For the first time in a while, the Warwick Vets wrestling team is battling through some ups and downs this season. But on Monday afternoon at Pilgrim, the Hurricanes were up to their old tricks.
Vets won the city wrestling championship for the seventh consecutive year thanks to a 39-37 victory over Toll Gate and a 45-33 win over Pilgrim.
“We’ve lost a couple of close dual meets and we realize the chance to win our division isn’t really there unless something turns in our favor,” said Vets head coach Brendan Friel. “This was the thing we marked on the calendar until states. We’re bringing it back home.”
Owning the city has been an annual goal for the ’Canes, even when they were contending for state championships in recent years. This year, Vets came in with a 3-4 record in dual meets but held onto the championship trophy.
“That’s always our first goal – don’t lose in the city,” said senior George Schmeider.
The ’Canes figured they’d be challenged by both Toll Gate and Pilgrim. Last season, Vets clinched the city title when it beat Toll Gate by a point. This time around, the Titans had even more confidence and they took care of business against Pilgrim 49-24 in the first match of the day.
That set up a showdown with Vets, and the Titans thought they might be in business when they found themselves trailing by only eight points with five matches left. Toll Gate knew it would win one match by forfeit and expected to have a good shot in at least two others.
But the ’Canes came on strong. Senior Tony Lonczak and junior Aaron Hurst turned in consecutive pins at 182 and 195 to build an insurmountable 20-point lead for the ’Canes. Toll Gate got two pins and a forfeit in the final three matches but the deficit was too big.
“Our kids are disappointed,” said Toll Gate coach Jerry Sabatelli. “This was one of our goals coming in. We thought this was the year we could catch them, but things didn’t go our way during that match. Give credit to Vets. They wrestled well and they made the right moves looking for match-ups.”
Lonczak pinned Tyler Ekroth with 11 seconds left in the first period at 182, putting Vets ahead 33-19. At 195, Hurst caught Ed Pierce in a headlock near the edge of the circle and pinned him in the final seconds of the first period to make it 39-19.
“My mindset was I had to win for the team to win,” Hurst said. “I needed to pin. Otherwise, we could have lost.”
The ’Canes also got a key pin by John Altieri against Toll Gate standout Austin Medeiros, a tech fall by Nathaniel Colicci over Max Procopio and a major victory from Schmeider over Dave Navilliat. The ’Canes picked up a forfeit at 113 and got a strong performance by Tom Galligan at 138. Galligan battled Toll Gate standout Aaron Travers to a 7-2 loss in a match the Titans would have liked to get more points from.
“He looked really, really good on his feet,” Friel said. “He wrestled tough.”
After the victory over Toll Gate, Vets squared off against Pilgrim and raced to a 15-0 lead. In the first bout, at 120, Altieri held off a challenge by Jordan DeSisto to win 8-5. Davin Lourenco followed with a quick pin of John Pierce and Colicci won by forfeit.
Pilgrim’s Steven Johnston won by injury default at 138, and Mark Lenz followed with a pin at 145 to make it 15-12. At 152, Pilgrim’s Alex Seubert led 4-3 after the first period, but Vets freshman Owen Amirault notched an escape and a takedown to jump in front 6-4 in the second period. In the third, Amirault took Seubert to his back then pinned him with 40 seconds left for six big points.
Brett Prescott kept the Pats within striking distance when he outlasted Steven Awde 13-9 at 160, but Pilgrim soon fell victim to the same Vets surge that buried Toll Gate.
At 170, Pilgrim’s Griffin Potter battled Schmeider into the third period, but Schmeider pinned him with 1:19 left to put Vets ahead 27-15. Lonczak then stepped in against Nathan Brice at 182 and pinned him with a minute left in the second period, making it 33-15.
“There was no option,” Lonczak said. “Had to get the win.”
Hurst delivered too. After a scoreless first period against Mike Pereira at 195, Hurst scored near-fall points to start the second. After Pereira escaped, Hurst took him down then pinned him with 32 seconds left in the second period.
“It’s nice to have those guys to rely on up top,” Friel said. “To have that leadership with those guys, it gives us a comfort level. If we get those wins, usually the win is locked up or under control at that point.”
The three consecutive pins turned a six-point lead into a 24-point lead and essentially clinched the victory for the ’Canes. The Pats did get pins from Mike Turchette at 220 and Adam Landroche at 113 and a forfeit at 285, but they had to forfeit the 106-pound match.
“If we wrestled to our potential, we thought it would be close,” said Pilgrim coach Tom O’Connor. “It was a good team effort. It wasn’t a great one, and we would have needed great to compete with Vets.”
When it was over, the ’Canes posed for photos and prepared the championship trophy for another return trip to Vets.
“It’s important for us,” Lonczak said. “The last few years, because we’ve been so good, I don’t think the importance of it really hit me. This year, after the wins we got in football, I never want to lose to these guys.”
Vets will be back in action Wednesday when it hosts Coventry in a Division I tilt.
Both Pilgrim and Toll Gate will be focused on the remainder of their Division II schedules and the D-II championship meet. Though the Titans didn’t get the city title they were looking for, their win over Pilgrim early in the day was a league victory, meaning the event wasn’t a total loss. Medeiros, Joe Martinez, John DiGiuseppe, Joe Brosnahan, Navilliat and Ed Pierce all had pins against the Pats, while Medeiros and Tim Warner won by decision.
DiGiuseppe and Brosnahan each had two pins on the day.
Toll Gate is now 9-1 heading into Wednesday’s match with powerhouse Exeter/West Greenwich.
“We got the win that we came here for,” Sabatelli said. “Not beating Vets is going to burn a little bit with them, but that’s good. This group is competitive. Hopefully this will leave a mark and carry us through the rest of the dual meet season and the sectionals.”
Pilgrim dropped to 5-6 in league action with the loss to Toll Gate. Among the bright spots for the Pats, Mark Lenz had Pilgrim’s biggest win of the day with a 6-3 decision over Travers, while DeSisto and Gage Potter had one pin each.
“We just haven’t clicked as a team yet,” O’Connor said. “Hopefully, that’ll come.”