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Wrestling: Riverhead counts on its ‘program guys’

The correlation between hard training and winning wrestling matches is a direct one. There’s no substitute for sweat equity.

In other words, a wrestler gets out of the sport what he puts into it. No shortcuts.

A reminder of that was served when Riverhead coach Jake Benedetto spoke about his team recently.

“Where we’re good, I think we’re very good,” he said. “I think we’re good up at 215 [pounds]. I think we’re very good at 145. I think we’re very good at 152, and I think we’re pretty good at 160. But, you know, going back to how the guys found a way to train, there’s a correlation there. Those are the guys that are getting in their cars and driving over Long Island and training. There’s no secret to how to be good at this.”

Benedetto was talking about how some of his wrestlers trained on their own when Riverhead sports were stopped, first by the COVID-19 pandemic and then by a failure to pass a school budget, costing the Blue Waves the 2020-21 season.

The Riverhead wrestlers at the weight classes he mentioned, in order, are David Franco, Dominick Gambino, Andrew Batista and Don McKay. Benedetto refers to them as “our program guys.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, they all won their bouts Tuesday, accounting for all of Riverhead’s points in a 50-21 Suffolk County League I loss to visiting Patchogue-Medford.

Benedetto recalled once being asked why Batista is so good. The coach’s answer was simple: “Straight up, because every Saturday and Sunday he’s somewhere wrestling, and every night after practice he’s still here.”

Gambino and McKay, two seniors, have been on the team since they were freshmen. How rough was it not having a junior season?

“I was pretty devastated once I heard that Riverhead wasn’t gonna make the budget, but I still continued to progress physically by working out every other day,” Gambino said. “It’s very challenging when you don’t have a coach yelling at you. You got to push through.”

Dominick Gambino, right, who was responsible for the first of three straight Riverhead pins, tries to catch Patchogue-Medford’s Austin Palmer off-balance. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

After Patchogue-Medford (10-0, 3-0) built a commanding 50-3 lead, Gambino, Batista and McKay strung together consecutive pins for Riverhead (0-4, 0-3). Gambino pinned Austin Palmer in 3 minutes, 30 seconds, Batista stopped Nick Elliott in 2:55 and McKay did his thing against Ronnie Bass in 1:40. Franco was a 6-2 winner over Alex Hofmann.

“I was fed up with losing this year and I wanted to do a pin, especially with my family being here, my girl,” McKay said of his first dual-meet win of the season.

Gambino said: “I’m honestly loving the season so far. I’m very, very thrilled to get back out on the mat. I’m ready to win.”

Over the course of five years, Riverhead has moved up the ladder of leagues, from League IV to III to II and now I for the first time. Now the Blue Waves face some of Suffolk’s toughest teams like Patchogue-Medford, Longwood, Brentwood and Sachem East.

“Grinder,” Benedetto said. “If you want to be good, this is the best of the best.”

Patchogue-Medford lived up to its reputation, reeling off four successive pins by Michael Desimone (in 2:37 against Ken Alveranga at 285 pounds), Noah Burke (in 0:54 against Tyler Dick at 102), Mason Jacobel (in 0:38 against John LaCorte at 110) and Francis Ruf (in 1:42 against Brady Hubbard at 118). Later, the Red Raiders added pins by Jason Duchimaza (138) over Elias Lugo in 2:40 and Beyrin Ayari (172) over Axel Lopez in 0:21.

Additionally, Kayshaune Baer (126) was a 14-2 winner over Jared Knight and Bryson Gomes (132) beat Wilfredo Catalan, 10-2. Riverhead forfeited at 189.

“We did know what we were up against, but instead of worrying about how tough our guy is or who we have to verse, instead, we just go out there and try our best and, you know, if we wrestle hard and we wrestle the best we can, we’ll get the best results,” Gambino said. “Whether our team wins or loses, I still think every single match is a good opportunity to show yourself and a good opportunity to learn a lesson.”

Gambino then offered one final thought.

“The Riverhead wrestling team is excited to get back out there, and we’re gonna show people what we’re made of this year, even if we already missed a season,” he said. “Riverhead’s back and we mean business.”

The “program guys” play a leading role in this. No mystery there.