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Matt Armstrong

Mount Sinai beat out Port Jeff, 45-28, for the county Division II title. Photo from Mount Sinai wrestling

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.

Mount Sinai’s Mike Sabella puts pressure on his Port Jeff opponent. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“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.

Mount Sinai’s Mike Zarif escaped from Port Jefferson’s Joe Evangelista to win a close match. Photo by Jim Ferchland

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.

Mount Sinai’s Joe O’Brien dominates before pinning his challenger. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“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.”

The big guns brought it home for Mount Sinai.

John Parente won by a major decision, 12-0, at 195 pounds, and Bobby Christ edged his opponent, 4-3, in the finals to propel Mount Sinai to a second-place finish behind Half Hollow Hills West at the Bob Armstrong wrestling tournament at Port Jefferson Jan. 21.

“I told them if you want to wrestle in the county tournament this is the last time to show us what you’ve got,” Mount Sinai head coach Matt Armstrong, who is also Bob’s son, said he told his team. “A freshman that just came up, Adam Shata, had a big win at 160 pound with a solid pin, so we have some freshmen that are really stepping up.”

Jahvan Brown at 138 pounds and Neil Esposito at 145 pounds, made some noise and, according to Armstrong, are wrestling well for this time of year despite their inexperience. Although neither made it to the finals, four other Mustangs did. The team had nine place in total.

“We’re turning it around here toward the end of the season.”

—Robert Alberti

Northport finished with 168 points, just behind Mount Sinai, which finished with 174.

Unlike the Mustangs, the Tigers brought it home in the finals, as all three representing the blue-and-gold took home tournament titles.

“We’re turning it around here toward the end of the season,” Northport head coach Robert Alberti said. Seven of his other wrestlers placed.

Junior Jake Borland, a 113-pounder, is currently ranked sixth in the county in his weight class. He topped Mount Sinai’s Matt Campo, 9-2, who is a returning county champion.

“We expect him to win every time he goes out,” Alberti said of his grappler. “It was a good test for him leading up to counties.”

Borland placed third in the Armstrong tournament last year, and brought his A-game this time around. He won his first match with a pin, and the next two by technical falls.

“I feel confident scoring points,” he said, adding that he knew he had to have a strong mentality and wrestle smart to win in the finals, using his fireman’s carry, duck under and high crotch to help him gain points.

Borland said he can see improvements in his game from last season.

“I got better at getting out on bottom, because last year I struggled with that,” he said. “Now I get right up. Right after [Campo] took me down I got out and took a shot, and I got him right to his back and scored. I got two for a takedown and three for back points and from there I started scoring.”

“[Kenny Cracchiola] wants to make an impact and he’s really done it. He’s beaten some really good guys and overall, matchup-to-matchup, he continues to be a dominant wrestler.”

—Garry Schnettler

At 132 pounds, junior Chris Esposito clinched the championship title with a 9-2 decision over Ward Melville’s Rafael Lievano, who is currently ranked third in the county. Esposito beat his opponent last weekend as well.

“That was a good statement for Chris to come out and beat the kid for a second time in a row,” Alberti said. “He’s showing the county that he’s here to wrestle, and he’s not going to be happy without winning.”

Esposito was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler after recording the most pins in the least amount of time. He pinned his first opponent in 20 seconds, his second in 59 and his third in 1:30, before sizing up his final foe. He said he came into the match knowing what he needed to do, and he wanted to prove that his win last weekend wasn’t a fluke.

“I knew the first time I wrestled him I didn’t wrestle as good as I could,” Esposito said. “Mentally, every time I go out to a match I’m calm, no matter what. I always want to score first, but even if I get scored on I never lose it; I remain calm and keep working.”

Billy Shaw was the final champion for Northport, who won 6-5 over Mount Sinai’s Joe Goodrich at 152 pounds. It was the grappler’s first tournament win.

