Wrestling: Three Wildcats ready for state tournament

ROBERT O'ROURK FILE PHOTO | John Keck of Shoreham-Wading River was one of three Wildcats to earn an at-large bid to the state tournament.

To come so close to a county championship, only to fall short in the final seconds, is a bitter way to end an otherwise superb season. Three Shoreham-Wading River wrestlers felt the disappointment of losing in the county finals at Stony Brook University Feb. 11.

But for all three, their seasons are just beginning.

Seniors Zak Mullen and John Keck, along with junior T.J. Fabian, all received wild card entries into the state wrestling tournament this weekend in Albany, breathing new life into their seasons.

“The kids are real excited about it,” said Shoreham coach Joe Condon. “They’re very motivated to do well. It’s a second chance for them.”

After the county tournament ended, Condon was confident all three wrestlers had an excellent chance to earn one of four wild card spots in their respective weight classes. Wild cards are given based on a formula that takes into account previous finishes at the state or sectional level, record and how well historically the section a wrestler is from has done.

Condon did his best to calculate the point total for as many wrestlers as he could find, but there will still no certainties until the official word came down last Wednesday.

“They all deserve to be there,” Condon said. “They’ve all beaten top kids in the section and state.”

All three wrestlers will be making their first trip to a state tournament. Shoreham hasn’t had this many wrestlers reach the state tournament since the Wildcats competed in Division II in 2005.

It may be the first time at states, but the pressure won’t be anything they haven’t faced before, Condon said.

“This is not going to be a first experience,” he said.

Fabian (44-4) lost in the 120-pound county finals in overtime to Matt Leshinger of Sayville. Leshinger earned the No. 1 seed in the bracket. Another Suffolk County wild card, Sean McCabe of Connetquot, is the No. 2 seed.

Fabian will wrestle Zach Joseph of Shenendehowa in the first round. If Fabian wins, it would line him up to face McCabe in the quarterfinals.

Condon said Fabian has never faced McCabe in a regular-season match.

At 152, Keck (44-2) will open the tournament against Dan Tracy of Mepham. If Keck can reach the semifinals, it would line him up to face Nick Hall of Longwood. Hall defeated Keck in the county finals, 4-3, which was only the second loss for Keck this season. If they were to meet again, it would be their third match this season. Keck beat Hall at the Eastern States Tournament.

The top seed at 152 is two-time state champion Brian Realbuto of Somers. He’ll be looking to become a five-time all-state wrestler.

At 160 Mullen (44-3) will open the tournament against Jorge Jiminez of Grant Street Campus. Mullen would be in line to face Tyler Grimaldi of Hills West in the semifinals. Grimaldi, the No. 2 seed, defeated Mullen for the county title and is responsible for two of Mullen’s three losses this season.

The top seed in the bracket is Dylan Palacio of Long Beach. Palacio is a two-time all-state wrestler who finished third in the state last year.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Condon said. “They’ve earned it. They’re not going there just to give it a shot. They want to perform and do well.”

The Wildcats have had success with wild cards before. In 2009 T.J. Neidhart was second in the county at 160. He went on to place second in the state.

The state tournament begins Friday morning at Times Union Center. The semifinals are Saturday morning with the finals at 6 p.m.

[email protected]