ALBANY -- For the first time in the history of the state wrestling tournament, two wild card entrants met in the finals. Alexis Blanco of Brentwood and James Dekrone of Glenn, who finished second and third respectively in the Suffolk sectional tournament at 138 pounds, and blew through the competition and into the state championship round Saturday night at the Times Union Center. "It was another example of how deep we are in our section," said Suffolk wrestling chairman Bob Panariello, the Islip athletic director. "We are seeing so many more opportunities for our wrestlers who may not have won the sectional tournament."
The large crowd was eerily silent as the two Section XI wrestlers battled for the title. Dekrone, a state runner-up at 130 pounds last year, used a cross wrist and a cheap tilt to take a 6-1 win over Blanco.
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Dekrone was one of five state champions from Suffolk. The sectional team had the team title wrapped up after the semifinal round and finished with 250 points. It was the 20th team championship in the past 42 years. Nassau finished second with three state champs and 170.5 points.
The tournament took on a wild card mantra this year as seven wild cards marched into the state finals, including four from the Suffolk sectional team and Syosset's 285-pound senior Evan Kappatos for the Nassau sectional squad. Kappatos, who lost for the first time in the Nassau finals, had won 41 matches in a row before dropping a 5-3 decision to Uniondale's Dante Salkey.
Kappatos ripped off three straight wins and met junior El Shaddai Gilmore-Van Hoesen of Columbia in the final. He came away with a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
Connetquot wild card Sean McCabe completed his run to the 120-pound championship with a 3-2 over Brady Baron of Pittsford. McCabe was relentless throughout the bout, scoring on a second period takedown for a 3-1 lead. The Thunderbird senior was in on several single leg takedowns and couldn't finish the move against Baron, who had two first-period pins and an 18-4 win in the tournament.
"It's what I've worked for all these years," said McCabe, a baseball talent who gave up the sport to focus on wrestling. "This sport is about heart and dedication."
Glenn wild-card entrant Nick Bellanza became Suffolk's fifth state champ when he decisioned Jacob Berkowitz of Scarsdale at 182 pounds. Bellanza came through an unseeded position to win the state crown. Both wild-card entries captured state titles for Glenn, which had only one state champ before this year's tournament.
"It's a really nice opportunity that Nick and James were able to seize and turn into something very memorable," said Glenn coach T.J. Brocking. "I'm so proud of our guys. They really came up here and weren't intimidated on the big stage and came away with state titles."
Half Hollow Hills West junior Tyler Grimaldi was the first wrestler in school history to reach the state finals. He was upended by Long Beach senior Dylan Palacio, 11-4, in the 160-pound final.
"He's a junior and he did a great job," Half Hollow Hills West coach Mike Patrovich said. "We're looking forward to another shot at the state crown next year."