By John Goralski
Zack Murillo was under the radar at the start of the New England wrestling championship. Sure, the Southington junior had clawed his way up to second place at the Class LL championships. Sure, Murillo battled to fourth place at the Connecticut State Open the following week, but that didn’t put him at the top of many scouting reports on the first day of the regional brackets.
They won’t make the same mistake next year. Murillo’s Cinderella run pushed him into the medal round and culminated in a fifth place finish.
“We’ve been talking about him all year,” said Blue Knight wrestling coach Derek Dion. “We know that he’s been unbelievable, but he really wrestled tough [this weekend]. In his last match, that kid had beaten him 8-1 during the season, but Zack went out and avenged that to get fifth place. He was a warrior.”
Murillo might have been the smallest wrestler at the regional meet. Weighing in at a true 106 pounds, he faced a string of nine larger opponents but came away with wins against most of them. He dispatched the No. 3 kid from Massachusetts in the first round before losing to the Rhode Island champion, but Murillo was far from finished. He went on to pin top three wrestlers from Vermont and New Hampshire in the consolation brackets before outlasting the New Hampshire champion to get into the medal rounds.
Murillo lost again to the Rhode Island champion before beating Vermont’s runner-up to capture fifth place.
“With the growth allowance, kids are able to come in at 110 pounds, but he’s walking around at 106,” said Dion. “There were kids that are normally 120 pounds. They are about six or eight inches taller than him. They are bigger, and you can see it. They don’t even look like they’re in the same weight class, but he’s just relentless. He does everything so well. He moves well. He’s just so smart and so good that he’s able to overcome that weight and size difference in almost every match.”
Unfortunately, South-ington’s top contender didn’t join Murillo in the medal rounds. Zach Maxwell entered the New England tournament as Southington’s only two-time winner in both the State Open, but the 195-pounder lost in the second day of the tournament to New Hampshire’s champion and lost two rounds later in the consolation brackets.
“He was trying to overcome an injury that he suffered in the semifinals of the state open,” said Dion. “He was able to tough it out through the state opens, and that was incredible. He only lost by a point against the eventual champion, and that’s with an injury that stopped about three of his moves. He was in too much pain, and he lost some strength in his chest. Unfortunately, that was the difference in the match.”
Maxwell did his best despite the injury. He pinned a pair of top 3 wrestlers before suffering his second loss right before the medal round in a one-point decision. His first loss came to the eventual champion, where he battled back from a big deficit to lose a tight decision.
“He actually came back with two takedowns late in the match, but he was suffering too much from the pain,” said Dion. “He came up one point short, and that’s amazing in itself. He was going against the best kid in New England. Half his body wasn’t working, but he still only lost by a point.”
Southington sent four wrestlers to the championship tournament, and Dion said that he was impressed with all of them. Zach Bylykbashi (120) went 2-2 for the weekend, and Alex Martin (160) went 1-2. The tournament marked the final varsity bouts for Maxwell and Martin, but Murillo and Bylykbashi will get one more chance next winter.
“Bylykbashi lost in a match on Friday night where he actually out-wrestled one of the finalists. He ended up losing by a point, but ‘Bash’ was awesome. Martin out-wrestled a kid for about 5 minutes, 30 seconds out of 6 minutes. He was winning, but he got caught in a move late in the match. It was just a really good move, so you have to give the other kid credit,” said Dion. “We brought four kids up there, and all four of them wrestled tough. That’s what I’ll remember. The kids all wrestled well. They really went out and did a great job at the end.”
The tournament marked the end of Southington’s winter campaign.
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By John Goralski