Rutgers rallies with major decision, pin to top American
Midway through its match with American, the Rutgers wrestling team found itself in a precarious position — losing. Not only were the No. 7 Scarlet Knights trailing, but they were down to a team ranked below them.
But the Knights proved why they belong in the top 10, erasing the three-point deficit and winning the bout, 19-15.
"This is Division I wrestling," said head coach Scott Goodale, whose team has now won 16 straight. "We can wrestle this one tomorrow, and it would be totally different. It's somebody new stepping up every night."
The teams split the bouts as each squad won five, but bonus points proved to be the deciding factor with Rutgers (20-1) earning a major decision at 174 pounds and an electrifying pin at 184 pounds courtesy of senior Alex Caruso and sophomore Dan Rinaldi, respectively.
"The coaches talked to me before the match and told me that '74 and '84 could be deciding factors," Caruso said. "I knew I had a job to do. Not just win but get bonus points too. They were expecting four [points] out of me and I got four."
Rinaldi brought the house down and the College Avenue Gym to its feet when he pinned Thomas Barreiro. The Lodi, N.J., native put on a takedown clinic for the first period before getting Barreiro flat on his back midway through the second.
"I knew it was going to be a close match," Rinaldi said. "I just wanted to go out and get bonus points to help the team. It worked out well."
Caruso put Rutgers ahead for good minutes early by thoroughly dominating Tanner Shaffer for seven minutes to earn the 14-5 major decision.
Heading into the match, Caruso knew that his bout would be crucial and bonus points were a must against a stout Eagles (12-6) squad.
"I'm glad that I was put in that situation," Caruso said. "Instead of just winning 7-1 or 6-1, I got it in my head that I needed to score 14 or 15 points."
American pieced together a 9-0 run to go up by three with wins at 141, 149 and 157 pounds.
At 141 pounds, junior Trevor Melde was unable to upset No. 13 Matt Mariacher, as the two wrestled an even bout throughout. In the end, Mariacher's quickness did not enable Melde to put two moves together to earn a takedown and American took the bout, 3-1.
The Eagles pulled even as Ganbayar Sanjaa upset sophomore Mario Mason in a battle of two ranked opponents at 149 pounds. Sanjaa controlled the match from the get-go and Mason was unable to utilize the quickness that propelled him to No. 4 in the rankings.
"Mario has really gutted it out for us," Goodale said. "He's been walking around with walking pneumonia, and he hasn't been on the mat for 10 days. We didn't want to wrestle him, but we thought he was still our best bet. He just didn't have it."
American took the lead behind its star grappler, Steve Fittery, No. 1 in the nation at 157 pounds. However, senior Daryl Cocozzo sent a message that he was not going to go down without a fight by scoring a takedown in the bout's opening seconds.
But Fittery proved to be too much down the stretch and Cocozzo fell, 6-3.
"I thought Daryl gave us a spark early," Goodale said. "And what goes unnoticed is guys like Cocozzo … going out there and riding people out in the third period. It's not a win, but those little things are what makes this team who we are."
American's lead was short lived, however, as Scott Winston earned a third period takedown to defeat Patrick Graham by a 4-1 decision.
The dual kicked off with Rutgers jumping out to an early 6-0 lead fueled by an upset at 125 pounds. Sophomore Joe Langel continued his impressive wrestling in front of a home crowd and earned a 7-4 decision over No. 20 Nick Arujau.
Langel put a reversal and near fall points together to get the Barn rocking early on. The Howell, N.J., native is now 15-6 on the year.
Junior Mike DeMarco followed up Langel's performance with 7-5 decision of his own over Kevin Tao. DeMarco's record now stands at 15-12 and the Lyndhurst, N.J., native moved to 9-9 in dual-match action.
"Nobody, including you guys, would have picked Mike DeMarco to win a match for us, but that's about as big of a win as we've had all year," Goodale said. "That's huge for us and again, you never know who is going to step up for us."