By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Over the past two scholastic seasons, the Bristol Eastern wrestling program has been the symbol of excellence in Class L competition.
It’s been two years and two championships.
And now, the Lancers have a three-peat.
Bristol Eastern is once again the toast of Class L, winning the title over Simsbury 204.5-204 from the Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium in Bristol on Saturday, February 16.
It was the fourth state title for the Lancers, the first coming in 1996 when Eastern defeated Weaver 171-154.
Class L wrestling was formed in 1975 and only three programs have won three or more titles in a row.
Windham turned the feat in 1991-1993 while New Milford won four straight (2013-2016). That’s when Eastern took charge in the championship department – starting with the title victory over the Blue Wave in 2017.
Simsbury actually had more grapplers finish in the top-six (9) than Eastern (7) but the champs had its top seven finish among the top three slots.
Bristol Central compiled 97 points, good for eighth place as the host team.
The Lancers had a couple athletes winning back-to-back titles.
In championship bouts, Justin Marshall (152 pounds) and Trinidad Gonzalez (220) were back in the title round and the senior duo left the Eastern program as champions once again.
And then at 132, Tom Nichols jumped into the championship fray – winning his final bout.
Along with those three champs, Eastern had one runner-up and three grapplers make third place showings.
Trent Thompson took second place at 106 while third place finishes were compiled by Alex Marshall (145), Mason Lishness (113), and Noah Piazza (160).
Marshall won a major decision over Nate Sibbett of New Canaan, 15-5 to take the championship while Gonzalez wrapped up his first title at 220 with a 7-3 decision against Wethersfield’s Austin Harnish.
And Nichols nearly blanked Xavier’s Grant Barber via a 5-1 decision as he won his first championship.
At 106, Xavier’s Michael Rapuano and Eastern’s Trent Thompson battled it out in the championship showdown.
Thompson dropped a hard-fought 10-5 decision, making a second place finish for the Lancers.
Lishness took his third place match, defeating Alex Kasson from Simsbury by a 7-1 decision while sixth ranked Alex Marshall wrapped up a 3-2 decision in his third place bout versus South Windsor’s Dan Sullivan – rated third in the 145 pound bracket.
But this event was close throughout and, just like Eastern’s first championship in 2017, it was a fight to the end.
Eastern was getting pushed by Simsbury and Xavier of Middletown through Friday night’s competition.
The Trojans were leading the Lancers by just a point-and-a-half at 57-55.5 with Xavier a half-point behind at 55.
It was that close by the completion of events on Friday and remained so all day long on Saturday.
At about 11 a.m. on Saturday, the tournament was still heating up with Eastern still maintaining second place.
Xavier popped into the lead, ahead of the Lancers by a 93-84.5 score with Simsbury (84) trailing the Bristol squad by less than a full point in third place.
And by 1 p.m., it was still anyone’s meet with Eastern – again – just 1.5 points out of first.
Xavier was still in the lead but it dwindled to 108-106.5 as the Lancers were hanging around with several grapplers in the semifinal round to get the locals some additional scoring.
Simsbury remained in third place, tallying 100 points while Middletown was hanging in at 91.
Central was in eighth place at the same time, netting 58 points.
And as the finals commenced, the Lancers nabbed a slim 183.5-182 lead over Simsbury who jumped into second place.
Xavier was hanging in at third with 181 points.
And the championship was still in doubt until Justin Marshall won his title match and everyone was chasing the Lancers from then on.
After the first night, Eastern had 12 of 14 grapplers battle into the final day of tournament action.
Then there were huge matches for Eastern that ultimately would decide the fate of the championship and the Lancers nearly won all of them.
Also for Eastern, seventh ranked Riley McCarthy (120) was upended in the quarterfinals by No. 2 Naaji Powell-Keynon of New London by pin-fall in 3:11.
Andrew Lozier (126) fought his way in the quarterfinal round but dropped a tough 13-5 major decision to Newington’s Eliano Cruz.
Eastern’s Gabe Soucy (138 pounds, ranked No. 9) fell in the quarterfinals to New Canaan’s Justin Mastroianni via pin-fall in 1:34. Mastroianni was the top rated grappler at 138.
Alex Marshall (145) dropped a tough 6-2 decision in the quarterfinals to South Windsor’s Dan Sullivan – rated third in the bracket.
Justin Marshall, the defending champion at 152, was leading RHAM’s Ryan Maleryn 7-1 through two periods of the semifinal round.
Marshall won the event via 7-2 decision to move on to the finals.
At 160, Eastern’s Noah Piazza (ranked No. 6) dropped a 2-1 quarterfinal decision to No. 15 Richard Morrell of New Milford.
Joe Morelli (170) battled into the quarterfinals but the seventh ranked grappler was pinned by No. 2 Cooper Nodden of South Windsor.
Dylan Garcia (No. 9 at 182) made it into the round of 16 but dropped a 7-2 decision to second ranked Aiden Lozada of Newington.
The round of 16 is also where Eastern’s Ethan Mathieu (No. 11 at 195) fell via 5-0 decision to sixth ranked Nick Thompson of West Hartford.
Gonzalez had very little trouble navigating his way into the finals, turning away Middletown’s Erik Dubon 12-4 in the semifinals for a major decision victory.
