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Exeter’s DeSanto dethrones three-time champ Lee in final for the ages

It will undoubtably qualify as one the greatest state-championship bouts in PIAA wrestling history.

Austin DeSanto was determined to drop down to the 126-pound weight class for the postseason, with the object of getting a rematch with Spencer Lee.

The titanic Franklin Regional senior, unbeaten for his high-school career and winner of three state titles, had spoiled DeSanto’s dreams of a state gold medal in last year’s 120-pound clash.

This time around, it was DeSanto’s turn to spoil a gold-medal dream. He did it on the center mat of the Giant Center, edging Lee by a 6-5 count with a takedown in literally the final seconds in a rollicking bout in front of a raucous response from the crowd.

It definitely ended any second-guessing of the Exeter senior’s decision to come down from the 132-pound weight class he dominated during the regular season.

“A lot of people did that,” DeSanto recalled. “My coaches wanted me to stay at 132.”

“That’s where we wanted him,” head coach Jon Rugg confirmed. “But we wanted it to be his decision. We told him he’s 18 years old, he can make the decision.”

Exeter’s Austin DeSanto finishes a takedown during his quarterfinal match Friday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Following a scoreless first period, Lee (35-1) pulled in front with a second-period takedown. He then went ahead 3-0 by escaping off a bottom start in the third period.

DeSanto’s response was to get three takedowns while yielding Lee just two releases. The clincher came as time ran out in the bout, the referees’ call affirmed at the end.

“I tried to not be too wild,” DeSanto (said in reference to their 2016 duel, which saw Lee get the early stop 3:43 in. “Last year I was too aggressive.”

“Last year wasn’t an indication,” Rugg added. “You can’t open up on the bottom against Lee.”

Lee, who wrestled with a heavy brace on his right leg due to an apparent knee injury, closed his high school career that included four sectional and Southwest AAA Regional titles. DeSanto, for his part, had four sectional and South Central AAA Regional championships to his credit, as well as state medals his sophomore and junior seasons.

As a final credit to his accomplishment, DeSanto was accorded the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler award.

Tyler Bagoly, Exeter’s other medal qualifier, scored a fourth at 170. He came out on the short end of a 5-1 score with Albert Gallatin’s Tim Wallace.

“It was a good year,” the Eagle senior said. “Last year, I didn’t make states. I went as high on the podium as I could.”

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