BRANFORD — It’s a rebuilding year for Hand, with a lot of first-year varsity wrestlers in the starting lineup, but that rebuilding effort looked good Wednesday night as the Tigers knocked off Southern Connecticut Conference rival Branford, 43-21, at the James MacVeigh Alumni Athletic Complex.
Half of Hand’s lineup is sophomores, with a couple of freshmen, along with two juniors and two seniors taking the mat.
“We’re struggling with that youth,” Hand coach Mike Docker said. “We’re happy with the guys working hard, but they have a lot of experience in the youth leagues. Luckily, we have a lot of power in our rebuild.”
Hand (2-1 in the SCC and 8-3 overall) collected four pins in the latter part of the match and won five of the final six matches to put the team score away.
“The Branford program is really coming on and we were nervous coming in tonight,” Docker said. “We told our guys if you don’t bring it, you’re going to lose. They brought it.”
Meanwhile, Branford coach Chris Bonagiuso said it was a rough night for his team.
“It’s not a good night when your three captains (Joe Martone, Tony Le and Nick Kelsey) all lose,” Bonagiuso said. “There’s the match there. They were all disappointed since it’s Senior Night.”
The Hornets (4-3 in the SCC and 12-14 overall) also were without their best wrestler in 152-pounder Dakota Carden, who was sick. Carden is 27-0 this season.
“We got pinned too many times,” Bonagiuso said. “They didn’t get pinned that often and we did too much.”
Hand got pins from 106-pounder Connor Sakmar (over Noah Pantani in 3:26), 113-pounder Francis Regala (over Bijaya Jaisi in 3:46), 152-pounder Zach Santoemma (over Chris Travaglino in 3:09) and 160-pounder Luke Bernardo (over Alex Freeman in 2:29).
Other wins for Hand came from Liam Sullivan over Kelsey, 4-2 in overtime at 126 pounds; Kevin Mallon, 12-1, over Le at 132 pounds; Ashton Gyenizs over Martone, 7-2, at 138 pounds; and Eric Bloomfield over Tikee Whitfield, 7-2, at 170 pounds. Justin Dwyer also grabbed a forfeit win for the Tigers at 195 pounds.
“We have a great bunch of guys through the middle of our weight classes that we’ve come to rely on for wins in our close matches,” Docker said.
Branford’s two pins came from 182-pounder Jesse Crittenden over Logan Bluminthal in 2:47 and 220-pounder Hyunjim Lim over Tyler Michaud in 29 seconds.
The Hornets also collected a win from 145-pounder Nick Temple over Owen Gottlick, 6-4. Jack Spencer won by forfeit at 120 pounds for Branford.
With just a few weeks left in the regular season, Branford is working hard to reach its goal of finishing third in the CIAC Class M tournament.
“Top three in the Ms is still the goal and we’re hoping to come in the top three in the SCCs,” Bonagiuso said. “We have to go into the practice room and work really hard. There are a couple teams we have to catch.”