“He had a tough match at North Babylon on Friday wrestling the No. 1-ranked kid in the county — he got beat up a little bit,” Alberti said. ”So for him to come out the next day and win his first tournament as a varsity wrestler is good for him. For him to turn around is a testament to his hard work.”

Ward Melville finished fourth with 136 points. In a unique and rare scenario, Kenny Cracchiola beat teammate Richie Munoz by a technical fall, 16-0.

Cracchiola went 4-0 on the day, winning three of his matches by technical falls and the other by a pin.

“I shoot single legs to take them down and on top I do a variety of different tilts for back points, which rack up points for me pretty quickly,” he said.

“Even before I step on the mat I’m always focused on wrestling, nothing else distracts me.”

—Vin Miceli

Unfortunately, he had to use these moves against his teammate, but he said he liked seeing two Patriots make it to the finals in the same weight class.

Port Jefferson followed in fifth place with 126.5 points, and sent seven to the podium.

Vin Miceli edged Centereach’s Luis Fernandez, 6-4, and was named the Champion of Champions. He had two pins as he battled his way through the bracket.

He said he focused to be able to bring home the gold.

“Even before I step on the mat I’m always focused on wrestling, nothing else distracts me,” he said. “I put in a lot of work in the off-season, so it really shows how much you can get out of the work you put in.”

Joey Evangelista edged Half Hollow Hills West’s Joe Costa, 3-0, for his title at 145 pounds. He pinned his first three opponents, but said his finals match was tough.

“My coaches have preached mentality is everything, so I’ve been working on strengthening that,” he said.

According to head coach Mike Maletta, the junior has been a finalist in every tournament this season, and won two.

“As long as they both stay aggressive and take smart shots and pushing the pace, they’re going to be real successful in three weeks when they’re up in Albany,” Maletta said of the possibility of the Royals competing for state titles. “The excitement is that some guys are starting to exceed expectations.”

Centereach finished in seventh with 93 points. Jett Tancsik outscored his Half Hollow Hills West opponent 9-4, for the 160-pound championship title.

Centereach head coach Ray Bruno said he was pleased with his team’s performance. He said the tournament is a good tune up to get ready for the Cougars’ matches in the League III tournament.

“This is probably the 10th year for this tournament and I appreciate them doing it keeping my dad’s memory alive.”

— Matt Armstrong

Rounding out the scorers in the top 9 were No. 8 Harborfields with 88 points, and Comsewogue with 39.

According to Matt Armstrong, his father coached at Port Jefferson from 1969 to 1990, where they were league champions for eight years and won the New York State championship cup in 1986.

“They had some very successful teams here at the time,” he said. “It’s great to come back here as I see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time. Many of the kid’s parents wrestled for my dad. This is probably the 10th year for this tournament and I appreciate them doing it keeping my dad’s memory alive, it’s Mike Maletta who keeps it going, and he does a great job.”

Borland said his Northport team has exceeded his expectations, and he’s looking forward to rounding out the season with the final dual meet of the season Jan. 27 at Smithtown West at 6:45 p.m., before heading to Syosset for the Battle of the Belt tournament the next day.

“Coming into this year I thought we were going to be absolutely terrible,” he said. “I thought we were going to have three good kids and we were going to be that team that gets beat up on, but I realized we have a few freshmen that are going to make very good wrestlers. We’re a young team, but we’re doing damage.”

Bill Landon contributed reporting

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Jason Shlonsky pins his 170-pound opponent Lawrence Bishop. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Mount Sinai not only took down Riverhead, 56-18, the wrestling team is also grappling cancer.

The Mustangs’ Jan. 6 nonleague dual meet supported school spirit and its mission: “supporting the fighters, admiring the survivors, honoring the taken, and never, ever giving up hope.” With help from the community, the team raised over $6,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Mike Zarif lifts up Anthony Marcello, his competitor, who he tops in a major decision at 138 pounds. Photo by Bill Landon

Black and red rubber bracelets were sold, along with raffle tickets and baked goods. Wrestlers also sought sponsors to pledge to donate $1 for each victory. Local businesses also donate $100 and over, to be featured on the team’s Facebook page. One hundred percent of all proceeds went to the cause.

