BY MATT DIANO
For the second straight year, all of the talk on the various forums leading up to the All-Star Charity Challenge centered on uneven lineups and lopsided outcomes. And, for the second straight year, nothing would be further from the truth as the student-athletes from the two cross-state rivals would wage war on one another, taking the dual to the final weight class and entertaining all those lucky enough to be on the campus of West Orange High School for this afternoon’s festivities.
For the match-by-match summary, see New York 29, New Jersey 21 Details.
On paper, with 11 2013 State Champions in the lineup, the Empire State was supposed to enjoy a significant advantage. However, as was so eloquently put by event organizer, Jason Bross, when it comes to New Jersey, “we never sleep on them.”
Bross’s sentiments would prove prophetic as in contrast to the opinions of the so-called prognosticators, there was never a moment in the dual that witnessed either side having a moment of relaxation or relief. Every time it would seem that one team would begin to seize momentum, the other would respond with a mini winning streak to keep the dual within reach.
In the end, it would be the wrestlers from New York improving their record to 3-0 against their opponents from the Garden State, 29-21, but in the bigger picture, as is the case every year, there would be no losers as all of the student-athletes did themselves, their schools, and their states proud. On a day where nothing would come easy, the greatest satisfaction was not from winning the dual, it was in the knowledge that 30 young men with bright futures gave selflessly of themselves to do a world of good for two event organizations, Pinning Down Autism and Autism New Jersey. You can’t see on a scoreboard the kind of victory that is earned each and every time these two states go to battle in this event.
Getting the Empire State off to a great start would be Hilton High School eighth grader Yianni Diakomihalis, who scored off the opening whistle and never looked back, collecting another takedown off a scramble midway through the second and then adding a reversal at the beginning of the third to take a 6-2 lead over New Jersey freshman, Alec Kelly.
The St. Peter’s Prep underclassman would cut the lead to 6-3 and would be in deep on a single-leg, but would be unable to finish as the buzzer sounded, making the 2013 NYS DI Champion the winner by decision, 6-3, to give the visitors from New York the 3-0 team lead.
Evening the score for the Garden State at 106 would be regional tournament qualifier, Ryan Freeman, who had a knack for picking his moments, scoring takedowns in the closing seconds of both the first and seconds periods to carry a 4-1 lead into the final two minutes. The freshman 30+ match winner would quickly increase his lead over the 2013 NYS DI champion from Wantagh, Kyle Quinn, getting a body lock and tossing his opponent from Nassau to the ground on the edge of the mat to make the score 6-2. Following a Quinn escape, Freeman would tack on one more takedown for good measure, taking the decision by an 8-2 tally.
Two-time Division I champion Nick Piccininni would give New York the lead back at 113, dominating his foe, two-time New Jersey placewinner AJ Vindici (3rd in 2013), scoring a takedown and then adding near fall to lead 5-0 at the end of the first period. The Ward Melville sophomore would earn the reversal with half a minute remaining in the 2nd period to jump the lead to 7-0 at the end of the middle stanza. The third takedown of the bout for Piccininni with 1:05 remaining would put him in a position to earn bonus points for the “Evil Empire”. He would ride out the sophomore from Randolph to pitch the 9-0 shutout, making the team score, 7-3. “Picc” improves to 2-0 in as many appearances for New York in the Charity Dual.
Competing in the first match of the afternoon that did not feature a state champion on other side, it would be Eastport-South Manor junior Travis Passaro winning a low scoring affair over 2012 New Jersey 8th place finisher Marc Mastropietro of Hasbrouck Heights High School, 1-0. Scoreless after the 1st period, the 2013 NYS DI bronze medalist would ride out the entire second period and then escape early in the third to record the deciding point. To the credit of his opponent, Mastropietro, would really push the pace following the escape, getting in deep on a single-leg late in the bout. However, maintaining his poise, Passaro whizzered hard and forced a stalemate with only :07 remaining in the match. With so little time remaining on the clock, there would no time for the nearly 40 match winner from the Garden State to pull off the comeback. The victory would increase New York’s cushion to 10-3.
After seeing two non-state champs go to war in the previous bout, 126 would feature a battle of 2013 titlists in Shoreham Wading River’s TJ Fabian and Anthony Giraldo of North Bergen, New Jersey. Striking first would be the #7 ranked wrestler in the nation, Giraldo, earning the takedown and the rideout to lead 2-0 at the end of the 1st period.
With the choice in the second period, Fabian would respond in a big way, choosing down and getting the reversal to the back for 2+2 to take his first lead of the match over the three-time placewinner. It would then be Giraldo’s turn to answer, which he would, reversing back to square the match at 4-4 at the end of the period. In the third period, it would be a third caution against the Jersey grappler that would ultimately prove to be the difference maker, as Fabian gained the 5-4 lead with short time on the clock.
Left with no other alternative, Giraldo would attempt a desperation roll attempt and get caught on his back for three near fall, making the match 8-4 in favor of the future Sacred Heart University Pioneer, Fabian. The “w” for the New Yorker avenged a pair of losses he suffered to Giraldo during the preseason at the Journeymen Classic and the Ironhorse Invitational.
Knowing that he needed to stop the three-match winning streak, Jason Estevez, the senior from Livingston, would answer the call to duty, scoring the only three takedowns of the match to earn the 7-3 decision over Fordham Prep’s Sam Melikian. Using his quickness and polished technique, the two-time New Jersey 3rd place finisher would prove to be too much for his fellow 2013 bronze medalist. Looking for a déjà vu moment from his victory the previous night over New England, Melikian would attempt a cement mixer late in the match, but Estevez would roll through it to preserve his win. The triumph would cut the Empire State lead to 13-6.
