At last, the questions have been answered. From the time that the state tournament ended last year, we’ve been anticipating the sectional championships; wondering who might meet in the finals, and how those matches might play out. Well, over the course of the past two days, the speculation has been put to rest and the 2013 champions have been crowned.
• After placing in the top three for two years in a row (including a second-place finish last season), North Rockland accomplished its stated goal of winning the first team title in program history. The Red Raiders haven’t been shy about their objective—when I walked into their wrestling room during the preseason the blackboard read, “RIP 2nd place”—but it’s because they knew they had to depth to pull it off. Matt Caputo (138) was the only individual champ for the Red Raiders, but they were able to get it done thanks to a remarkable total of 10 wrestlers who placed. That’s the most placers that I can remember a team having since I’ve been around. And guess what? Of the 10 placers, only three are seniors—Jake DiMarsico (132), Mike D’Agostino (152) and Colton Charles (195)—meaning you can probably pencil North Rockland in as the early favorite for next season. “We’ve been striving for this since the end of last season,” Caputo said. “We talked about it all offseason. Everybody did what they could to place and get it done.”
• Caputo (pictured to the right) won his first section title with his third consecutive win over rival Colby Kash of Clarkstown North in the 138-pound final. They split in two very close matches to begin the season, but Caputo has had two convincing wins in the last three weeks. After beating Kash handily at the Rockland County Championships, Caputo once again controlled the action in a 7-3 decision on Monday. For their careers, Caputo now holds a 6-3 edge. “It feels good to my first (title),” said Caputo, who has qualified for states twice before as a wild card. “I knew what he’s good at and he wasn’t good at, so I just stuck to my game plan.”
• North Rockland had two other finalists, brothers Jake and Derek DiMarsico, but each fell just short. Jake was matched up with Brewster junior Liam Erickson in the 132-pound final, whom he upset in the semifinals last season on his way to a section title. Erickson took advantage of his opportunity for redemption, beating DiMarsico with a 6-4 decision. DiMarsico came out aggressive, but as the match went on, Erickson was able to react and counter DiMarsico’s moves to take control. I picked Erickson to win last season and DiMarsico this time around, so I guess I just had the wrong year for each.
• Jake’s younger brother Derek nearly became one of the more unlikely section champs at 113 pounds, but Hen Hud senior Mark Grant (pictured to the left) pulled off one of the most dramatic turnarounds you’ll see in the most exciting third period of the day. Losing 5-3 with 20 seconds to go, Grant got in on a desperate shot for a takedown to tie it. My immediate thought was OT, but Grant rolled DiMarsico over for two quick back points to win with a 7-5 decision. An incredible finish, showing Grant’s ability to stay calm in the match’s most tense moments. “I honestly don’t remember the last 10 seconds,” said Grant, still in a daze. “I was standing up, and then all of a sudden I just threw him over me. He tried recovering; I hip tied him, and just got my quick swipe.”
• I’ve been saying all season that Yorktown would have more champs than North Rockland, and that held true on Monday. Joe Mastro (152), Thomas Murray (182) and Steven Sabella (195) each won titles, but the Huskers only had a total of five wrestlers place—half the total of the Red Raiders—resulting in a second-place finish by an 18.5-point margin. Sabella is now a two-time champ, while Mastro and Murray each won after losing in the finals last season. Mastro had the most dominant performance in the finals, but it wasn’t before an early scare. TZ’s Desmond Djekovic got in on a shot in the opening seconds and lifted Mastro off of the mat. He eased him down to avoid the slam, but that gave Mastro an opportunity to use his athleticism to wiggle free before Djekovic could even get two points. He turned it on from there, cruising to a 15-0 technical fall.
• Murray also won his first title after placing second last season with a 3-0 decision over Beacon’s Andrew Grella in the 182-pound final. Murray had dominated everyone else in his weight class, but had yet to see Grella, who was clearly his top contender. Neither wrestler could get much offense going, but Murray secured the only takedown of the match in the second period. “Everyone told me he has a really good double leg,” Murray said of Grella. “Other than that, I just felt him out and attacked when I could… I felt extremely confident after I took him down.”
• Sabella (pictured to the right) wrestled a nailbiter with Horace Greeley senior Scott Wymbs for the second consecutive week, prevailing with a 3-2 decision for the title. He got all three of his points to begin the second period (which is where the video begins), escaping and hooking Wymbs’ leg in a matter of seconds. Wymbs clearly presents Sabella with some problems because of his strength and stocky build, but Sabella is quicker and more athletic, which has given him a slight edge. This turned out to be one of the best rivalries in the section this season.
