By BRIAN JENNINGS
Austin Abacherli grabbed his opponent in a bear hug and slammed him to the mat, locking onto his arms and legs to make sure that he had nowhere to go. The result was another Southington pin.
Team co-captain Abacherli and freshman sensation Paul Calo made all the right moves over the weekend on Saturday, Jan. 9 at Hall High School when they helped lift Southington to the top of the mountain as champions of the Greater Hartford Invitational.
The Blue Knights scored 229.5 points to capture the title, edging Windham (224), Wethersfield (178), Avon (167), and Newtown (162.5) for the top spot.
Abacherli won the 132 weight class with a 14-4 major decision over Quinden Bourgeois of East Hartford. Calo won the 126 weight class with a 5-1 decision over Rodric Grant of Portland.
“They both wrestled hard against good kids,” said Southington coach Derek Dion. “They wrestled against really good, athletic kids. They stayed in good positions and battled it out. Windham, in particular, is a very good team and is similar to ours. Every time they won a match, it was an important one. Windham and Newtown are ranked No. 5 and No. 8 in the state. Just to be able to hang in there with those goods team is a pretty good day.”
Tagan Welch (106), Jason Brault (113), and Jimmy Starr (285) all reached the finals before finishing as runners up. Shaun Wagner took third place in the 120 weight class by default over Osman Mamedov of Wethersfield.
“I expected Wagner to be in the finals, but it was a quirky kind of a bracket in there,” said Dion. “He had about a five-second lapse. Right at the end, his opponent got an escape to win the match. Otherwise, he would have beat him and the kid in the finals. Wagner was in a tough side of a bracket with the toughest semifinal match, but he wrestled well though.”
Josh Gravel pinned (4:21) Richard Junquera of Newington to take bronze in the 145 weight class and Logan LaRosa also achieved third place with a 6-4 decision in overtime over Eric Lamore of Wethersfield in the 170 weight class.
Dion said that he thought the tournament win did a great job boosting the team’s confidence level.
“I thought all the kids wrestled hard and battled all day,” the coach said. “Not a lot of kids made big mistakes that cost them matches. We came together as a team a little bit. We finally got a tournament where we went home feeling really good about ourselves. We cheered each other on. It was definitely a great day for us.”
Dion said that a few of his wrestlers are starting to come around, but he’s is still looking for others to make the jump as Southington moves into the heart of their season.
“I’m hoping that this is a launching pad for the next few months where we start getting better everyday,” he said. “Then we will really start to perfect techniques in the kids and get them into shape, trying to make a strong push.”
Earlier in the week on Wednesday, Southington hosted Farmington (6-4) in their first home dual meet of the season, where the Knights were too strong for the Indians, 56-15. And this time, the lights were off.
LaRosa (170), Julian Robles (195), Andrew Syzmanski (220), Jacob Cardozo (106), Wagner (120), and Abacherli (132) scored pins.
Starr, Welch (113), and Ethan Greig (138) won by decision. Calo (126) scored a 15-6 major decision. Farmington forfeited one bout in the match.
The Knights will welcome in Platt (11-2) for their second home dual meet of the season on Wednesday, Jan. 13. The Panthers defeated the Knights to take third place in the SHS Duals.
The Knights will also send five wrestlers to contend at the 14th annual Eastern States Classic Wrestling Tournament at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, New York on Friday, Jan. 15 and Jan. 16. The five wrestlers representing Southington will be Wagner, Abacherli, Calo, Josh Gravel, and LaRosa.
The tournament will feature about 153 schools from six different states. Doors will open at 7am on Friday and 8am on Saturday. Any additional information can be found at www.sectionixwrestling.com.