By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knights (147.5) competed at the Class LL state tournament over the weekend and placed fifth out of 25 schools with two finalists and six medalists that will be moving on to the state open. Southington entered a total of 14 wrestlers in the tournament, which was held at Trumbull High School from Friday, Feb. 19 to Saturday, Feb. 20.
Danbury (268.5) won the Class LL title, finishing the tournament with five individual champions and 10 medalists. Fairfield Warde (202) finished right behind the Hatters as the runner-ups, finishing with two individual champions and nine medalists. Newton (174) placed third with three individual champions and six medalists. Trumbull (165) trailed behind in fourth place with one individual champion and seven medalists.
Southington advanced four wrestlers into the semifinals, but Paul Calo (126) and Austin Abacherli (132) were the only two Knights to advance to the championship bout in their respective weight classes.
Calo entered as the sixth seed, receiving a bye in the first round before pinning (3:18) No.11 Sean Black of Cheshire in the second round. Calo upset the third seed in the quarterfinals, beating Danbury’s Joseph Hulse with a 7-4 decision and advanced to the finals after pinning No.2-seed Alex Steele (Fairfield Warde) in the semifinals.
A single point separated Calo from becoming champion, after he fell short to top-seeded Patrick Moynihan of Xavier on a 1-0 decision in the finals. Moynihan’s only point came on an escape with 1:03 to go in the bout.
Abacherli earned a first round bye as the No.2-seed before pinning No.15 Dominic Leckie of Stamford in the first period. Abacherli landed a second straight pin in the quarterfinals, holding down No.10 Andrew Blum of Westhill at 3:54. He earned his berth in the finals with a 5-3 decision over No.3-seed Joshua Kowalski of Simsbury in the semifinals before falling to top seeded Timmy Kane of Fairfield Warde with a 9-0 major decision in the finals.
Kane scored two near falls in the first period, an escape and a takedown in the second, and a takedown in the third. Kane is regarded as one of the top wrestlers of his weight class in New England.
“Calo and Abacherli wrestled well all day,” said Southington coach Derek Dion. “Abacherli had one of the best kids in New England and Calo wasn’t able to get through the defense on the kid, so we’ll do a little work this weekend and maybe it will be different next weekend.”
Shaun Wagner (120) earned a third-place finish as the fifth seed by pinning No.2 Jakob Cala of Amity in overtime of the consolation finals. Wagner fell to top ranked Matt Foster (NFA) with a 9-5 decision in the semis.
Tagan Welch (106) finished fourth as the eighth seed after falling to No.5 Noah Zuckerman (Fairfield Warde) on a 5-1 decision in the consolation finals. Welch was pinned (3:45) by top-seeded Matthew Ryan of Trumbull in the quarters.
No. 7 Logan LaRosa (170) also battled to a fourth-place finish, falling to fifth ranked Evan Titus (Fairfield Prep) with an 11-1 major decision in the consolation finals. LaRosa advanced to the semis of the championship bracket, where he was pinned by No.3 Luke Salls of Simsbury in the first overtime period.
Sixth seeded Jason Calvi-Rogers (160) fell to No.2 Jacob Graves (New Britain) on a 2-1 decision in a battle for fifth place. Calvi-Rogers joined the consolation bracket after falling to No.11 Rafiq Conway (Manchester) on a 3-1 decision in the second round. Calvi-Rogers stormed through the consolation bracket before dropping his final bout, winning four straight bouts.
“As a team, I thought we were okay,” said Dion. “A couple guys could have done better. We have a really tough schedule, so our module is to try and beat your seeds. A lot of our kids did, but I was hoping to come up a little bit higher on the end. We’re young, so we’ll try to get better and hopefully come out and do a little bit better next year.”
Calo, Abacherli, Wagner, Welch, LaRosa, and Calvi-Rogers will flex their muscles against the best talent in the state at the CT State Open, which is set to take place at Hillhouse High School in New Haven from Friday, Feb. 26 to Saturday, Feb. 27.
In terms of preparing for the state open, Dion said that it’s a different fix for different kids.
“We really have to get the kids more offensive,” he said. “They have to start believing in themselves. They’re young, so it’s kind of tough, but there’s no reason why they can’t go out there and do just as good a job next weekend.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.