• The Huskers had more individual champs than any other team, but it’s the one that got away which left a sour taste in their mouths. Defending champ David Varian was matched up with Tappan Zee junior Mike Manni in the 285-final in one of the more highly anticipated matches of the day, and it ended with a bit of controversy. The match was pretty stagnant early on, but it sure picked up at the end. With Varian holding a 3-2 lead and riding Manni in OT, a restart with little time remaining seemed to spell the end for the TZ super. I thought I remembered seeing the clock say 4.9 seconds, but I’ve also heard 4.6. Regardless, it’s clear that there were less than five seconds left for Manni to escape and force another OT period (you can see the Yorktown coaches holding up five fingers, indicating that Varian needed to hold him down for five more seconds). Manni did pull off the stunning escape to tie it at 3-3, but there was no one who let the ref know when time expired. At the time, I admit to thinking that the call got screwed up and that Varian was robbed. But I’ve watched the video now a few times with my stopwatch, and I keep getting right under five seconds for the time when Manni got loose. It’s really about as close as it gets, but I can’t sit here and definitively say it was the wrong call. Give Manni credit for fighting until the end, and also give him credit for winning it with a 5-3 decision by pulling off a reversal to start the next period. You can watch the video for yourself and be the judge. “It feels incredible to get it done. I was thinking about (Varian) in the beginning of the year because I knew he would be here,” Manni said. “I was pretty beat at the end, but I knew I had four seconds left to empty the tank.”
• Manni wasn’t the only wrestler to come through for TZ, as John Hartnett came up with an impressive 7-1 decision over top-seeded Trent Lofaro of Ossining in the 220-pound final. Hartnett (pictured to the left) had split with Lofaro this season, losing their most recent meeting at the Beacon tourney, but he was in control in this one. Hartnett takes very quick and smooth shots for such a big guy, and he seemed to break Lofaro down as the match wore on. With Hartnett and Manni both being juniors, TZ will enter next season with two undisputed favorites up top. Those two were a huge reason that the Dutchmen finished fifth overall.
• The most highly anticipated match of the day came in the 120-pound final between Pearl River junior John Muldoon and Ossining junior Alex Delacruz. We’ve talked a lot this season about how loaded this weight class is, and how Muldoon and Delacruz have never really had an opportunity to wrestle for a full six minutes. They technically came into the day 1-1 against each other, but neither of those matches made it out of the second period (their section finals match last season ended in less than a minute when Muldoon suffered a concussion). I picked Delacruz because I felt like he had a slight edge athletically, but Muldoon proved me wrong by wrestling the best match that I’ve seen from him all season. The tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler matched Delacruz’s fast-paced style with an aggressive approach of his own, coming away with a very convincing 10-7 decision to earn his 100th career win. The match was tied at 3-3 in the second period, but Muldoon created some distance as the match wore on. I’ve said before that the longer the match goes on, the better it probably is for Muldoon. He looked like the more complete wrestler on Monday, but I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of this rivalry. “I was very blessed that everything went my way,” Muldoon said. “At some points in the match I felt (that I was gaining control), but then he would always be right there. You never know with him—those blast doubles to cradles and blast doubles to halves—he’s a home run hitter. He can pin you at any point in the match.”
• Muldoon wasn’t the only Pirate to come up huge. Sophomore James Kelly was lowest seed to win a title on Monday, coming out on top at 99 pounds with a tremendous performance as the fourth seed. First, Kelly pinned top-seeded Brady Robin of Arlington in the semis, and then he beat Fox Lane junior Brandon Fay with a 7-3 decision in the finals. “I just took it one match at time,” Kelly said. “I worried about the semifinal match first. I didn’t even think about the finals today. I was just worried about getting the first match done… To knock off the top seed in any tournament gives you a lot of confidence.”
• Aside from Sabella, the other repeat champs from D1 were New Rochelle junior Nick Barbaria (106) and Fox Lane senior Tom Grippi (145; pictured to the right). Barbaria had handled all of the top competitors in his weight class this season, except for the No. 2 seed, Byram Hills sophomore Jon Errico. The match was a bit of an unknown, but Barbaria showed why he should be in the mix for a state with his 6-2 decision in the finals. He got most of his points early, hooking under both of Errico’s arms and turning him onto his back for five quick points to start the match.
• While Somers senior Dylan Realbuto isn’t a repeat champ, he did win his second section title with an impressive 58-second pin of Suffern senior Alex Oliveto in the 126-pound final. D-Real won as a sophomore, but was upset by Delacruz in the semis last season. Of course, he got a wild card berth and went onto win a state title, so I’d say it ended up working out alright for him. Realbuto looked as sharp as I’ve ever seen him, and seems focused on defending his state title. He looked like he had that killer instinct.
• Another guy who I know a lot of people wanted to see was John Jay-EF senior Dale White. He missed pretty much the entire season with a back injury, but returned to make another run at a section title. And while White made it look pretty easy with his 17-6 major decision of Mamaroneck senior Ben Miller in the 160-pound final, it also seemed pretty clear that he’s still not completely healthy. You’ll notice with 51 seconds remaining in the third period he takes injury time and lays down on the mat to have his lower back worked on. He finished the match, but seemed to be in some pain. You hope he’ll be OK for states, because after placing fifth last season, he could do some serious damage if healthy.
REMINDER: I’ll be hosting a live LoHud Wrestling chat tonight at 7:30 to discuss sectionals and much more! Be sure to stop by and join the discussion!
Photos by Frank Becerra, Jr./The Journal News