In another match where points would be at a premium, it would be the 2013 3rd place finisher from New Jersey, Richie Lewis, scoring a takedown with short time on the clock in the third period to upend three-time New York DII champion, Nick Tighe of Phoenix High School. All tied at 1-1 following the exchange of escapes in the second and third periods, both would have multiple opportunities to grab the lead in the third, but neither would be able to convert until the Toms River East senior was able to come up huge, getting behind the Binghamton University-bound Empire Stater for the 3-1 win to bring his team ever closer on the scoreboard. The win is yet another in the long and growing list of impressive victories for Lewis, whose only loss this season came at the hands of four-time undefeated NJ state champion, Anthony Ashnault.
Making it three in a row for the host state would be three-time finalist/two-time champion, Bryant Clagon, who just missed scoring the fall when he took 2013 NYS DI State champion, Louis Hernandez of Mepham High School down and then put him on his back. Saving the Nassau County representative would be an injury time out. However, the damage had already been done by the Rider University recruit as he would cruise to the 9-2 decision to bring New Jersey within three points. Clagon, who earned his way into this dual by winning a barn burner in the state finals last weekend, remains undefeated in 2012-2013. In a match that the New York contingent felt it could steal, Clagon showed just why he is the third-ranked wrestler in the USA. Clagon has now won his match in back-to-back All-Star Charity Challenges, as he defeated current Brown University freshman, Anthony Finocchiaro, 8-4 in the 2012 event.
With momentum beginning to shift in the other direction, New York would turn to two upperclass leaders, junior Corey Rasheed and senior Tyler Grimaldi of Longwood and Hills West, respectively. Well aware that a few 11th hour scratches from the lineup might leave NY vulnerable up top, the pair of 2013 DI State champions would do their jobs and help their squad to regain control of the dual, combining to score seven team points to again open up the NY lead, 20-12, with five bouts remaining.
Asserting his will in every position on the mat, Rasheed would light up the scoreboard, earning bonus points with the 10-0 shutout over Glen Ridge High School’s John Faugno, a regional qualifier who did not advance to Atlantic City in 2012/2013.
Finding it much more challenging, but still stepping up and walking away with the essential victory, would be the future Harvard University student-athlete, Grimaldi. All tied at 2-2 against Delbarton’s 7th place finisher, Josef Johnson, the nationally-ranked Suffolk grappler would fight off a shot in the last half minute and then capitalize on the over aggressiveness of Johnson, countering a TD attempt in the closing seconds to snap and spin behind to survive with a 4-2 decision in a match that in all likelihood, both sides saw as a potential bonus point opportunity for the boys in blue (NY was donning blue singlets).
Having two equally solid choices in the #10 and #14 ranked wrestlers in the nation, New Jersey head coach Damion Logan would elect to go with 2013 NJ State champion Ethan Ramos over the man he defeated by a narrow margin in the title bout last weekend, Jadaen Bernstein. New York would counter with a state champion — the first-ever titlewinner from the PSAL — Adis Radoncic of RKA in the Bronx. Interlocked in a back-and-forth bout, it would be the future UNC Tar Heel, Ramos, taking the 5-4 lead in the third period with a miraculous double-leg. Fighting like a warrior to earn the equalizer, Radoncic would come close to earning a reversal during the final ticks of the clock, but in the end, it would be the still undefeated Ramos maintaining control of his opponent’s leg to ride out the last minute plus to seize victory.
Winning what could be considered the most important match of the dual would be North Carolina State signee Shayne Brady, a two-time NYS DI finalist for Carthage High School, who hoisted the hardware in Albany a few weeks ago. Scoreless after the first period, it would be Ali Yildiz of South Brunswick that would get on the board first when the 2013 3rd place finisher earned a reversal in the second period. Brady would escape late in the second period and then again at the beginning of the third to tie the match up at two apiece. However, again it would be Yildiz going back ahead when he finished a takedown midway through the final period to take the 4-2 lead. All too keenly aware of the fact that his team would have its least credentialed individuals coming up at 195 and 220, Brady would rise up and play the hero, earning a reversal and then riding out the remainder of the period to send the bout to sudden victory. Now one score away from putting his team in a very solid position to win, the 2012 Super 32 8th place finisher would waste little time, getting in deep and eventually popping his head out to emerge with the 6-4 decision to give NY the 23-15 lead. The loss was only the second of this season for the Jersey representative, the other occurring at the hands of eventual state champion, Johnny Sebastian of Bergen Catholic.
In two of the few bouts that they were definitively favored in, the Garden State wrestlers would again prevent their neighbors to the north from establishing control of the dual, as state runner-ups, Anthony Messner and Zack Chakonis, would control the action, whistle to final buzzer in earning 8-2 and 9-3 decisions respectively over 2013 6th place finisher, Kevin Tynes of Brooklyn Tech and 4th place performer, Josh Bonneau of Minisink Valley. Messner and Chakonis, the super sophomore from Don Bosco Prep, would score the only offensive points of their matches make the team score 23-21.
Finding ourselves in the exact same position as we did last season, the dual would come down to the big daddies in a clash of the present versus the future as 2013 NYS champion, Michael Hughes of Smithtown West would be opposed by eighth grade standout, Eric Chakonis, who will join his brother at Bosco next fall. Utilizing his experience and size advantage, it would be the two-time New York placewinner Hughes opening up a sizable lead heading into the third period before putting the dual to bed with a pin at the 5:40 mark. Team NY wins 29-21!
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF TODAY’S PARTICIPANTS. As I say quite often, on a day like this one, you are all champions !!!
For the original story, see Gotham City Wrestling here.