier this season at the prestigious Eastern States Tournament.

Unseeded John Vrasidas of St. Anthony's turned heads with an 8-2 win over top-seeded Dan McDevitt of Wantagh in a quarterfinal. Vrasidas opened an early lead and countered McDevitt effectively throughout the third period to thwart any comeback attempt.Also advancing into the semifinals was St. Anthony's Fred Dunau (126 pounds).

In one of the most exciting bouts of the first day, unseeded Nick Weber of Kings Park trailed by a point with six seconds left in his quarterfinal with second-seeded Colton Krells of Fairport. On the bottom in the referee's position, Weber tried to roll out of Krells' grasp for the escape and the tying point. Instead, he found himself scrambling underneath Krells and somehow sneaked out just as time expired for a two-point reversal and an unlikely 10-9 win. The timely move advanced Weber into a semifinal against Shenendehowa's Levi Ashley.

James O'Hagan of Seaford upset top-seeded El Shaddai Vanhoesen of Columbia at 285 in a quarterfinal. O'Hagan improved to 37-1, his only loss coming against Smithtown West's undefeated Michael Hughes. The two will meet in a semifinal. Hughes recorded two wins, including a 52-second pin.

The Suffolk sectional team moved a record 15 wrestlers into the semifinal round and held a small lead over Nassau in the team scoring, 118.5-100. The Nassau sectional team advanced 11 to the semis.

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