Warwick Vets wrestling coach George Schmeider had a feeling Tuesday’s city championship match against Toll Gate would come down to the wire. Before the match, Schmeider made sure his wrestlers knew exactly what they had to do.
There were plenty of anxious moments, but in the end, the ’Canes did it all.
After Toll Gate started the match with four straight pins, Vets came to life with five pins then did enough in the final three matches to seal a 41-40 victory over the Titans. That win – combined with a 50-23 victory over Pilgrim earlier in the day – gave Vets its fifth city championship in a row.
“I knew it was going to be tight going in,” Schmeider said. “[Toll Gate coach Jerry Sabatelli] didn’t believe me, but I really thought it was going to be tight. We went after it, and all the guys did what they were supposed to do.”
Vets started the meet with the victory over Pilgrim. Toll Gate then edged the Pats by one point to set up a winner-take-all match against Vets.
And Toll Gate came out hot. Senior Dante Procopio, who had lost in the Pilgrim match, pinned Diego Martinez at 132 to put Toll Gate up 6-0. Joe Martinez followed with a second-period pin of Kameron Boyajian, and John DiGiuseppe delivered a pin of Aaron Gordon in just 20 seconds. Dave Navilliat capped the 24-0 start with a pin of Steven Awde at 152.
The ’Canes weren’t surprised to be in a deep hole, but it still wasn’t a pleasant spot. Thankfully for them, the turnaround was about to start.
At 160, Tony Lonczak had to battle with Tim McCorkle, but he came up with a big move late in the second period and pinned McCorkle with four seconds left.
“That was our spot to turn the corner,” Lonczak said.
And the ’Canes were off and running. Devin Hurst and Nick Salois each needed just 19 seconds to pin their opponents at 170 and 182. Aaron Hurst then came up big with a pin of Matt Cullen at 195, tying the score at 24-24.
Vets forfeited at 220, but Casey Beauregard kept things going with a second-period pin of Tim Warner at 285, putting the score at 30-30.
With four matches left, it was easy to envision each team finishing with two pins, based on match-ups.
But Vets wouldn’t let Toll Gate hold up its end of that bargain.
At 106, Vets sent out freshman Davin Lourenco against Austin Medeiros, one of the top 106-pounders in the state. Laurenco’s instructions were to not get pinned and somehow he came through, fighting off his back multiple times. Medeiros still came away with the 12-4 victory, but that was good for only four points instead of the six that a pin would have garnered.
“Davin’s a kid who works really hard,” Schmeider said. “He wrestled in some really tough tournaments in the summer, and he got beat up a little bit. One day, he comes running across the mat so excited. I’m thinking ‘Oh my god, this kid won.’ He says, ‘I scored a point.’ He was so excited because he was wrestling kids who are one, two, three in the country. He knows how to survive if he has to. You saw that tonight.”
In the next match, Vets sent out defending state champ John Altieri, who bumped up from 106. The ’Canes were banking on a pin, but much like Laurenco, Toll Gate’s Corey Longworth wasn’t letting it happen.
Instead of hoping for the pin, Schmeider continually told Altieri to let Longworth get escape points and then go for takedowns. The ensuing one-for-two trades enabled Altieri to get a 21-6 tech fall and the five points that came with it.
“The minute I knew that kid knew how to play the game, you can’t try to pin someone like that because you waste so much time,” Schmeider said. “Five’s the next best thing.”
Altieri’s win put Vets ahead 35-34 with two matches left. Toll Gate would need to avoid a tech-fall or pin at 120 to have a chance.
For a while, it looked like Toll Gate’s Max Procopio would be up to the task. Earlier in the day, he avoided a pin against Pilgrim’s Jordan DeSisto in the final match to seal his team’s one-point win. This time, matched up with Vets standout Nate Colicci, Procopio held his own through two periods.
On the Vets bench, worry started creeping in.
“Nate’s not a pinner,” Schmeider said. “He’s a points guy. It can work against him to bring him out of that. Nate can beat most people in New England 5-2, but when you ask him to go out and open up, it’s tough. It takes him a while to get going.”
Fortunately for the ’Canes, Colicci eventually did. Leading 14-4 in the third, he took Procopio took his back and pinned him with one minute remaining to clinch the title for Vets. With the win secured, the ’Canes forfeited the last match and then celebrated the victory.
“I was just glad we won,” said senior Devin Hurst. “I had won it my first three years, so especially my senior year, I wanted to make sure we won. It was a little too close for comfort, but we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
While the ’Canes will shoot to defend their state championship next month, they were happy to bring the city trophy home first.
“This is big,” Lonczak said. “We’ve had a tough couple of weeks. We lost to Westerly and we shouldn’t have. We got third in our tourney, and we’re not used to that. I hope all the new kids recognize how big this is. Hopefully it’ll give us some momentum and get us on a roll.”
Toll Gate, who’s 9-1 in Division II, left without the title but Sabatelli was pleased with the performances against both Pilgrim and Vets.
“We came up a little bit short,” Sabatelli said. “A couple of things didn’t go our way, but I was pleased with the effort by everybody tonight. I’ve walked out of the city meet getting smashed, but that didn’t happen tonight.”
Despite going 0-2, Pilgrim had strong performances as well. Steve Cabral and Mark Lenz had pins against Vets, while Mark Tomaselli picked up a tech-fall. Against Toll Gate, Cabral and Lenz both beat tough opponents, while Tomaselli, Nate Brice and Michael Turchette had pins. DeSisto added a tech-fall.