By BRIAN JENNINGS
NEW HAVEN—Hugs all around, hugs all around. There was nothing, but smiles, family pictures, and joy coming out of Murillo camp Saturday night, Feb. 28 at the 2015 CIAC State Open Wrestling Tournament.
There wasn’t an empty seat in the house from the bleachers to the balcony above at the Floyd Little Athletic Center at Hillhouse High School in New Haven as Zack Murillo made Southington proud again, winning his first-ever state open crown.
“I wrestled great,” said Murillo. “I went out meeting the day and said to myself, ‘I want to major today in the finals,’ and that’s exactly what I did. Last time, it was too close. I wanted to set my example and set my way for New England’s and say I’m going to go out and beat you bad.”
Murillo quickly popped up after the final whistle. His hand was raised as his name was announced. He came off of the mat with tears in his eyes and jumped on his coach, squeezing tight and locking his legs around him. His family greeted him with hugs and congratulations.
“It’s nice to be up there with my family,” said Murillo. “My brother won a state open championship, and my dad won two. Before the match, my brother told me, ‘Go out doing what you love doing.’ I’ve been working my whole life for this exact moment, and it’s great. It’s euphoric. It’s a great feeling.”
The Southington Blue Knights (57) entered three wrestlers in the state open and finished ninth out of about 90 schools behind Windham (65.6), Xavier (80), Trumbull (88), Fairfield Warde (98), Simsbury (100), New Milford (110.5), Danbury (112.5), and Newtown (159).
Zack Murillo (106) wrestled Danbury’s Jakob Camacho in the finals in a rematch of the Class LL Championship final, winning the bout with a 10-2 major decision.
“I knew Camacho was good at scrambles, but he got himself into really dangerous positions. That’s where I caught him today,” said Murillo. “I watched for the funky stuff, and that’s how I got the back points both sets of time.”
Murillo earned a bye in the first round of the championship preliminaries. He pinned Platt-West Haven’s Willie Gamberdella in the second round and Windham’s Anthony Julio Flores in the quarterfinals.
Murillo reached the finals with a 7-1 decision over E.O. Smith’s Rob Hartling. He came into the state open with a 33-3 record (91.7 percent) as the number one seed.
“Murillo went out there and stayed in his offense and majored a national champion,” said Southington coach Derek Dion.
Zach Bylykbashi (132) made it to the finals and wrestled Trumbull’s Cross Cannone in another rematch of a Class LL Championship final. Southington was on the brink of crowning two state open champions for the first time in the program’s history. Unfortunately, Bylykbashi was pinned by Cannone.
Bylykbashi came into the state open with an 11-1 record (91.7 percent).
Austin Abacherli (120) was the third wrestler representing the Blue Knights in the state open. He made it to the second round of the championship preliminaries, but was defeated by Fairfield Ludlow’s George Wales with a 15-4 major decision.
“There are no kids here that aren’t good,” the Southington coach said. “Every match you have to grind it out. We had some fantastic efforts from Murillo and Bylykbashi. Amazing.”
Newtown won its first-ever State Open championship with a 46.5-point win over Danbury. Newtown had two individual champions, including outstanding wrestler Anthony Falbo (170) with his second straight state open title and six medalists.
Murillo became just the fourth Blue Knight to win a state open championship since the Southington wrestling program started in December of 1974.
Bill Lee (152) was crowned the first state open champion for the Blue Knights in 1999. Larry Liseo (160) was the second in 2002. Zach Maxwell (195) won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014, when Southington had Zack-attack of Maxwell, Murillo, and Bylykbashi.
Dion said he hopes Murillo and Bylykbashi can wrestle as well as they did in the State Open when they take on the 51st Annual New England Interscholastic Wrestling Championships this weekend at North Andover High School in North Andover, Massachusetts.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.
Photos by JOHN GORALSKI