By Betsy Veysman
They go to different Suffolk County schools but they have known each other for a long time and have a lot in common. Both had just one loss in the 2011 New York State Championships to place but not quite reach their ultimate goal. Both spent much of this season ranked as the top Division I wrestler at their weight. Both suffered a loss early in the sectional tournament and fought back to take third to make a wildcard bid back to Albany possible.
Now both are state champions.
On Saturday night at the Times Union Center, James Dekrone of John Glenn and Sean McCabe of Connetquot completed their standout high school careers on top of the podium, finishing ahead of those who upset them a few weeks ago.
“I’ve been wrestling with [McCabe] since I was really little,” Dekrone said. “After counties, we looked at each other and talked about how we just needed a chance to get upstate. If we got that chance, we both thought we could win state titles.”
Dekrone came close to getting that title last year when he dropped a one-point bout in the championship match to Steven Rodrigues of Fox Lane, now wrestling at Illinois. He rode that success into the 2011-12 campaign, losing just two bouts against Division I grapplers at 138 pounds. In storybook fashion, he avenged both defeats over the weekend.
In the semifinals he took on Wantagh’s Danny McDevitt, who had beaten him early in the campaign 2-1. It looked like the result was going to be similar when McDevitt held a 2-0 advantage very late in the third period. But Dekrone was awarded a penalty point and then got a reversal just before the final whistle to earn his second straight finals berth in Albany.
“The whole match I had a hard time getting out from underneath,” Dekrone said. “I was down to the last minute and took a second to regain my focus and think about what was really on the line. I pulled myself together. First I got the clasp call and then the reversal with something like five seconds left to get the win.”
That win propelled him to the title bout, where Dekrone was set to meet another familiar face. Alexis Blanco of Brentwood edged him in the county tournament on February 11. This time, with his dream of a crown in his grasp, the senior took full advantage of his last opportunity.
“The first time I wrestled him, I didn’t think I wrestled my best and I wanted another shot to prove that I was better than what I showed,” he said. “I wanted to control the handfighting and control the pace. I wanted to stay tough on top, keep him down and work turns.”
Dekrone was able to do those things on his way to a 6-1 victory.
“When it was over, I was thinking a lot of different things,” he said. “It was definitely an awesome feeling but it was also a relief to finally get my hand raised in the finals.”
McCabe can certainly relate to those emotions after his 3-2 championship victory at 120 pounds.
“Winning was just awesome especially after I took third in the county and needed a wildcard for states,” McCabe said. “I really can’t describe it other than it was just awesome.”
After a third place finish a year ago at the state tournament, McCabe cruised through this campaign, bringing 32-1 record into the Section XI tournament. He was the top seed, but was upended in the quarterfinals by Sayville’s Matt Leshinger and had a tough road to the bronze, including a victory over former state champion Mark West of Hauppauge.
“I was obviously upset when I lost, but I knew if I came back and got my head straight and kept winning, I could make it to states,” he said.
When he got to Albany, he took advantage. After a 9-0 major in the semifinals, McCabe faced an unfamiliar challenge, Pittsford’s Brady Baron, in the title bout.
“I honestly didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I had never even seen him before.”
The Connetquot senior came out aggressive, taking numerous shots. But Baron proved very difficult to score against.
“I was getting in deep a lot but he was countering well,” he said. “I knew I eventually had to finish. I just kept pushing, kept setting him up and eventually I got my two to get the title.”
Dekrone and McCabe were not alone atop the podium for Section XI. Five Suffolk wrestlers earned state championships and 23 total made the medal stand, leading Section XI to a 79.5 points margin over second place Section 8 in the Division I standings.
“No question, Section XI is tough,” Dekrone said. “I definitely think to come out of Section XI means something, whether you’re a wildcard or not, especially in some weights where even the third or fourth place guy is capable of contending for a state title.”
“I wasn’t really surprised that we won because I knew we had a really solid team,” McCabe added. “But I was a little surprised that we won by so much.”
The other Suffolk victors were Ward Melville freshman Nick Piccinnini (106 pounds), Eastport-South Manor’s Maverick Passaro (126) and Dekrone’s teammate Nick Bellanza at 182 pounds. Bellanza entered the event 35-3, but was not frequently mentioned as a top contender.
“I’ve wrestled with [Bellanza] all season,” Dekrone said. “Not too many people were talking about him, but I said from the first day that if he works hard enough he could be right there to win it. It was really cool to share something like this with him.”
After going from third in the county to best in the state over the course of two weeks, both Dekrone and McCabe are ready for the next chapter of their wrestling careers. Both say they want to continue at the Division I level in college, with McCabe mentioning the University at Buffalo as a possible destination.
Until then, they are still getting used to being called state champions.
“We knew if we got wildcards we could do some damage,” McCabe said. “And we both did.”