And at heavyweight, Eastern’s Nick St. Peter (No. 4 at 285) lost by a 3-1 decision to No. 5 Jerel Pollard of Windsor High School in the quarters.
Off those finishes, several grapplers from Eastern will be heading for the State Open.
Central also showed grit at the showdown as the grouping of Will Hamilton (106), Jason Feto (132), Jake Salinas (195), and Eric Facey (285) all qualified for the State Open.
The Rams tallied one second, two fourth and two fifth place finishes to end the day with 97 points overall.
In the Class L championship picture, Jake Aldi (113) defeated Simsbury’s Alex Kasson by 13-0 major decision to get to the title tilt.
In the championship round, Aldi was pinned by Elijah Cyr from Middletown in 1:58, earning second place in the process.
Hamilton fell in the third place match to New Milford’s Evan Linder by a 7-5 decision.
Feto had a great showing at the tournament, falling in the semis to Nichols from Eastern but defeated Newington’s Jacob Zotti by a 17-3 major decision.
Salinas also went on to the semifinals – dropping a tough decision via pin-fall in 2:52 to Alex Dube of Daniel Hand but later pinned Jacob Toth from Middletown in 4:47.
Facey ended up pinning Robert Lowe from Notre Dame-West Haven in 3:54 to qualify for the State Open.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.
2019 CIAC Class L Wrestling Championships – February 16, 2019
from the Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium, Bristol Central
Top 10 teams: Bristol Eastern (Champion), 204.5 points; Simsbury (runner-up), 204 points; Xavier (third), 194 points; Middletown (fourth), 153 points; New Canaan (fifth), 146.5 points; Wethersfield (sixth), 135 points; New London (seventh), 98 points; Bristol Central (eighth), 97 points; Daniel Hand (ninth), 96 points; Fairfield Ludlowe (tenth), 88 points.
NOTE: Eastern’s 0.5 win over Simsbury is the narrowest Class L championship victory in tournament history. It actually ties a state record set in 1991 when Berlin (Class M) defeated Bunnell 149.5-149. The old Class L record was held by the Lancers in 2017, beating New Milford 231-230.
106 pounds – Mike Rapuano (Xavier) dec Trent Thompson (Bristol Eastern), 10-5
113 pounds – Elijah Cyr (Middletown) pin Jake Aldi (Bristol Central), 1:58
120 pounds – Ty Finn (Simsbury) dec Naaji Powell-Keyton (New London), 7-2
126 pounds – John Mairano (Simsbury) dec Kalil Shabazz (Middletown), 5-4
132 pounds – Tom Nichols (Bristol Eastern) dec Grant Barber (Xavier), 5-1
138 pounds – Justin Mastroianni (New Canaan) major decision Matt Laurie (Wethersfield), 13-2
145 pounds – Tyler Sung (New Canaan) major decision James Lunt (Xavier), 9-1
152 pounds – Justin Marshall (Bristol Eastern) major decision Nate Sibbett (New Canaan), 15-5.
160 pounds – Samuel Bergin (Simsbury) pin Christian Sibbett (New Canaan), 2:52
170 pounds – Dylan Sousa (Xavier) MD Alec Arnold (Wethersfield), 9-0
182 pounds – Jacob Commander (New London) F Nick Debaise (Maloney), 1:59
195 pounds – Alec Dube (Daniel Hand) F Sergiy Babenkov (New Canaan), 3:12
220 pounds – Trinidad Gonzalez (Bristol Eastern) DEC Austin Harnish (Wethersfield), 7-3
285 pounds – Nygell Smikle (Middletown) F Jameel Salami (Xavier), 3:10
Other top finishers from Bristol:
106 pounds – 3rd Evan Lindner (New Milford) dec Will Hamilton (Bristol Central), 7-5
113 pounds – 3rd Mason Lishness (Bristol Eastern) dec Alex Kasson (Simsbury), 7-1
132 pounds – 5th Jason Feto (Bristol Central) major dec Jacob Zotti (Newington), 17-3
145 pounds – 3rd Alexander Marshall (Bristol Eastern) dec Dan Sullivan (South Windsor), 3-2
160 pounds – 3rd Noah Piazza (Bristol Eastern) pin Richard Morrell (New Milford), 3:39
195 pounds – 5th Jakob Salinas (Bristol Central) pin Jacob Toth (Middletown), 4:47
285 pounds – 3rd Jadien Mackenzie (New London) pin Eric Facey (Bristol Central), 1:22
2019 CIAC Class S Wrestling Championships – Feb. 16
from Windham High School
Top 10 teams: Gilbert (Champions), 193.5 points; Montville (runner-up), 190 points; Haddam-Killingworth (third place), 162 points; Windham (fourth), 145.5 points; Griswold (fifth place), 138 points; Canton (sixth place), 123 points; Northwestern (seventh place), 120 point; Nonnewaug (eighth place), 109 points; Plainville (ninth place), 98 points; Each Catholic (10th place), 88 points.
Notables: St. Paul Catholic came in 16th place (43 points)
220 Pounds – 1st Aidan Maher (Haddam-Killingworth) F Ben Foligno (St. Paul), 0:23