According to Mount Sinai head coach Matt Armstrong, the driving force behind the Take Down Cancer event is Matt Campo, a 113-pound freshman who pinned his challenger in the first 50 seconds of his match. Campo said he began putting the event together in early November.

“We recently had cancer strike our community, and it affected us a lot,” Campo said. “My uncle has cancer — so it draws a lot of attention [for me personally] —and I wanted to bring the community together.”

But prior to him, the Mustangs got to work early when Brendan Goodrich made short work of Riverhead’s Mark Matyka at 99 pounds. He pinned his opponent in the first period.

Following Campo’s pin, the Mustangs rattled off seven consecutive decisions, with sophomore Joseph O’Brien and junior Michael Zarif scoring major decisions to help their team break out to a 35-0 lead.

Armstrong said he was impressed with his younger grapplers.

“The biggest thing at this point in the season is getting our cardio up,” the coach said. “A lot of these guys have a lot of skill but they [need to build stamina] should the match go to overtime.”

Joe Goodrich controls Sean Prunty, who he pins at 152 pounds. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior Jason Shlonsky, at 170 pounds, pinned his Riverhead opponent. He took down Lawrence Bishop in 55 seconds to put his team out front 41-0, and said he was happy to get on offense early.

“They’re a very tough team — there’s no denying that,” he said. “I always try to keep the same mind-set going into every match — I have to give them my all, no matter who I’m wrestling. I focus on my game and do what I’m good at, while trying to improve as the season goes on.”

At 195 pounds, senior J..J. Parente spoke next when he too pinned his Riverhead competitor, Aiden Fitzpatrick, in the first period, for a 53-0 lead.

“Riverhead is very good … and it was really cool that they helped us with Take Down Cancer night,” Parente said. “I think as a whole we did pretty well, but all things you can improve on. I’ll keep working, keep running and keep lifting.”

Riverhead won the final two matches by decision and took points in the final weight class as a result of Mount Sinai forfeiting.

Ryan Shanian slams his opponent Jared Cawley, who he beats at 126 pounds, to the ground. Photo by Bill Landon

Armstrong said he was pleased with another one of his freshmen, Ryan Shanian, who was recently brought up from junior varsity level.

“Riverhead has a lot of young kids, but so do we, and one of the kids that I was really impressed with is Ryan Shanian, who wrestled at 126,” Armstrong said. “This was his second varsity match and … he just finds a way to win.”

Armstrong said his team is peaking at the right time, and is optimistic about the postseason.

“The kids that we’ve relied on all season have done a great job, and they just keep winning,” he said. “The greatest thing that I saw tonight was everybody’s motor — they just kept going and going and if they went down they got right back up until they won — and that’s a good thing to see this time of year.”

The Mustangs improve to 4-1 overall and still sit at second place in League VII, behind undefeated 2-0 Mattituck/Greenport/Southold, at 2-1.

Mount Sinai hosts Southampton Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m. in the last league matchup of the regular season, before traveling to Port Jefferson Jan. 21 for the final tournament of the season.

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Mount Sinai senior Leon Paul improved his record to 24-2 with a 7-0 decision over his Sayville competitor on Jan. 22. The Mustangs outscored the Golden Flashes 62-15 in the final meet of the regular season, to improve to 6-1 in League VI. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Mount Sinai senior Matt Eisenblaetter tries to escape a hold on his way to pinning his Sayville opponent at 170 pounds on Jan. 22. The Mustangs improved to 6-1 in League VI to end the season in a three-way tie for first place with their 62-15 win over the Golden Flashes. Photo by Bill Landon
Mount Sinai senior Matt Eisenblaetter tries to escape a hold on his way to pinning his Sayville opponent at 170 pounds on Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

The Mount Sinai wrestling team is locked in a three-way tie at the top of League VI after taking down Sayville 62-15 on the road on Jan. 22. As the curtain drew to a close in the final meet of the regular season, Miller Place and Elwood-John Glenn also won their final games, knotting all three teams at 6-1 going into Wednesday’s opening round of playoffs.

