PROVIDENCE — The gap between third and fourth place in the state wrestling championships is almost as wide as the distance between finishing third and fourth in the Olympics, Chariho High wrestling coach Scott Merritt said.
In the Olympics, third gets a bronze medal and fourth nothing. In RIIL wrestling, third gets All-State recognition and a New England Tournament berth. Fourth? Nada.
Chariho High junior Sal DeSantis was on the right side of the chasm Saturday, finishing third with a 4-1 win against South Kingstown’s Jake Pare in the third-place match at the Providence Career & Technical Academy Saturday.
“Making All-State and qualifying for the New Englands is a huge step up from finishing fourth, so it’s a very big match,” Merritt said. “Sal worked very hard all week in practices, wrestling against big guys. For him to bounce back after getting pinned in the semifinals earlier in the day, we’re really happy for him.”
DeSantis was dominant all season, posting a 35-2 record before Saturday’s action, and pinning two opponents Friday in the state’s first day of action. In the semifinals Saturday afternoon, he ran into Carl Neff, of Exeter-West Greenwich, whom he ran into during the football team’s tough Thanksgiving Day loss, but not during the wrestling season as Chariho wrestled in Division I and EWG in Division II.
The 6-foot-2, chiseled Neff led throughout and foiled a DeSantis pin attempt with a reversal to register a pin midway through the second period at 3:21. Merritt said Neff, who won the prestigious Lowell (Mass.) Tournament this year, was the favorite at 220.
Neff did not underachieve as he went 4-0 with four pins to win 220, including falls in 28 seconds, 57 seconds and 36 seconds in the finals. DeSantis lasted the longest with Neff, falling in 3:21. He pinned Warwick Vets’ Aaron Hurst in the consolation semis to reach the third-place match.
“I almost executed a town and country, but I lost my arm grip and he reversed me and drove me right to the mat,” DeSantis said. “But I’m very excited to finish third. My matches usually don’t go three periods, so it was nice to hold on to win the third-place match.”
DeSantis said he may hang his hat on the All-State recognition as he may bypass next weekend’s New England meet at PCTA.
“I’m really thinking about taking a week off to unwind and get ready to lift for football season,” said DeSantis, who was Chariho’s leading ball-carrier last season. “I’m not sure I want to go to the New Englands, although I could change my mind.”
DeSantis’ third keyed Chariho’s 22nd-place finish with 32 points in the 35-team meet. Bishop Hendricken won the championship with 221 points, far ahead of runner-up Exeter-West Greenwich (147 points).
It was the second straight state championship for the Division I Hawks.
Cumberland was third with 145 points followed by Mt. Hope (143), La Salle Academy (93.5), Coventry (93.0), Johnston (85), South Kingstown (81), North Providcence (80.5) and Toll Gate (68.0) rounded out the top 10.
Westerly was 19th with 39.5 points.
Merritt had hoped for a top 12 showing, but injuries and illnesses this past week hurt the Chargers’ depth coming into the weekend.
“Aside from Sal’s great effort, I’m really pleased with Josh Merritt going 2-2 despite giving up 10 pounds to everyone in the 106 pound division,” Merritt said. “James Costigan also wrestled very well at 285, going 2-2. He came along very well this season.”
The Chargers graduate just one starter this season and should be a force during 2014-15 in Division I with DeSantis, Costigan and Merritt leading the way.
“We have thirteen of fourteen wrestlers back,” coach Merritt said. “We’re going to try to turn into a top five team in the state meet next season.”