EAST HAVEN — Wrestling coaches at East Haven and Foran hold each other in high regard.
Mark Tolla’s Easties are only a few years removed from having a single-digit number of wrestlers.
The Lions’ Dave Esposito stepped in as an assistant at his alma mater in 2011, when the program had six athletes and was in danger of folding.
Foran brought a 28-3 record and a No. 9 ranking in the CTWrestling.com Top 10 Poll, and East Haven was 19-4 and in the top 15, when the SCC rivals met on Senior Night in the Easties’ gym on Tuesday.
The Lions posted a 44-21 victory, but both mentors were as interested in their present status as in the result of one dual meet.
“I think when our 18 seniors wrestled against East Haven as freshmen they had eight or so guys,” Esposito said. “What Mark and Lou (Rivellini) have done here is remarkable. They have turned the program around and this team makes every team they wrestle compete hard.”
Esposito’s Lions captured the Class M title a year ago. The Easties placed ninth. Both clubs are looking to sustain or improve on their standing.
“When we started here, Lou and I spoke with Espo and asked how he had got it done,” Tolla said. “We wanted to model our program after his, so (as teachers) we walked the halls and hustled to fill the lineup.
“That was the key. We went from 10 to 30 kids. The last two to three years we could build each wrestler’s skill and technique. Now as a team we are somewhere in that Top 20.
Esposito pointed to his middle to upper weights as being a team strength, with East Haven tough in the lower weights, and the match lived up to that billing.
The dual began at the 138-pound weight class, with the Lions’ Tyler Stanko winning unopposed. Foran’s lead went to 11-0 on Ethan Edmondson’s 17-2 victory by technical fall at 4:22 of his 145-pound bout with Nick Harrold.
East Haven’s Fabricio Bugatti took a 2-0 lead after one period, extended it to 6-0, and then held off James Carlson to win a 6-4 decision at 152.
“Fabricio is one of our most improved wrestlers,” Tolla said of his junior. “He is winning 75 percent of his matches after being around 500 as a sophomore.”
Foran took the score from 11-3 to 38-3 through the heavyweight division.
The match of the night came in the 182-pound class where Foran’s Pat Brogan took on East Haven senior co-captain Josh Rao, who was runner-up in Class M as a 195-pounder last season.
Because of the juggling of weight class for the Easties’ senior co-captain, the match drew extra attention from each bench area. Think of it as intentionally walking a batter, with best intentions, to better your chances.
Rao got the first takedown, Brogan scored a reversal and one minute in it was game on. Rao took a 3-2 lead into the second. The advantage went back and forth three times in a second stanza that ended with Brogan on top, 7-6. Rao nearly hit a switch at the minute mark. Brogan used a tight waist hold on two restarts to maintain his lead to the buzzer.
“I thought if they moved Josh to 182 it would be a great match,” Esposito said. “Pat is now 33-2 on the season, but still an unknown. Nolan (Bannon) at 195 is 34-1. Either way it would have been fun to watch.
“What I like the most about my kids in when they go out there they wrestle like champions.”
Tolla said: “Josh wrestled at 182 for the first time tonight. We were looking to move a guy around and hopefully get some points. Long term, Josh will be at 195 for the SCCs and states.”
Brogan said, “I was a little surprised at the switch. Both benches were involved and that always gets the wrestlers going. He (Rao) was very good.”
East Haven took the first three bouts in the lower weight classes.
Dominic Milano pinned in 1:37 of his 106-pound match, Victor Garcia held an 8-1 advantage when he earned a fall at 3:02 at 113, and Matt DiVito led 2-0 in the third period when he added three key back points and won 7-4 at 120.
“Dave and his crew (Noel Luth) started from scratch and now they are Class M champions. They are classy, and we would like to follow that path,” Tolla said.
FORAN 44, EAST HAVEN 21
106 Dominic Milano (East Haven) F Anthony DiPietro (Foran), 1:37; 113 Victor Garcia (East Haven) F Tanish Joshi (Foran), 3:02; 120 Matt DiVito (East Haven) DEC Kyle Pokornowski (Foran), 7-4; 126 Jordan Lang (Foran) F Hugo Ortiz (East Haven), 2:31; 132 Alec DiVito (East Haven) DEC Mike Melillo (Foran), 9-5; 145 Ethan Edmondson (Foran) TF Nick Harrold (East Haven), 17-2; 152 Fabricio Bugatti (East Haven) DEC James Carlson (Foran), 6-4; 160 K.J. Pokornowski (Foran) MD Danny Jarrin (East Haven), 8-0; 182 Pat Brogan (Foran) DEC Josh Rao (East Haven), 8-6; 195 Nolan Bannon (Foran) TF Vincenzo Bunce (East Haven), 17-0; 220 Billy Ives (Foran) F Gunner Horton (East Haven), 0:33; 285 Pat Rescanski (Foran) DEC Armando Castaneda (East Haven), 4-0.