By BRIAN JENNINGS
Six Blue Knight wrestlers carried their momentum into the second round of the postseason. After placing fifth at the Class LL state tournament at Trumbull High School last weekend, Southington scrambled into the top 20 at the state open.
With just one week of training and preparation for the state’s best wrestlers, Southington wrestlers scored 38.5 points to earn a tie with East Hartford for 20th place out of 92 programs at Hillhouse High School in New Haven from Friday, Feb. 26 to Saturday, Feb. 27.
Southington finished with two medalists at the state-wide tournament, but nobody qualified for this weekend’s New England championship.
“You run into some buzz saws at the open,” said Southington coach Derek Dion. “Our best guys are still pretty young. I was hoping for a little bit more out of the heavier weight guys, but they ran into tough kids. As far as the smaller guys, I thought we wrestled pretty well, but there were a couple matches in there that I thought we could have won.”
New Fairfield (115.5) captured their first state open title with two individual champions and four medalists. Danbury (112.5) finished as runner-up with one division champion and four medalists. New Milford (111) placed third with two runner-ups and six medalists.
Shaun Wagner (120) and Paul Calo (126) were the only Southington wrestlers to reach the semifinals of the championship bracket of their respective weight classes.
Wagner entered the tournament as the 11th seed, but he advanced to the semis before getting pinned (1:08) by No.2 Melquisedec Ortiz (New Milford). Wagner defeated No.6 Alex Starr (Lyman Memorial/Windham Tech) by a point on a 2-1 decision in the semis of the consolation bracket, and finished his day on a positive note by earning fifth place with a 4-2 decision over No.10 Willie Gambardella (Branford).
Wagner’s run through the championship bracket included a pin (1:33) over No.22 William Mauro (Foran) in the first round (round of 32) of the championship bracket, an 8-6 decision against Starr in the second round (round of 16), and a 5-2 decision against No.3 Alejandro Garcia (Windham) in the quarterfinals.
Calo, a fourth seed, was the highest ranked Southington wrestler at the start of the open, but he fell to fifth place despite pinning No.11 Alex Steele (Fairfield Warde) in his medal match. Calo defeated No.16 Michael Mirmina (Trumbull) by a point on a 2-1 decision in the semis of the consolation bracket to have an opportunity to battle for fifth place.
Calo received a bye in the first round of the championship bracket, defeated No.20 Peter Dooley (South Windsor) on a 16-1 technical fall in the second round, and pinned (5:40) No.5 Christopher Schultz (New Milford) in the quarters, before falling to eventual champion and 1-ranked Baltazar Gonzalez (Ellis Tech) on an 11-2 major decision in the championship semis.
Gonzalez won the 126-pound final with a 15-5 major decision over No.2 Austin Sherman (Fairfield Ludlowe) and was awarded most outstanding wrestler. The 126-pound final was awarded the most exciting final.
Sixth-seeded Austin Abacherli (132) advanced to the quarters of the championship bracket before a 9-4 decision against No.3 Alejandro Paulino (New London) sent him to the consolation bracket. Abacherli fell to No.7 Charles Schultz (New Milford) on a 4-1 decision in the final four of the consolation bracket.
No. 16 Tagan Welch (106) fell to an 8-5 decision against No.17 Christopher Trelli (Bristol Central) in the first round of the championship bracket, but rebounded with a couple of wins in the consolation bracket before getting pinned by No.10 Brandon Leonard (New Milford) in the round of eight.
Jason Calvi-Rogers (160) came in as a 21-seed and advanced as far as the second round of 16 in the consolation bracket. Logan LaRosa (170) came in as a 14-seed and also reached the second round of 16 in the consolation bracket before his day came to a finish.
“We had two rounds in a row that were pretty rough,” said Dion. “The semifinals with the consolation quarters and the consolation semifinals were tough rounds for us. The other rounds we did pretty well, but we missed a couple opportunities in there. It was a good experience for the younger guys and hopefully we come back stronger because of it.”
The Knights wrapped up the season with a 12-3 (6-0) regular season record and the CCC West division title. With no wrestlers advancing into the New England brackets, the state open marked the end of Southington’s winter campaign.