Pilgrim, Toll Gate and Warwick Vets have been wrestling for the City Championship every year since 2004. Vets has dominated the event and Pilgrim has won once, but despite trotting out strong teams nearly every year, Toll Gate never raised the cup.
That changed Thursday.
In their own gym, the Titans rolled past Vets 58-17 and Pilgrim 51-27 to capture the program’s first title.
“We finally got it,” said Toll Gate head coach Jerry Sabatelli. “We’ve been so close a lot of times. This was one of our goals all along – to get that city cup.”
Warwick Vets had won the cup seven consecutive times, but the ’Canes barely had a shot this year. Injuries to seniors John Altieri and Aaron Hurst have compounded numbers that were already low. Vets forfeited six matches to Toll Gate and four in a 42-33 loss to Pilgrim.
With a perfect record in Division II, the Titans came in as the favorites and they were thrilled to deliver.
“Vets was down in numbers, but we’ve been in the same boat before,” Sabatelli said. “We’ll take it. My guys came out hard tonight, and I was really impressed with their performance.”
That performance was borne out of some serious motivation. In the last two years, Vets won the title by virtue of 41-40 and 39-37 victories over the Titans.
Most of Toll Gate’s current seniors were varsity stand-outs in both of those seasons – and they felt the sting.
“Our hard work finally paid off,” said captain Aaron Travers. “I think we should have won the last two years, but it’s nice to get it this year.”
Travers and fellow senior Dave Navilliat each won both their matches by pin to lead the charge for the Titans. Max Procopio added a pin and a major victory, John DiGiuseppe had a win and Joe Mercurio, Joe Brosnahan, Ed Pierce and Jorden DaPonte had one pin each. Toll Gate won 11 of the 19 total contested matches, with nine of the victories coming by pin.
“We thought we were going to win, but we still had to go out there and execute,” Navilliat said. “We should have won the past two seasons so we didn’t want this to be a repeat. That would have been terrible.”
The Titans opened the meet with a 58-17 victory over Vets that was almost a foregone conclusion because of the forfeits. But even without the forfeits factored in, Toll Gate would have won 22-17.
Travers, Navilliat and Mercurio delivered pins, while Procopio came through with a major victory over Bobby Thomas. Mercurio was down 4-0 in his match with Ronnie Larocque but came back for the pin.
Vets got a pin from Davin Lourenco and victories by Nick Thompson, Logan Amirault and Owen Amirault.
Pilgrim took the mat against Vets in the second match of the day, and while Vets won four of six contested matches, Pilgrim prevailed 42-33. Sean Akinnusotu and Griffin Potter made sure the Pats came out on top with pins at 170 and 182. Vets got a victory from Lourenco over Jacob Zuller while Amirault, Thompson and Kendall Watts delivered pins.
The Pilgrim victory set up a winner-take-all final match – and it sent Vets home without the cup for just the second time and the first since 2006.
“I can’t blame the guys for their efforts,” said Vets head coach Brendan Friel. “It’s tough – we’ve only lost that cup once before. But you can’t complain about the things you can’t change. Aaron Hurst got hurt last week, John is still out. You can only work with what you have. Is it upsetting that there was no chance for us to win it this year? Of course. But our focus is on getting our young guys to where they need to be at the end of the year, and we want to come out and take it back next year.”
The match-up between Toll Gate and Pilgrim opened with a pair of Pilgrim forfeits, but Zuller started the Pats on the right foot with a 7-2 win over Alex Mowry at 132.
But the meat of Toll Gate’s lineup was due up next – and the Titans didn’t disappoint. Procopio pinned Jacob McNamara in just 20 seconds at 138 and Travers needed just 34 seconds to pin Kalum Alldredge at 145. DiGiuseppe followed with a hard-fought 7-5 win over Garrison Potter at 152. Joe Brosnahan then pinned Brendan Sampson in the first period at 160 and Navilliat pinned Akinnusotu at 170.
“I’m tough right there in the middle,” Sabatelli said. “When I get to that point in the lineup, I’m going to feel confident against any team.”
The five consecutive victories gave Toll Gate a commanding 39-3 lead. With six matches remaining, Pilgrim needed pins in each one just to tie the match.
And Toll Gate wasn’t going to let that happen.
After a pin by Pilgrim’s Griffin Potter at 182, Pierce gave the Titans the decisive points with a pin of Nicholas Carpenter in 25 seconds at 195.
“There’s a core that’s been in the varsity lineup for three years,” Sabatelli said. “They feed off each other. There’s a certain competition between them to out-do each other and to motivate each other at the same time.”
Pilgrim won the next two matches on pins by Mike Turchetta and Mike Pereira before DaPonte gave Toll Gate its final points on a pin at 106. Pilgrim won the 113-pound weight class by forfeit, but the Titans had long since pulled away.
“My sophomore year and last year, it was really close,” DiGiuseppe said. “Finally it went decisively this year.”
After shaking hands with Pilgrim, the Titans grabbed the cup, ecstatic to finally get their hands on it.
“We’ve been working hard in practice and we’ve never won this before,” Procopio said. “It feels nice as seniors to finally get this.”
The match between Pilgrim and Toll Gate counted toward the Division II league standings. The Titans improved to 8-0 while Pilgrim went to 3-4.
“We’re continuing to get better,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom O’Connor. “The older guys are carrying the load, and the younger kids are getting some good matches. Toll Gate has a very good wrestling team, senior-laden and they’ve been beating everybody up. We’re happy with where we are right now. We’re wrestling pretty well.”
But on this day, it wasn’t enough to catch the newly-crowned city champs.
“It means a lot,” Sabatelli said. “We’ve been close many times. To share it with this group of seniors is something special, but it’s not just this group. It’s the previous groups that have come here and really set the pace for these guys to follow. Not only is it for these guys, it’s also for the guys in the past that have wrestled for me.”