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Smythe, Russo earn ECIC titles; host Lake Shore takes fifth

OT WIN — Alex Smythe records the two points that won the Eden senior the 160-pound weight class at the ECIC Championships Saturday at Lake Shore. Photo by Michael Petro.

It was business as usual at the Erie County Interscholastic Conference Championships for both Eden’s Alex Smythe and Frontier’s Rocco Russo, but their success on Jan. 18 did not come without a pair of challenges.

Russo, a three-time sectional champion, recorded a 2-point take down on West Seneca East’s Danny Graham with 9 seconds left in the 138-pound ECIC title match, to win 3 – 1. It was the third and probably not the last time the two will meet this season, with Russo’s winning for the second time.

“Just like it was in the other matches, we knew a take down or any set of back points, whoever got that will be in control of the match,” said Rocco’s uncle and head coach, Joe Russo. “They each had opportunities and Rocco wound up being the one battling through and getting one. Danny’s tough; we knew it would be a battle.”
Frontier senior Rocco Russo scored two points late in the match to pull out an ECIC title at 138 pounds. Photo by Michael Petro.

Clarence junior Nate Schwab took Smythe all the way to overtime, before the Eden senior struck first, for a 3 – 1 win with 33 seconds left in the first extra session. Schwab tied the score 1 – 1 with a third period escape. The two are familiar with each other, having traveled together with Eden coach Tom Page to national tournaments in the offseason.

“Nate and Alex work together and are very familiar with each other, so it’s tough for them, but they both wrestled very well,” Page said. “Nate committed to a shot that wasn’t there and Alex is too quick. When a mistake is made on Alex, you’re going to pay for it. Alex’s conditioning is getting better, so he wasn’t afraid to put it into overtime, and didn’t rush or act hastily.”

Clarence sent four wrestlers to the final on its way to running away with an ECIC team title with 225 points. The Red Devils were followed by Iroquois (149), Pioneer (143), Starpoint (133) and Lake Shore and Lancaster (132.5).

Lake Shore got three wrestlers to the finals, where seniors Briar Dils (195) and Luke Catalano (285) and sophomore Freddy Eckles (126) fell to finish second. Sophomore David Kilian (106) took third for Lake Shore. Both sophomores have over 30 wins this season. Senior Dylan Murphy also placed, at 160.
Luke Catalano (left) was tied late into his championship match at 285, before allowing two late points to fall, 3-1. Photo by Michael Petro.

“We have some promising young guys coming up,” said Sils, who’s also high on seventh grader Domenick Thomas, who just missed placing, and an injured Lawrence Jenkins. “We’re doing a lot better than we expected. The young kids are coming along and they battle. We’ve got Briar, Luke and Dylan leaving us but I think we have enough here to make another run.”

Up against a much bigger opponent in Alden’s Erik Feitshans, Catalano had the match tied 1 – 1, late into the third. Catalano shot low for a take down, but exposed himself and instead gave up the deciding 2 points, with 30 seconds left.

“Against a big kid like that, Luke’s got to have some offense, if he wants to go to states,” Sills said. “That’s what he’s been working on and he tried to get in his big shot at the end of the match, but it’s still something he’s got to work on.”

Eckles was beaten 11 – 0 by defending sectional champion Kellen Devlin of Amherst, while Dils fell 13 – 4 to Lancaster’s James Empfield.
Eric Sheffield of Hamburg (right) made his first finals appearance at the ECIC Championships, before falling in the final at 152. Photo by Michael Petro.

Hamburg had two wrestlers reach the championship bout. Eric Sheffield was pinned by Alden’s Eddie Hutschenreuter in the second period at 152 pounds and then Garrett Knoll fell 3 – 0 to East Aurora’s Tyler Hall at 220. Sheffield is now 27 – 7 on the season and Knoll, 27 – 4.

Frontier scored its best ECIC Tournament finish since the inception of the competition, taking 10th, while Hamburg was 18th (60.5), and Eden 21st (58.5), among the 27-team field.

“The kids have been coming together the last couple of weeks and wrestling great,” said Joe Russo, who said he was just talking to assistant coach Glen DiStefano about how much the team has grown, improved and gained confidence. “Technically, its the right time for these guys to be peaking.”

Jessie Harrison took third at 126, wrestling all the way back after dropping his opening match, and Seth Jones was fifth at 152. Russo said that a usually thin Frontier team had eight guys’ pushing 20 wins or more.

Also during a second-place finish at the Williamsville North Tournament the week prior, Joe Aronica won a title at 138; Aaron Valachos (138), Jackson Cummins (106), Zack Reese (220) and Harrison (126) finished second; and Jake Dickey, Kyle Genovese and Connor Miller finished third.

For Eden, Peter Schmitz also placed at ECICs, taking fifth at 145. Page applauded the efforts of youngsters Gustavo Bautista-Gomez and Luke Podyma. He expects Sawyer Overhoff and Jacob Page to do better in the postseason. Eden is unbeaten at 6 – 0 in ECIC III and still in the hunt for a divisional title with East Aurora on Senior Day and then at Alden left on the slate.

Two-time defending ECIC II champion Lake Shore lost for the first time in the division in two years, falling to a tough Pioneer team. The Eagles are 1 – 1 with five matches to go — that many due to weather-related cancellations.

The Eagles welcomed in the ECIC Tournament for the first time after two years of hosting the Section VI Championships for Division I. Sills said the program enjoys hosting and gets plenty of help from school staff, the athletes and their parents.


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