Mount Sinai came out fast winning four of the first five matches with standout pinning performances from five grapplers, including senior Matthew Eisenblaetter, who laid out his opponent at the 3:39 mark at 170 pounds, and sophomore Jake Croston, who put an end to his match in the first period at 220. There were also two major decisions, highlighted by eighth-grader Mike O’Brien won his matchup 11-2 at 106 pounds.

Mount Sinai head coach Matt Armstrong said his team has been able to hold its own despite having three eighth-graders and 11 ninth-graders on the roster.

“The younger kids wrestle in a lot of tournaments and I have an eighth-grader Matt Campo who’s an absolute hammer,” he said.

Mount Sinai eighth-grader Matt Campo, who is controlling his opponent, improved his record to 24-1 after pinning his Sayville competitor at 99 pounds on Jan. 22. The Mustangs improved to 6-1 in League VI to end the season in a three-way tie for first place with their 62-15 win over the Golden Flashes. Photo by Bill Landon
Mount Sinai eighth-grader Matt Campo, who is controlling his opponent, improved his record to 24-1 after pinning his Sayville competitor at 99 pounds on Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

At 99 pounds, Campo dropped that hammer on his opponent with a pin early in the second period. Campo was an All-League wrestler last year as a seventh-grader, and with his win, the underclassmen, whom his coach said is the future of Mount Sinai wrestling, improved his record to 24-1.

Co-captain Shane Walker, a senior at 195 pounds, also ended his match by pinning his rival a minute into the second period for his 14th pin of the season, improving his record to 19-1. Classmate Keith Williams pinned his opponent at the 1:37 mark in the 120-pound weight class.

Two-time All-League player and senior co-captain Daniel Henry defeated his foe in a major decision, 11-3, and at 160 pounds, fellow senior Leon Paul took victory with a 7-0 decision in the 145-pound weight class. Mike Zarif, a sophomore, edged his challenger 5-2 at 126 pounds.

Mount Sinai senior Daniel Henry lifts up his 160-pound competitor during his 11-3 major decision on Jan. 22. The Mustangs topped Sayville 62-15 to end the season in a three-way tie for first in League VI. Photo by Bill Landon
Mount Sinai senior Daniel Henry lifts up his 160-pound competitor during his 11-3 major decision on Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

Paul, a two-time All-League wrestler who is now 24-2, said he was somewhat surprised in his matchup, because he expected more from his opponent.

“I was successful in my takedown,” said Paul, adding that he was happy with his overall performance.

Winning by forfeit was Leonel Paul, Leon’s twin brother, at 138 pounds, as did sophomore Robert Christ at 285.

“Sayville did well — they did better than I expected,” Leonel Paul said. “Our team did well, and our heads were in it tonight.”

Armstrong said that the Paul brothers are the hardest workers in the wrestling room, and have won three tournaments this year between them. Leonel Paul added that he’ll go running every day leading up to the start of the playoffs.

Mount Sinai eighth-grader Mike O'Brien maintains control of his opponent on his way to an 11-2 major decision at 106 pounds, against Sayville on Jan. 22. The Mustangs improved to 6-1 in League VI to end the season in a three-way tie for first place with their 62-15 win over the Golden Flashes. Photo by Bill Landon
Mount Sinai eighth-grader Mike O’Brien maintains control of his opponent on his way to an 11-2 major decision at 106 pounds, against Sayville on Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

Also winning by forfeit was Luke Marino, a senior at 182pounds, who talked about what his team will do to prepare for Wednesday’s postseason opener.

“Were just going to be practicing like we’ve done all year” Marino said. “This is a hard working team and I think this is the year that we can do it. We showed that by placing in the top three, which hasn’t been done in 10 years at Mount Sinai.”