CHUGIAK - Juneau-Douglas High School grappler Dante Santos gave his all in his 119-pound championship bout with Wasilla's Sam Miller on Saturday.
Miller just happened to have an answer for everything Santos threw at him.
Santos achieved his goal of making the final round but fell 5-0 in the championship Saturday at the Alaska 4A State Wrestling Championships at Chugiak High School.
Santos was one of three Crimson Bears to place at the state tournament. JDHS 103-pounder Kyle Foote and 112-pounder Buddy Howard each took third.
As a team, JDHS finished 11th out of 22, scoring 57 points. Wasilla won the state title with 241.5 points.
After the competition JDHS was given the sportsmanship award for the tournament.
"We're pretty close," Santos said of his team. "These guys are like my brothers."
Santos wrestled brilliantly to make the championship round before falling to Miller.
The junior tried an array of different takedown attempts and pinning combinations, but couldn't penetrate Miller's defenses.
"I was just trying to get the single leg, just do something," Santos said. "I just couldn't get anything. I can't explain it."
Down 2-0 after the first period, Santos started the second in the top position. The junior blazed through numerous pinning combinations, but Miller expertly avoided each maneuver before escaping. Miller added another takedown in the third period to seal the win.
"He (Santos) did everything right and so did Miller," JDHS coach Kris Mercer said. "Miller knew what he had and avoided those takedowns. And when he got on top, he just rode it out. There were some close calls there."
Despite falling in the finals, Santos fought impressively throughout the weekend. Using his blazing quick, attacking style, Santos defeated Palmer's Wesley Mills 9-3 in the semifinal round Friday to earn the bout with Miller.
"At the beginning of the season I didn't think I'd go that far," an ecstatic Santos said Friday.
Santos, the second-seeded wrestler at 119 pounds, opened the tournament by pinning Bartlett's Tyler Samse in 1:55. He qualified for the semifinals by defeating Colony's Zachary Beauchamp 4-2.
At 103-pounds, sophomore Kyle Foote went from being a seventh-seeded wrestler to the third best in his weight class.
Foote won four straight matches Saturday to win third place. The sophomore defeated a familiar foe, Sitka's Michael Abt, 5-3 for third.
"My whole goal was to do my personal best," Foote said. "I didn't really think I'd get this far."
After falling to Colony's Aaron Boss in the championship quarterfinals Friday, Foote responded with championship conviction.
Foote defeated North Pole's Michael Almeria, Kodiak's Tucker VanMetre and Colony's Kyle Wilson, all on Saturday, to make it to the third-place match.
"I wasn't even expecting to get to third or fourth," Foote said. "After my second match today, I felt like I had a chance."
In the third-place match, the JDHS sophomore seized an early 2-0 lead after the first period and never relented against Abt.
"We've been pretty off-an-on," Foote said of his Southeast opponent. "It depends who's having the better day."
While Foote showed grit to win four straight matches in one day, 119-pound senior Buddy Howard exploited his strength advantage to finish his high school career with a third-place medal.
Howard, ranked seventh coming into the competition, defeated Colony's Joshua West 6-5 for third place.
"I had a strength advantage but he was a better shooter then I was," Howard said. "I tried to not get taken down as much."
Howard used his strength and smarts to upend his opponent. The senior locked up his opponents and tripped him to the mat twice in the first two periods to take a 4-2 lead.
Howard then sealed the win by earning a key escape to start the third period. After starting in the down position, Howard stood up and showed off his upper-body strength. The JDHS senior applied a cross-face on West and pried his opponent off of him for a key point.
"He's got that cross-face that puts people on their butts," Mercer said of Howard. "He's got that fire, that little bit of anger."
The one-point escape gave Howard a three-point cushion as he held on for the win.
"It means a lot to me," Howard said. "It's my first year at state, so I wanted to do well for the team. It's prestigious."
Howard fell to Kodiak's Jimmy Eggemeyer 4-2 in the championship semifinals when the Crimson Bears senior couldn't overcome Eggemeyer's defensive posture.
On Saturday, Howard pinned fourth-seeded Ryan Hogan of Wasilla in 2:07 to qualify for a shot at third place.
"I came in underestimated," Howard said. "I was kind of upset, but I knew they were going to figure it out anyway."
Five other Crimson Bears won matches at the state tournament. Junior Joardan Savland at 152-pounds topped North Pole's Taylor Lewis 8-5 in the first round Friday.
Garret Cox, Samson Keeney, Jake Mason and Bryce Saviers all lost their first round matches, but the four showed heart by winning in the consolation round to survive Friday's competition.
The future appears bright for JDHS. The team will lose Howard and 215-pounder regional champ Justin Behrends to graduation while 152-pound captain Garret Cox is moving to Ohio.
NOTES: Michaela Hutchinson of Skyview became the first girl in the nation to win a state wrestling title. Hutchinson defeated Colony's Aaron Boss 1-0 with an escape with 15 seconds left in the match.
Michaela's older brother, Eli, earned his fourth state title with a 14-4 win over South Anchorage's Matt Blakeslee.
West Valley's David Weise also won a fourth state championships with an 11-5 victory over Wasilla's Mike Trudeau.
In other Southeast Conference action, Sitka finished in eighth place in the team competition with 87.5 points.
Sitka heavyweight Tyler Holmlund fell to South Anchorage's Steven McDonald 7-5 in overtime. Holmlund thrilled the crowd by scoring a takedown as time expired in regulation, forcing overtime. McDonald ended the match six seconds later with a takedown of his own.
The Wolves 160-pound grappler Dylan Bergman made it to the finals but fell to West Valley's Jeremy Fulk 6-3.
Sitka athletic director Scott Gillespie was inducted into the Alaska Wrestling Hall of Fame for serving as Nikiski High School coach.
In the tournament, all but one of the top two seeded wrestlers in every weight class made it to the state championship round.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com
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