The poster for the first annual Long Island vs. Upstate Challenge said, “The Debate Will Finally Be Settled.” But after a great day of wrestling, neither team earned bragging rights as the squads battled to a 27-27 tie at the Friedman Center on the campus of Cornell University.
It’s fair to say that neither team was thrilled with the outcome.
“We weren’t happy. I actually think were kind of shocked to have tied,” said Long Island 120-pounder Travis Passaro. “I didn’t think it would be a blowout, but I thought we would win.”
Upstate 195-pounder Reggie Williams wasn’t pleased either.
“Even after they tied it up, we were hoping we would still win on criteria,” the Johnson City star said. “We would have won if they went to criteria. We really wanted to win this in the first year of the event.”
The dual featured some of New York’s best wrestlers, including 13 state champions and another 15 placers. As a result, the fans were treated to a back and forth affair that came down to the final bout, where Connetquot’s Brendan Dent edged Hilton’s Vincent DePrez at 145 pounds 5-4 to complete Long Island’s comeback from eight points down with just two matches remaining.
The main event began with a pair of 99 pounders who took first (Yianni Diakomihalis of Hilton) and third (John Busiello of Eastport South Manor) in Albany. Diakomihalis took charge early and never relented, winning a 9-3 decision and giving Upstate a 3-0 advantage.
Long Island responded, however, as state champion Mike Hughes of Smithtown West used a late charge to top Columbia’s El Shaddai Van Hoesen 5-4 at heavyweight. The Columbia wrestler scored the first takedown and later added a reversal, but Hughes rebounded to knot the team score at 3.
Next to the mat was yet another state gold medalist – 106-pounder Kyle Quinn of Wantagh. He took an early lead against third placer Jon Haas of Spencerport, but it was Haas who picked up the pace as the match continued, erasing the early deficit and coming from behind to win 7-4.
Building on that momentum for the Upstate team was Holley’s Mike Silvis at 220. He used a big throw to propel himself to a 7-3 decision over New York runner up Steven Mills and pushed the Upstate group’s advantage to 9-3. On top of that, the Long Island squad was docked a team point, which would prove costly at the end of the day.
Ready to turn the tide was two-time state titlewinner Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville. The Section 11 star got his team back on track with a 6-0 blanking of Lockport’s Anthony Orefice at 113 to pull Long Island within 9-5, bringing up a rematch of a quarterfinal tilt at the Times Union Center.
At the state tournament, Syosset’s Dan Choi upended top-seeded Reggie Williams of Johnson City 14-4 on his way to the NYS crown. Williams couldn’t wait to take another shot at the Section 8 grappler.
“I was really excited to have a rematch because I wasn’t at my best at the state tournament,” Williams said. “I was really looking forward to it. I wanted to prove that I just had a bad weekend.”
He definitely had a better day on Saturday in an entertaining clash that featured a number of throw attempts by the 195-pounders. With a lead in the third and time winding down, Williams picked up significant points for the Upstaters when he put Choi to his back and recorded the fall.
“Ending it that way did mean a little more,” Williams said. “I know [Choi] committed to Cornell and he’ll be scarred with his first experience there losing by pin. Getting a pin at this level of competition, at an event like this was big. It really helped my team out.”
It definitely did, giving Upstate a 15-5 lead. With that 10-point deficit, Long Island sent bronze medalist Travis Passaro out to face 120-pound champion Alex Delacruz of Ossining. Thanks to some outstanding work on the mat, including a number of turns for near fall, the Section 11 standout beat Delacruz by major decision to pull his squad within striking distance, 15-9.
“I really wanted to wrestle him; I felt like I should have been in the state finals,” Passaro said. “It was a big match for me. Top is one of my best positions and when I got on top, I was able to work for turns and score a lot of points. I wasn’t expecting to score so much, but I wasn’t surprised. I felt like I did what I should have done.”
And not too long afterwards, Gio Santiago answered the pin by Williams with a fall of his own to bring the scoreboard to a 15-15 tie. Santiago, a prolific pinner throughout his career, ended his bout with Warsaw’s Tim Schaefer with an exclamation point.
