BRISTOL — Heading into the championship finals of the Class L wrestling tournament, just 8.5 points separated first-place Simsbury from second-place Xavier.
It was a familiar place for the Falcons, who had been a state runner-up in each of the past two seasons.
With the title in striking distance, coach Mike Cunningham had a message for his Falcons.
“Have fun,” Cunningham said. “If you guys want it, take it, because Simsbury isn’t going to give it to us.”
Your third Xavier champ of the night, Luke Tischio, gives the Falcons a Class L title over Simsbury. Xavier still has a match upcoming: Marcelius Ruiz.#FlipTheSwitch#ThisIsXavier#ctwr pic.twitter.com/XOUx6WrIk7
— Xavier Athletics (@athleticsXHS) February 23, 2020
Michael Rapuano, James Lunt and Luke Tischio all took individual titles to lead the Falcons to their first state championship since 2012, as they outscored Simsbury by just 2.5 points, winning 243-240.5. New Milford (166.5), three-time defending champion Bristol Eastern (165), and Bristol Central (149.5) rounded out the top five.
“It was great. We were back and forth the whole tournament,” Lunt said. “A point, a half-point – and we were down eight and a half going into the finals and we still kept a solid mindset, stuck it out and got it. Everybody put in work and we surpassed them.”
“It was amazing,” Tischio said. “I’d like to thank my coaches, my teammates – we couldn’t have done it without everybody. Although we had our finalists and our first-place winners, we couldn’t have done it without everybody and every match, that’s how close it was.”
— Dave Stewart (@DStewartSports) February 23, 2020
Lunt’s victory at 145 pounds was the biggest difference-maker, as he took an 11-2 lead, and then pinned Simsbury’s Saul Pera at 3:15. The pinfall gave Xavier six points as they closed the deficit to 1.5.
“I knew I needed to get the points for the team,” Lunt said. “It was a solid head-to-head match. He was looking to keep it close, so I just tried to open things up, move my hands, move my feet and that kind of stuff. The more I wrestle, the better I do.”
“He came out ready to wrestle,” Cunningham said of Lunt. “He was ready to win it for his team and had something extra. I’m so proud of him.”
— Dave Stewart (@DStewartSports) February 22, 2020
New Canaan’s Tyler Sung then finished off a spectacular tournament by pinning Xavier’s Quinn Moynihan in 36 seconds for the 152-pound championship – Sung’s third straight state crown. The Ram senior won all four of his matches in less than one minute, as he spent just 2:45 on the mats during the entire tournament.
Tischio was up next at 160, and, after falling behind by two points, scored six straight to take the lead and eventually defeated Middletown’s Terrell Johnson, 8-5.
That gave the Falcons four more points and put them ahead for good.
Tischio had a quick answer when asked how he felt in the final.
“Tired,” he said with a laugh. “I knew I had to stay basic. Good stance, stick to my technique and don’t do anything too fancy. I knew the team was depending on me for that win.”
Xavier also had a big victory from Michael Rapuano, the top seed at 113 pounds, as he dominated Wethersfield’s Bryce Arnold on the way to a 19-2 technical fall.
For Cunningham, the championship was a fitting finish for his seniors, who have come so close the past few years.
“The seniors have all been together for a while and since they’ve been freshmen coming on through, we’ve taken second at Open and here. This year they said it’s our time, but obviously it’s not easy. Simsbury was tough.”
North Haven freshman Joe Iamunno was crowned champion of the 120-pound class after pinning Bristol Easten’s Mason Lishness in 40 seconds in the final. Iamunno, who is 32-0 this season, was named the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler.
Three-time defending champion Bristol Eastern didn’t make it four, but the Lancers started the finals with a win as heavyweight Nicholas St. Peter defeated Simsbury’s D’Sean Martin, following a third-period takedown.
At 106 pounds, top seed Evan Lindbergh of New Milford scored three points in the final period and beat Bristol Eastern’s Trent Thompson, 6-4.
In the 126-pound bout, Middletown’s Khalil Shabazz pulled away in the final 20 seconds for a 5-3 decision over Pomperaug’s Michael Carpenter.
At 132, Simsury’s Ty Finn shut out New Milford’s Peter Coniglio, 15-0; and at 138, New Milford’s Khalil Bourjeili pinned Simsbury’s John Mariano in 1:59.
New Milford’s Richard Morrell pinned EO Smith’s Ethan Grous in 39 seconds in the 170-pound final.
Amity had two champions, as Simon Flaherty won 7-4 over Newington’s Aldan Lozada at 182; and Joshua Foote won 3-2 over Roark Ryan of East Lyme/Norwich Tech at 220.
In the 195-pound bout, Bristol Central’s Jakob Salinas won 2-1 over Xavier’s Marcellus Ruiz.