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Wrestling: Sparacio claims his first state championship

After further review — Joe Sparacio is a state champion.

The Mattituck High School senior closed out his high school wrestling career with a perfect ending to a celebrated career, winning his first state championship Saturday night at MVP Arena in Albany.

A new video-review system came into play in the Division II 132-pound final between second-seeded Caden Bellis of Tioga and No. 4 Sparacio. Two points originally awarded to Sparacio for a near fall were deducted following a video review, leaving Bellis with a 3-2 lead with about a minute left in the third period.

“I think that made me more mad, I guess,” Sparacio said, “but after that happened, in my head, I knew I was going to win the match because I thought there was no way I was going to let them rob me like that.”

Neither Sparacio or Mattituck/Greenport/Southold coach Nick Fioretti had ever seen video review employed in a high school match before.

“That was definitely interesting, something that I was not used to because it’s a new trial for this year,” Fioretti said. “It was the video review challenge, which only applied in semifinals and finals of the state tournament.”

Although the ruling took two points away from Sparacio, it may have worked in his favor in another way.

“It kind of lit a fire under him,” Fioretti said. “It made it very clear what he needed to do, and honestly, that’s what he really needed. He’s had a long road over the last four or five years to get to this point, which he’s been capable of, you know, and to finally [get] to that point where you can accomplish your goal, there’s a lot of stress and pressure there, so that final minute or so was a point where none of that was in his mind. He just knew what he had to do to win and he knew what he needed to do to win.”

Joe Sparacio’s right arm is raised following his 6-5 victory over Tioga’s Caden Bellis in the Division II 132-pound final. (Credit: Ray Nelson)

After allowing Bellis, a sophomore, an escape point for a 4-2 lead, Sparacio took him down to tie it at 4-4 before tilting him to his back for a 6-4 lead. Late in the match, Sparacio surrendered an escape point and fended off Bellis in the final seconds for a 6-5 triumph.

“It was sick,” Sparacio said. “It was a lifelong goal, and accomplishing it meant everything, and it was the best experience of my high school wrestling career.”

Sparacio became the fifth Mattituck wrestler to win a state title and the first since twins Jack and Luke Bokina triumphed in 2018. In 2017, James Hoeg and Tanner Zagarino became the first two Tuckers to reach the top of the state podium.

Sparacio, a four-time county champion, made his third appearance in the state tournament (he finished fourth as a freshman), which wasn’t held last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he wore a Bayport-Blue Point singlet on those first two occasions before transferring to Mattituck for his junior year. He went 35-0 this season and 147-22 for his career.

“It was great,” Fioretti said of Sparacio’s accomplishment. “It was a weight off the shoulders because there was a lot of pressure because I knew he was capable of it, but it’s wrestling, and anything can happen in wrestling, but from the beginning, we knew no matter what seed he got at the tournament that he was the kid to beat.”

Following a first-round bye, Sparacio pinned Seaford’s Louis Cannata in 31 seconds, beat Shoreham-Wading River’s Tristan Petretti, 10-4, and scored a 5-2 semifinal win over the No. 1 seed, Honeoye Falls-Lima’s Nicholas Noto.

Four matches to a state championship. It’s the simplest path.

“If you lose early on, it is a long, long road back to third place,” Fioretti said. “It’s extremely tough.”

Three Tuckers — seniors Diego Giron, Tate Klipstein and freshman James Felakos — had to deal with the consolation bracket. Giron (18-14) was pinned at 1:02 by New Paltz’ Logan Ormond and then lost a major decision, 13-4, to Marathon’s Logan Jamison in the 285-pound weight class. Klipstein (28-11), wrestling at 172 pounds, was defeated by LaSalle Institute’s Ray Hutton, 4-0, before dropping a 9-3 decision to Byron-Bergen’s Malachi Smith. Felakos (14-17) was pinned by Watervliet-Cohoes’ Kendryek Flynn at 1:40 in his opening match at 152 pounds. Then he was pinned by Little Falls’ Mason Rowley in 17 seconds.

It’s a high school tournament like few others and can be a jaw-dropping, intimidating experience for first-timers.

“Even the most experienced wrestlers or those who are the best have a difficult time when they get up there and there are so many unknowns,” Fioretti said, “just everything from the unknown pressure of stepping out on the mat in front of all of those people or when you’re weighing in, what are you going to do after weighing in? What’s your sleeping arrangements? There are so many variables there that it makes it hard to focus on the task at hand, which is winning wrestling matches.”

And that is just what Sparacio did.

What is the best thing about being a state champion?

Said Sparacio, “Just saying you’re number one in New York State.”