“Gio Santiago came through with a huge pin to tie it up and bring us right back into it,” Passaro said. “That was really big.”
So, eight matches down, seven to go and it was deadlocked between the squads. What could make things even more exciting? How about a clash between a pair of 2013 state champions?
TJ Fabian of Shoreham Wading River and William Koll of Lansing met at 126 pounds at the Eastern States Classic in January, with the Long Island wrestler walking away with the triumph and the tournament title. This time, the tables were turned as Koll jumped out to a quick lead with a takedown and back points. Despite Fabian’s strong top work in the third period which earned points both for riding time and stalling against the Section 4 wrestler, Koll came away a 5-4 winner and pulled the Upstate squad ahead 18-15.
Long Island then briefly took its last lead of the day on the strength of Danny McDevitt’s major decision over Clarence’s Jake Weber at 170. McDevitt showed his dominance on the mat, reversing his opponent on multiple occasions and collecting nearfall to put the Section 8 and 11 squad up 19-18.
However, the next three bouts went to the Upstaters as Brandon Lapi and Connor Lapresi both registered shutouts over their opponents, Chris Mauriello and Vinny Turano (at 132 and 138). Both Lapi and Lapresi notched first period takedowns and then demonstrated strong work on the mat, with significant riding time.
In between those two performances came one of the most anticipated matches of the event – a meeting between Division I state champion Tyler Grimaldi and his Division II counterpart Burke Paddock at 160 pounds. Grimaldi said before the weekend that it was the “grudge match” as he had beaten Paddock in Freestyle while Paddock had returned the favor at the Eastern States.
After some early handfighting, the Warsaw junior grabbed control, throwing Grimaldi to his back for a 5-0 advantage. He added to his lead in the second to enter the third up 7-1. Despite a comeback from the Hills West star, who earned some takedowns late, Paddock came away with a 9-5 victory.
And so entering the final two bouts of the afternoon, at 152 and 145 pounds, Upstate was in front 27-19.
“I was confident in [Corey Rasheed and Brendan Dent]; I felt like they could both win,” Passaro said. “I thought we had a chance to win the dual.”
Rasheed, one of the most dominant grapplers in all of New York this year was set to face fellow 152-pound state champion Kevin Thayer of Unatego.
Those present at the Times Union Center saw Rasheed cradle his opponent and end the state title bout in less than a minute. That move led to many falls during the campaign for the Longwood junior. He slapped that cradle onto Thayer more than once, but the Section 4 wrestler refused to give in, fighting off his back multiple times. In the end, Rasheed was just too much and with less than 20 ticks left in the third period, he finished off a 15-0 technical fall, putting his squad behind by just three points, 27-24.
“Kevin Thayer is a good wrestler who goes hard, but Corey Rasheed is just a really, really tough kid,” Williams said. “I was proud of Kevin because even though he was losing, he kept fighting. He never stopped fighting and he didn’t give up the pin.”
So it all came down to the 145 pound contest. It was two-time state runner up Vincent DePrez of Hilton for the Upstate squad, (second at 138 in 2013) against NYS fourth placer Brendan Dent of Connetquot.
Dent got on the board first with a takedown and ended the first ahead 2-1. He added to his lead with an escape in the second, but DePrez made it 3-3 with a takedown in the middle stanza. In the third, DePrez moved ahead 4-3 when he got out from bottom, but Dent answered with a takedown with just over a minute remaining to lead 5-4. DePrez worked for the reversal as time ticked down, but Dent held on for the 5-4 victory.
Following the match, the scoreboard changed to 27-all and that’s how it would end. One thing was unanimous – neither team liked that deadlocked tally.
“There’s always tension between Upstate and Long Island,” Passaro said. “It was a really fun weekend, but we wanted to win it.”
Williams felt the same way.
“We had a great time as team; did a lot of bonding. When good wrestlers get together, you learn a lot and make new friendships. It was a good weekend, but no one wants to end on a tie,” he said. “We really wanted to come out on top in the first year. But, there’s always next year.”