The Toll Gate wrestling team had a chance at Thursday’s tri-meet to secure at least a share of the Division II-South title with wins over Narragansett and Moses Brown.
The Titans knew they could handle Moses Brown. Narragansett, though, would be far from a pushover.
With the match starting at the 160-pound weight class, Toll Gate mapped out its strategy – survive early on, then take care of business in the lower weight classes.
It worked to perfection.
The Titans managed to be down only 27-6 following the heavyweight match, and then they turned it on. They won seven of the next eight matches to edge Narragansett 35-33.
They then cruised by Moses Brown 59-17 to finish off an impressive 14-2 dual meet season.
Exeter/West Greenwich is currently just behind Toll Gate at 13-2, with its final dual meet coming on Tuesday against Narragansett. If EWG wins, it would tie Toll Gate for the division title. If Narragansett can knock off the Scarlet Knights, the Titans will be alone at the top for the first time since winning Division B-2 in the 2001-02 season.
“The kids were real excited,” Toll Gate head coach Jerry Sabatelli said about the victory over Narragansett. “Unfortunately, we still had to wrestle Moses Brown after. We knew Narragansett was going to be the tougher opponent of the two. I told our guys not to ease up. Don’t go celebrating too early. They celebrated after the Moses Brown match.”
Against Narragansett, Sabatelli wanted his keep his team within 30 points prior to the 106-pound match. It didn’t start off great, as Narragansett got pins from Michael Gallagher and Mitchell Kennedy over Timothy Dougan and Joseph Mercurio to go up 12-0 right off the bat.
Toll Gate got its first points when Narragansett forfeited at 182, but the Mariners got two more pins at 192 and 220 from Gregory Hamilton and Alexander Millen over Matthew Cullen and Tyler Ekroth, respectively, to go up 24-6. At heavyweight, Toll Gate’s Timothy Warner avoided a pin and lost by decision, putting the Titans down 27-6 with their big guns coming up.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Sabatelli said. “Narragansett has always put out a pretty competitive team. We’ve always had great matches. But in wrestling it comes down to the match-ups.”
And Toll Gate had the advantage.
Colin Higgins was credited with a win at 106 after Narragansett forfeited, and Austin Medeiros followed that up with a decision win at 113 over Seamus Mathieu.
Max Procopio kept it going at 120 with a major win over Austin Ranney, adding four points to Toll Gate’s score. At 126, Aaron Travers won by decision over Robert Peterson, and Dante Procopio brought Toll Gate within one at 27-26 with a major win over Matthew McGreen.
Narragansett briefly extended its lead when Reed Nelson pinned Joseph Martinez at 138, but John DiGiuseppe came through with a pin of Daniel Stern-Lonczak at 145 to get the Titans back within one point with one match left.
DiGiuseppe’s win, obviously, was a big one.
“John had defeated the kid last week in a tournament,” Sabatelli said. “Stern-Lonczak is a very strong kid, as is John, but I didn’t think John could pin him. He wrestled well, and ended up pinning him. It gave us the points that we needed – those three extra points.”
In the final match, David Navilliat held off Narragansett’s James Cook IV to win by decision and give the Titans the narrow two-point victory.
“That’s kind of been the strength of our season there, from 106 to 152,” Sabatelli said. “It was a little too close for comfort. We needed some pins from some key guys and it didn’t end up that way. But we kept putting points on the board.”
Of course, the Titans still had a little work to do to finish off the day.
Against Moses Brown, Toll Gate got pins from Medeiros, Martinez, DiGiuseppe and Mercurio. Dante Procopio and Navilliat secured major wins, while Max Procopio won by decision. Moses Brown also forfeited four matches.
It was a great culmination on what has been a special season so far.
“At the beginning of this year, I said as long as we stay healthy and we have no major setbacks, I thought we had a real good shot of being in the position we’re in,” Sabatelli said.
And it’s not done yet.
Today, the team will go to Narragansett to watch the Mariners wrestle EWG, which will determine the final division standings.
After that is the D-II tournament, which starts on Friday at 4 p.m. and continues on Saturday at 11 a.m. It will be held at Smithfield High School.
Sabatelli is bringing nine wrestlers to the meet – everybody between 106 and 152, plus freshman Edmund Pierce at 182 – and he’s hoping for big things.
“I think those eight or nine guys should qualify for the states,” Sabatelli said. “I think the majority could at least get in the top four, putting us in a decent position.”
The Rhode Island state tournament will be held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25, at the Providence Career and Technical Academy.