Standing with the confidence befitting someone of his impressive standing, Tanner Zagarino looked determined and ready to do something no other Mattituck/Greenport/Southold high school wrestler has done before.
As Zagarino stepped onto the mat Saturday afternoon at Times Union Center in Albany for his Division II semifinal at 195 pounds, he represented Mattituck’s last chance to send a wrestler into the finals of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships for the first time. Hopes were high.
But then they were dashed with the rare sight of Zagarino being beaten.
The junior met his match in Joe Benedict, a sophomore from Sandy Creek who controlled the bout, earning an 8-0 win. Zagarino removed his headgear and walked off.
But his work on the state stage was not done. Zagarino pinned his two opponents in the consolation rounds, Seaford’s Kevin Digney and Nanuet’s Connor Breit, to grab third place. That equals the best finish ever by a Mattituck wrestler. Louis Troisi took third in 2007.
“Third place is nice,” said Zagarino (43-2), who went 0-2 in last year’s state tournament. “It’s good to finish off with a win, but it would have been nice to have been in the finals and to have been a state champ. I was really close. I feel like I kind of let [the Tuckers] down.”
The Tuckers did claim a first, though, producing two state semifinalists for the first time. Jack Bokina, a sophomore competing in his third state tournament, dropped a 2-1 decision in a 113-pound semifinal to Wayne junior Matt Caccamise.
Bokina recovered after that to take something away. He finished fourth for the second straight year, following a 6-2 loss to BGAH’s Chris Cirigliano.
“It’s a little disappointing finishing fourth again,” Bokina (43-8) said. “I would have liked to do a little better, but …”
Also coming in fourth for the Tuckers was James Hoeg at 170. The junior suffered a tough quarterfinal defeat on Friday when he was taken down by Alden senior Lyle Grant with three seconds left in the bout for a 5-4 triumph by Grant.
Hoeg bounced back Saturday to reach the third-place bout. He was edged in that contest, 4-3, by Edgemont’s Cliffton Wang.
“I think that loss was crushing for him,” Mattituck coach Cory Dolson said. “It’s probably one of the worst losses of his career, but I think it shows what kind of kid he is that he can lose that match and still gather himself and get himself together and come all the way back for fourth place. It shows the kind of heart he has.”
Hoeg (46-5) said, “The goal is to win, so it definitely [stinks] losing.” He added, “You just got put it behind you and do the best that you can.”
Bokina, Hoeg and Zagarino were all No. 2 seeds.
The Tuckers, who had two all-state wrestlers in their history prior to Saturday, finished the day with another three.
Mattituck went into Saturday’s proceedings with four wrestlers still alive and in contention for a top-six finish and all-state recognition. That included senior Charles Zaloom. Zaloom, however, dropped a 3-0 loss to Olean’s Zac Spears in a consolation quarterfinal at 220 pounds. After the final whistle, Zaloom (37-6) remained on his knees with his head bowed down toward the mat for a couple of seconds, as if trying to absorb the fact that his tournament and high school career had just ended.
Prior to the finals, close to 30 Tuckers and their coaches marched onto the mat and were recognized, along with Warsaw, for being tied for the No. 1 ranking in Division II by the New York State Sportswriters Association. It marked the end to what has to be considered the greatest season in team history for the four-time Section XI champions.
“It’s definitely special coming from nothing and no one knowing who Mattituck is to people around the state knowing who we are,” Hoeg said. “It’s definitely a big stride for the program.”
Two Shoreham-Wading River wrestlers who gained entry into the Division I tournament through wild cards, seniors Jack Taddeo and Kevin Meloni, both found rewards through the grueling wrestlebacks. Taddeo (38-4) finished fourth at 145 pounds and Meloni (36-5) was fifth at 106.
Shoreham coach Joe Condon said both wrestlers justified their presence. “They showed they belong,” he said. “They really earned it.”
Taddeo, who will next wrestle for the United States Naval Academy, fell to Eastport-South Manor’s John Busiello in the third-place match, 4-0.
“All in all, I wrestled as hard as I could,” Taddeo said. “I wouldn’t say I’m happy with my finish, but you know, I came to wrestle and I did what I could.”
Meloni wrapped up his high school career on a winning note, defeating Columbia’s Michael Gonyea, 8-5, for fifth.
“It means so much to me,” said Meloni, adding, “I just attacked and attacked and attacked, and then when I was just attacking him, I felt that I just broke him.”
Photo caption: Mattituck/Greenport/Southold’s James Hoeg, top, defeated Locust Valley’s John Pedranghelu, 10-0, in a consolation quarterfinal on the way to his fourth-place finish at 170 pounds. (Credit: Bob Liepa)