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Four Gateway wrestlers set for WPIALs

Michael Love
| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Gateway senior Austin Davidson, above, placed second at 170 pounds at the Section 1-AAA tournament at Gateway High School on Feb. 22, 2014. He and three other Gators wrestlers — junior Justin Leone and sophomores Brandon Toomey and Nick Conti —  will wrestle at WPIALs at Canon-McMillan. Action starts Thursday at 5 p.m.
Gary Bills | For The Times Express
Gateway senior Austin Davidson, above, placed second at 170 pounds at the Section 1-AAA tournament at Gateway High School on Feb. 22, 2014. He and three other Gators wrestlers — junior Justin Leone and sophomores Brandon Toomey and Nick Conti — will wrestle at WPIALs at Canon-McMillan. Action starts Thursday at 5 p.m.

After some tough luck the past two years, Gateway senior Austin Davidson is on the WPIAL stage, and he wants to make some noise at Canon-McMillan High School this weekend.

Davidson placed second at 170 pounds Saturday at the Section 1-AAA tournament at Gateway High School, and he's one of four Gators wrestlers to punch a ticket to the WPIAL/Southwest Regional.

“I'm really excited,” Davidson said.

“I've always had opportunities to go, but I haven't taken advantage of them. Last year, I got hurt, and two years ago, my weight class was stacked.”

The top five finishers in each weight class at the four AAA section tournaments advanced to WPIALs and make up the 20-wrestler bracket.

There will be a full wrestleback from the top 16, and four pigtail preliminary bouts Thursday evening will trim the field to 16.

The top three from each weight class move on to the PIAA tournament in Hershey.

“For Austin, he's always looking ahead,” Santilli said. “Even if he wasn't injured last year, I think he would've had the same motivation this year. He's very determined and stays focused.”

Wrestling Thursday starts at 5 p.m., and begins at 6 p.m. on Friday.

Saturday action begins at 10:30 a.m. and concludes with the Parade of Champions and the finals in the evening.

“I know I can win any match if I keep it close in the third (period),” Davidson said.

“It's the WPIAL. Anything can happen.”

Davidson was the top seed at 170 at the section tournament, and he went 2-1 to improve to 28-6 on the season. He suffered a 7-2 loss to Kiski Area's Dakota Lange, the No. 2 seed, in the finals.

Davidson had earned a pair of one-point victories to punch his ticket to the finals.

“Every year, there are guys from that middle of the pack who qualify for states,” Santilli said. “He wants to be one of those guys, and we're going to do everything we can to help him get there.”

Junior Justin Leone (132) and sophomores Brandon Toomey (106) and Nick Conti (160) each placed fifth at sections on Saturday and will compete at WPIALs for the first time.

“They all had do-or-die matches, and each of them stepped up,” Santilli said.

Toomey went 2-2 in the 106-pound bracket, improved to 15-13 and scored a 6-4 overtime win over Penn-Trafford's Nick Kazousky in the fifth-place bout.

“Brandon got a takedown in overtime to win,” Santilli said. “It was an outstanding effort on his part. He stayed focused.”

Leone also went 2-2, and he beat Ethan Stas from Greater Latrobe, 6-3, in the fifth-place match to improve to 23-10 and move on to WPIALs.

“Justin said he was going to refuse to lose that match,” Santilli said.

Conti now is 13-13. He suffered losses to WPIAL qualifiers in Penn-Trafford's Devin Austin and Penn Hills' TeShan Campbell, but he defeated Greensburg-Salem's Teeghan Hahn, 5-2, in the fifth-place finals.

“It's going to be a great experience for all three of them, even to get their feet wet if they don't advance to states,” Santilli said.

“They will get the priceless exposure of a big setting like that. It's a totally different atmosphere than what they are used to. They've wrestled in big tournaments before, but in this tournament, it's the elite of the WPIAL. They are in a very small group of people who can say they got to this level.”

Junior Jalen Key (138) fell short of his goal of getting to WPIALs for the second year in a row. He went 0-1 at sections finished his season at 17-12.

“Jalen just didn't wrestle his best,” Santilli said.

“For whatever reason, it just doesn't click on a given day. Peyton Manning can tell you that. He had a really tough weight class, but he had a match he could've won and should've won, but he didn't. Hopefully, he will use it as motivation.

Senior Thaer Shouman (126) was 1-2 at sections, and he finished with a 20-12 record.

“In his four years, Thaer was one of the most improved wrestlers in Gateway history. He continued to work hard and improve. He started to win more and more. Once he has a chance to reflect on his career, he will have a lot of positive memories.”

Senior Cody Pawlowski, a WPIAL qualifier last year as a junior, suffered a concussion in practice last week and was unable to wrestle in the 195-pound bracket at sections.

“It was heartbreaking for him and heartbreaking for all of us because he had worked so hard to get to where he was,” Santilli said.

“He qualified for WPIALs last year, and he wanted to go back and win some matches. He had an outstanding year and picked up some big victories against some nice competition.

“It was tough to end his career like that. Sometimes it's not always the destination but the journey that counts. He had an outstanding journey.”

Santilli said he also felt bad for senior Zac Bell who saw his senior season and varsity career end with a loss in the fifth-place bout at 182.

He wrapped up his season at 10-19 overall.�

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825, at or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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