One by one, Riverhead wrestlers were going down in the finals of the Suffolk County League IV Championships on Saturday night. Shawn Yarborough watched as six of his teammates lost in their league title bouts. When the time came, though, for Riverhead’s seventh and last finalist to hit the mat, Yarborough was ready. Riverhead’s last chance for a league champion came through.
“I just had to do it for Riverhead,” Yarborough said. “I was the last hope. It was really nerve-wracking and all that, but I just had to pull through it and stay focused.”
Yarborough did all of that and picked up his first league crown. He started strong, building a 6-1 lead in the first period on two takedowns and a reversal, and defeated fellow senior Alex Rodriguez of West Babylon, 10-7, for the 220-pound title at Hauppauge High School.
“It feels great,” Yarborough said. “I had a nice week of practice and went hard. [Riverhead coach Rocky] Davey always tells us it pays off. What you do in the [wrestling] room, you do in the match.”
This season marks quite a change for Yarborough (15-5). Last season he wrestled as a 230-pounder in the 285-pound weight class, and it was no walk in the park.
Both he and Davey agreed that Yarborough should drop down a weight class this season. “I went down and worked hard in the room,” he said. “I worked with a lot of smaller guys, faster guys, and improved. It helped a lot.”
Not only has Yarborough’s technique improved, but he has learned more moves, and instead of going up against wrestlers some 50 pounds heavier than him, he is tangling with wrestlers about his size.
Yarborough said he doesn’t regret the experience. “You learn more from losing,” he said. “I learned a lot from it.”
Yarborough said there are two types of wrestlers at 220 pounds. “You got the out of shape ones and the dudes that are good and work hard every day,” he said.
He was dealing with the later variety on Saturday.
Signs of Yarborough’s progress were seen in the league tournament. Following a first-round bye, he defeated Chris Smith of Copiague, 6-3, in a semifinal before beating Rodriguez. Smith and Rodriguez had both defeated Yarborough earlier in the season.
Rodriguez, who has a 42-17 career record, had to settle for a second straight league runner-up medal.
Yarborough is one of nine Blue Waves who qualified for the Section XI Championships, which will be wrestled Friday and Saturday at Stony Brook University.
Davey said Yarborough needs to be sharp for the county tournament. “Unfortunately, he’s capable of having a bad match, and you can’t do that in the county tournament,” Davey said. “If he’s on in the county tournament and wrestles to his ability, he’ll be right there amongst the guys on the [victory] stand.”
Riverhead’s other league finalists weren’t as fortunate as Yarborough.
Jaquan Jefferson, a sophomore in his second season of wrestling, took a tough 3-2 loss to Half Hollow Hills West junior Christopher Reilly (56-30 career record) at 126 pounds. Jefferson (18-7) intentionally gave up the third point to allow Reilly to spring to his feet at the start of the third period, but was unable to score a takedown after that. “I’m better at takedowns than staying on top,” explained Jefferson, who had not finished among the top six in the five previous tournaments he competed in.
Riverhead junior Eugene Hyland (17-9) was a 3-0 loser to Hauppauge junior Jake Cherkes (22-7) at 195 pounds.
For Hyland, a second-year wrestler, it was his first appearance in a tournament final of any kind.
“Everyone goes to the leagues to win, you know,” he said, “so no one’s just going to come here and lay down for you, so it’s pretty intense.”
Another Riverheader, Eddie Matyka (22-5), was beaten, 12-0, at 99 pounds by West Babylon’s Steven Lee. Lee raised his season record to 34-4 and his career mark to 78-15.
The three other Blue Waves to reach the finals — Cody Weiss (106 pounds), Josh Blom (170) and Mike Von Bommel (182) — lost on pins.
Von Bommel’s bout was the quickest. He was stopped by Hills West junior Jagger Rebozo in nine seconds. Rebozo, a league runner-up last year, is 52-25 for his career. Von Bommel is 16-9 this season.
Weiss (21-8), a freshman, was trailing by 13-4 when he was pinned by Hills West senior Austin Rutella with 18 seconds remaining in the third period. The Texas-bound Rutella is 29-5.
Hills West junior Joe Piccolo, who is ranked sixth in New York State with a 71-25 career record, pinned Blom (20-6) at 1:17.
“We had a nice semifinal round,” Davey said. “I knew we were up against studs in the finals.”
Riverhead finished in third place among the seven teams with 165 1/2 points. Hauppauge won the team title with 266 1/2, well ahead of second-place Hills West (213).
The Blue Waves sent 10 wrestlers into the semifinals, including third-place finishers Kyle Helgans (120) and Charles Bartlett (160).
“I think the team in general did really well,” Davey said. “We came a long way from the first of the year, but we got a lot of growth still to do. Of course you hate to see the finals go down the way they did, but they really did a great job getting there. You got to look at the reality of it. We’re heading in the right direction.”