By Jim Ferchland
Two quick pins ignited a spark for the Mustangs, and now they’re off to Syracuse.
The Mount Sinai wrestling team earned big wins from 195-pounder Mike Sabella and 220-pounder Jake Croston en route to a 45-28 victory over Port Jefferson for the Suffolk County Division II title. The Mustangs will travel upstate to compete in the first state title team championship Jan. 27 at Onondaga Community College.
“We wrestled two of our better kids,” Mount Sinai’s 18-year head coach Matt Armstrong said of the Jan. 20 meet at Bay Shore. “They have been steady, and that really got us going. We knew we had to come out and win those matches. Now, our goal is to place well in states — that would be exciting for a town like Mount Sinai.”
Sabella, ranked No. 1 in Division II with a 26-4 record, said for him, getting that first win for the Mustangs lifted a huge weight off his shoulders.
“It’s always stressful starting out the first match in any dual meet,” Sabella said. “Going out there and getting a win for my team was awesome. It was going to encourage the rest of my team to hopefully do the same.”
From weight classes 138 through 160, the Mustangs scored 18 consecutive points, giving them a commanding 45-18 advantage.
Junior Joseph O’Brien pinned Ryan Robertson in 3 minutes, 47 seconds in the 138-pound weight class. Senior Mike Zarif won a tight 2-1 decision over senior 145-pounder Joe Evangelista. Yusuf Azeem, a junior 145-pounder, beat Joe Longo with a 9-6 decision and sophomore Joseph Goodrich pinned Lucas Rohman in 2:36 seconds.
Zarif, right behind Sabella ranked second in Division II with a 28-3 record this season, usually fights at 138 pounds. He said he was asked by his coach to wrestle Evangelista, one of Port Jeff’s big guns.
“My coach came up to me and said, ‘We need you to knock off one of their best kids,’ so our team could have a better chance of winning,” Zarif said. “I just got ready with no preparation. Joe’s a great opponent. It was a good match.”
Port Jeff head coach Mike Maletta said Evangelista is one of the best wrestlers he’s ever coached, but his match was a turning point for Port Jeff.
“He is one of the best guys I’ve had in the 10 years I’ve been coaching,” Maletta said. “He gets called for a slam. It is what it is. The guy fell on his head and it changes the match. The guy escaped on him, and that’s the match.”
Maletta said he wanted to win one more match than Mount Sinai. Port Jeff won six matches to Mount Sinai’s nine.
“Once we feel we hit a certain spot in our lineup, we know we are going to win,” Armstrong said. “We definitely have solid kids. They stepped up and they did well.”
With two major decisions and two pins, Port Jeff trimmed the deficit to nine, 27-18, but couldn’t contain Mount Sinai the rest of the way.
Maletta said Mount Sinai was a great opponent, but he knows his team is full of competitors.
“We’re a good Port Jeff team,” he said. “We got pinned in six places — our best guys didn’t do what they were supposed to do. For us to beat Mount Sinai, everything had to work out right. It didn’t happen.”
Despite the loss, Maletta is confident in his guys competing at the league and county individual championships in February. For Sabella, his eyes are set on the matches this weekend. No. 2-seeded Mount Sinai will be facing Falconer (No. 7) and Gouverneur (No. 10) in Division II pool play. Out of the four pool plays of three teams each, the winners will compete in the semifinal round and then move through the bracket from there.
“I think we should be a team others are scared of,” he said. “We are going to go up there to make some noise.”