STROHECKER: PIAA event produces bout for the ages

Patrick Strohecker
  • Exeter Township's Austin Desanto defeated Franklin Regional's Spencer Lee in the Class 3-A 126-pound gold medal bout.
  • Lee was a perfect 144-0 in his high school career entering the bout and a three-time state champion.
  • The win capped a perfect 53-0 season for Desanto and earned him his first state gold medal.

HERSHEY — As the clock hit all zeroes, one official held up his hand to signal the end of time. The other held up two points for red.

The Giant Center erupted, thinking the improbable had just occurred. The officials got together to consult about the final series of events and to make sure the call was correct. When they returned to the mat, they lifted the arm of red, Exeter Township's Austin Desanto, declaring him the PIAA Class 3-A 126-pound state champion.

He had done it. He took down the perfect Spencer Lee of Franklin Region in a bout that had incredible hype leading up to it, yet somehow exceeded all expectations.

Going into the bout, this is what was at stake:

►There were two wrestlers who were a combined 87-0 on the season.

►Lee was a three-time state champion, having never lost in 144 career high school matches, and was ranked No. 1 in the nation at 126 pounds. Not fully healthy, it was rumored he suffered a torn right ACL, but elected to compete anyway, with his knee in a brace.

►Desanto was 187-7 in his career and entered No. 4 in the nation in the weight class.

It was, in essence, the match of the year.

A year ago, in the same situation, Lee had his way with Desanto. He won by tech fall, 15-0, in 3 minutes, 43 seconds. It was pure domination on Lee's part. In some ways, it was probably pure embarrassment on Desanto's behalf.

A different year: What a difference a year can make.

Right from the beginning, you could tell this bout was going to be different. The two remained scoreless through the first period, with both wrestlers performing excellent scrambles to avoid takedowns. Lee finally scored first on a takedown with 48 seconds to go in the second period to grab a 2-0 lead.

He made it 3-0 with an escape early in the third, and then Desanto went to work. He scored a takedown of his own to make it 3-2, cut Lee loose to make it 4-2 and then took him down again to level the bout with less than 30 seconds to go. Knowing he couldn't ride him out for the final 30 seconds, Desanto let Lee up for a restart, giving Lee the lead at 5-4. Surely, a wrestler of Lee's ability could endure 28 seconds of defense to win his fourth state title.

Exeter Township's Austin Desanto, right, battles Franklin Regional's Spencer Lee in a 126-pound bout in the PIAA Class 3-A Wrestling Championships in Hershey on Saturday.

It was the ultimate risk-reward for Desanto. But, he had success in the third taking down Lee and he was banking on getting one more. With about five seconds left, Desanto shot and with about two seconds left, the two tumbled to the mat.

Taking down a giant: The crowd erupted as Desanto wound up on top. One official held up his hand for the end of time, the other for two points on a takedown. In the end, the takedown stood and Desanto conquered the giant, 6-5.

It might be overstating things that Lee was a giant, but for all intents and purposes, he was. Not only was he a three-time state champion, but he was also a three-time WORLD champion. He'll wrestle for perennial NCAA Division I powerhouse Iowa next year. He was undefeated in his first 144 high school matches. It took until the very last second of his 145th to be handed a loss.

Desanto could've rolled through the 132-pound weight class to capture his elusive first state gold. Instead, he elected to drop to 126 to get another shot at Lee, a move that paid off in the end.

Pennsylvania is widely considered one of the top — if not the top — state in the nation for high school wrestling. The fans who file into the Giant Center on an annual basis love the sport and are knowledgeable in it. They also love an underdog.

It's almost laughable to consider Desanto an underdog, considering he entered the bout 52-0, but he was. He could've been 100-0 on the year and wouldn't have been given much of a shot.

So, when he showed that he was game for a great bout, the fans responded. It wasn't a shot at Lee that the neutral fans were supporting Desanto, they just relish in the thought of an upset. Every chance Desanto gave them to cheer, they erupted.

Controversial call: Depending on who you ask, you might get conflicting stories on whether or not the decision to award Desanto two points as time expired was the right one or not.

The two officials probably never had to make a more difficult call in their lives. It was a matter of history and perfection on one side and the ultimate upset on the other. Whatever you believe, the decision of a takedown is what will stand the test of time.

An hour after the bout ended, "Austin Desanto" was the top-trending Twitter mention in the Harrisburg region, with nearly 2,000 mentions of his name.

Incredible match: If you were at the Giant Center to witness it in person, or watched it unfold on PCN, you witnessed an incredible wrestling match.

The PIAA state tournament has given us moments like this time and time again over the years. Members on media row gawked at how it was one of the best matches in state tournament history. It's a match that will be talked about for decades to come.

"Do you remember when Desanto shocked Lee in 2017?"

It was a real-life Vision Quest moment.

Lee vs. Desanto had every chance to be one of the great wrestling matches of the year going into it.

Controversial ending or not, it fulfilled the expectations and more.

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com