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Two Gators earn medals at Eastern Area tournament

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 8:53 p.m.

Wrestlers from 18 high schools battled for championships and top-six medals as the 2012-13 season kicked off at Saturday's Eastern Area Invitational Wrestling Tournament at Gateway High School.

Gateway wrestlers picked up a pair of medals, and the Gators finished 13th in the team standings.

“We saw some good things, but we didn't get all the results we wanted,” Gateway head coach R.J. Santilli said. “We finished much lower (in the team standings) than I wanted them to. We left a lot of wins on the mat. There were a lot of close matches we lost by one or two points that we could've and should've won.

“That's an experience thing. I am pleased with their effort. It's a good, hardworking group of kids who will work to get better.”

Senior A.J. Wilkins placed second in his final Eastern Area tournament, as he won three matches at 126 leading up to his championship bout with Belle Vernon sophomore Nate Russo.Russo, the top seed, took Wilkins down in the first period of the finals and added three back points for a 5-0 lead. He then pinned Wilkins in the second period.

“A.J. really controlled his quarterfinal and semifinal matches against some quality kids,” Santilli said.

“He just ran into a stud in the finals. Russo is just a tough competitor. A.J. probably is not a 126 pounder. He will probably go down to 120 pretty soon. But it was nice to be in the finals one more time in front of his home crowd.”

Junior Austin Davidson's tournament at 170 started out well, as he scored a 6-1 decision over Plum's Andrew McRandal and a 6-2 decision against Kittanning's Jacob Robb. Davidson then suffered a third-period pin against Penn-Trafford's Will Palarino in the semifinals.

Both McRandal and Robb avenged the losses to Davidson in the consolation semifinals and fifth-place match, respectively. Davidson earned a sixth-place medal.

“Austin always wrestles and works hard,” Santilli said. “After the semifinal loss, in which he had a good chance of winning, he kind of got down and got into a rut. That happens a lot to guys who lose in the semifinals and are so close to the finals. That is something he's going to have to learn from.

“I expect him to be in a lot of semifinals, and he might lose some of them. He has to learn how to bounce back, and I know he will.”

Santilli said he also saw some good things from sophomore Justin Leone, who won a pair of matches at 132 and finished one victory away from a shot at a medal in the consolation bracket.

Five Gateway wrestlers – freshmen Brandon Toomey (106) and Justin Smith (113) and sophomores Jalen Key (138), Tony DeFazio (145) and Alex McCallum (285) – wrestled in varsity matches for the first time.

Key and Smith each won his first varsity matches.

“That was big for both of them to get that first win under the belt,” Santilli said.

Kiski Area had the top score at the tournament with a 112.5. Ten Cavaliers walked away from the tournament as medal winners. Norwin came in second with an 82 and Kittaning in third with a 76.

Belle Vernon (69) and North Allegheny (61) round out the top five.

The Gators wrestle a section match at Kiski Area on Dec. 20.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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