Grippi and Santos Lead Fox Lane to Wrestling Title

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Fox Lane’s Johnny Santos captured the sectional championship at 195 pounds.

By Tony Pinciaro

A year ago, Johnny Santos experienced something he never wanted to do so again.

The Fox Lane senior was the runner-up in the 2017 Section 1 Division I (large school) Wrestling Championship 195-pound final. Santos did not like how he felt when he walked off the mat that day, and it has stuck with him.

Santos made sure this year he would author an exuberant and happy conclusion to his final Section 1 Wrestling Championships.

Santos secured a takedown with 30 seconds remaining in the match, sending him to a 5-4 victory over Jhordyn Innocent of East Ramapo in the Division I 195-pound final on Sunday afternoon at Clarkstown South High School.

Along with winning his first sectional title, Santos, and his fellow sectional champions, qualified for the New York State Division I Wrestling Championships, Friday-Saturday, Feb. 23-24, at the Times-Union Center in Albany.

Wrestlers who are in position to receive a wild card will be notified on Wednesday.

Joining Santos in Albany will be Fox Lane teammate Matt Grippi. The North Carolina State-bound senior won his third consecutive sectional title, taking the 152-pound title. He was also voted the Champion of Champions. Grippi registered his Fox Lane-record 240th varsity win in the final.

The duo was instrumental in leading Fox Lane to the team title. The Foxes placed seven wrestlers in the top six, finishing with 145 points, outdistancing runner-up New Rochelle (113.5 points) and Arlington (113).

Since New York State adopted the two-division format – large school and small school, Fox Lane has won a Section 1-leading six team titles. This one, though, is the first for coach Anthony Rodrigues and his son, Steven, his assistant. Rodrigues was the assistant to Section 1 and New York State Hall-of-Fame coach Joe Amuso Sr. for the initial five.

“I feel relieved, happy and ready for states,” said Santos, who is now 45-5 on the season. “I knew what it felt like to lose last year, so I was not going to let it happen again this year.”

Santos went into the final with an advantage over Innocent. Since he had already experienced a sectional final, he was calm and composed. He also said he learned a lesson from last year’s title match.

“I wanted to be smarter and wrestle smarter,” Santos said. “I also wanted to pick my shots and stay focused throughout the match.”

Santos was focused when he executed his decisive move. Innocent was leading 4-3 and was in deep on a shot attempt, but Santos negated it and went out of bounds. Off the whistle, Santos, upon hearing assistant coach Steven Rodrigues yell out instructions, hit a high single-leg and took Innocent to the mat for two points and a 5-4 lead.

Santos said winning the sectional title was great, but taking the team title was sweeter.

Teammate Amos Rivera was the 120-pound runner-up. Rivera bested teammate and workout partner Matias Rivera 3-1 in a semifinal. Matias Rivera finished fourth, as did Jake Hoffman (99 pounds). Quincey Downes (152) and Mitchell Antin (113) also placed sixth. Antin registered the upset of the tournament, pinning top-seeded C.J. McMonegal of North Rockland in the quarterfinals.

Horace Greeley will have two representatives in Albany as juniors and good friends Aaron Wolk (160) and Matthew Schreiber (99) won their respective weight classes. Senior Jacob Ferreira was the 182-pound runner-up, but is in a good position to receive his second straight wild-card berth.

Wolk was a sectional runner-up last year, but he, like Santos, would emerge a champion this time. Wolk registered a 9-0 victory over Mamaroneck’s Trent Wechsler in the final, improving to 40-3 this season. Wolk pinned his first three opponents.

Wolk didn’t put any pressure on himself heading into the final. Instead, he said he treated it like it was any other match, which proved beneficial because he recorded an early takedown to seize control of the match.

“It’s pretty great to win a sectional title for the first time,” said the soft-spoken Wolk. “I felt I wrestled my style and made it my match in the final, where last year I wrestled his match.

“I felt that I really improved a lot this year, and now I want to improve on my state performance.”

Wolk was a wild card and went 1-2 at the 2017 State Championships. He is looking forward to heading back to Albany with Shreiber.

“Matt had a great match in the final and really showed his stuff,” Wolk said.

Horace Greeley finished sixth, with 101.5 points, and also had Josh McMillan place sixth (220).

The Fortugno brothers – John, a sophomore, and Justin, an eighth-grader – had an excellent weekend for Byram Hills. John was the 99-pound runner-up and Justin took third, also at 99 pounds. Both were wrestling in their first Section 1 Championships. Justin lost in the semifinals, ironically, to John, then won his two wrestle-back matches

“Both had a phenomenal tournament,” said Byram Hills coach Joey Grippi. “They both wrestled great throughout the weekend. It can’t be easy having to wrestle your brother for a spot in the sectional finals, but they went out and gave it their all in every match. I’m very proud of them.”

John Fortugno took down second-seeded Chris Crawford of Beacon in a quarterfinal and Justin Fortugno knocked off third-seeded Matt Russo of Somers, also in a quarterfinal, to set up the brothers’ match, one that has probably been wrestled, unofficially, many times in the Fortugno house. John prevailed in their semifinal, 21-18.

However, Justin now had two more matches to wrestle and Grippi said the middle schooler bounced right back. Justin defeated Carmel’s Abby Duke 4-0 in a consolation semifinal, then pinned Fox Lane’s Jake Hoffman in the third-place match.

“That shows a lot about Justin,” Grippi said. “I always say it’s harder to wrestle back and take third than win a tournament. It’s not easy to pick up your head after a loss and win two more matches against quality opponents.”

Even though Victor Perlleshi won a Section 1 Division II title last year, the Pleasantville junior returned this season highly-motivated.

“A lot of guys win one sectional title and are content with it, but meanwhile I worked even harder to achieve my goals,” Perlleshi said.

That determination, motivation and hunger resulted in Perlleshi winning his second consecutive Section 1 Division II title. Perlleshi accomplished it with a 7-1 victory over Putnam Valley’s Will Carano in the 126-pound final on Saturday at Hastings High School.

“It feels awesome and I’m happy that I won a second time, but I have more to accomplish,” Perlleshi said.

Perlleshi will be joined in Albany, for the New York State Division II Wrestling Championships, by teammate Len Balducci, who also won his second straight title. Balducci pinned teammate Nayshawn Marks in the final. Balducci surpassed his father, Lenny, and uncle, Chris, with two sectional titles. Lenny and Chris were sectional champions for Irvington.

Pleasantville finished second to Pearl River, 250.5-230.5 points. The Panthers had 12 wrestlers place in the top five. Along with Marks, Aiden Canfield (120) and Jaden Kammer (182) were also runners-up.

Michael Perlleshi (220), Victor’s cousin, finished third. Michael Balducci (113), Chris May (132) and Eli Cunniffe (170) placed fourth and

the Egan brothers — Quinn (99) and Nolan – and Keon Ansari (195) placed fifth.

“Len Balducci is an absolute stud and there is no surprise he won a second title. He really deserves it,” said Perlleshi, who also conceded that finishing behind Pearl River this year in the team standings will give them added incentive for the 2019 Sectional Championships.

“Finishing second,” he said, “gives us a lot more motivation to use for next year when we come back.”

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