ESM senior Travis Passaro won the Division I 126-pound state wrestling championship in thrilling fashion at the Times Union Center in Albany on Saturday night, achieving his career-long goal by beating Alex Delacruz of Ossining (Section I) in a 3-2 decision. Passaro scored a reversal with just seven seconds on the clock, settling the match in regulation instead of going for an escape that would have forced overtime.
Passaro had been leading 1-0 until Delacruz scored a takedown with just 28 seconds left to go up, 2-1. Passaro knew he needed to get one point to stay alive, but he pulled out a gutsy move, hitting Delacruz with a switch with less than 10 seconds on the clock.
“He wasn’t thinking I was going to go for two,” Passaro explained after the match. “So I kind of caught him off guard and hit him with a switch.”
Passaro said he didn’t panic when Delacruz took the lead in the final 30 seconds.
“I was pretty mad at that point, but I knew I just had to keep wrestling,” he said. “I had plenty of time in my head. I had 20 seconds—I could get out easily in that time, so I wasn’t too worried.”
Passaro allowed a few smiles to break through his usually cool demeanor while being interviewed after winning the title, although head coach Nick Garone had to tease him a little bit when Passaro first said what it felt like to win the state title. He described it as “pretty good,” to which Garone replied, “Pretty good? Come on—it’s sick!”
Passaro, laughing, adjusted his description the next time the question was asked.
“It feels amazing,” he said with a smile. “I’ve won a lot of big tournaments in my career, but this was the best.”
Passaro followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Maverick, who became the first ESM wrestler in program history to win a state title, taking the crown at the same weight in 2012. The younger Passaro said that replicating—and even surpassing—his older brother’s success has been a goal of his since watching Maverick take home the coveted title.
“We always have our rivalries going on,” he said when asked about his relationship with his brother. “When he won it, it was good, but it made me want to do it so much more. When he won, my goal was to win nationals next, not just a state title.”
Passaro was the favorite, seeded first in the 126-pound bracket, and he had a fairly easy time getting to the championship match. Passaro started the tournament with a pin of Nick Azen of Tottenville (PSAL), in 1:42, and followed that with a 7-4 win over Anthony Orefice of Lockport (Section VI-Western New York).
The semifinal was a rematch of the Suffolk County championship, and, once again, Passaro defeated Commack’s Mike D’Angelo, this time in even more convincing fashion, a 9-2 decision. Passaro was familiar with Delacruz, whom he’d faced twice—and beaten—in past tournaments. Delacruz looked like he was on his way to some revenge before Passaro pulled out the reversal at the 11th hour.
ESM head coach Nick Garone said it was a nerve-racking thrill ride for him and assistant coach Mike Patrovich watching Passaro in the final seconds.
“When [Passaro] went for the switch, he was tied into that, and that had to work, because there wasn’t enough time to go for something else,” Garone said. “He hit it so well, and I said, here we go—this is either going to work, or we’re going to lose by a point. My stomach was in knots. I was comfortable once he had hit it, but I was nervous when he first went for it, because I said, oh my God, this could be tragic here.”
Garone said in the end, Passaro simply put his vast experience to work.
“Travis is such a battle-tested guy,” Garone said. “He’s a seasoned vet who’s been in those situations before, and he made it work.”
Most seventh-graders would be thrilled to just make their school’s varsity team—let alone finish in the top three in Suffolk County and advance to the New York State Tournament.
ESM seventh-grader Adam Busiello accomplished all that, and then some, finishing second in the 99-pound weight class to Jacori Teemer of Long Beach (Section VIII) on Saturday night. By making it to the state finals, Busiello became only the third seventh-grader in Suffolk County history to place in the top six at states, and he tied the best finish ever by a Suffolk seventh-grader by taking second. Current Longwood wrestler Shakur Rasheed, who won this year’s state title at 160 pounds, was a runner-up as a seventh-grader as well.
For most of his match with Teemer, it looked like Busiello would become the most successful Suffolk seventh-grader ever. He held a 7-5 lead with 1:28 left in the final period, but Teemer scored a lightning-quick takedown and immediately put Busiello on his back, finishing off the match with a pin.
Busiello pulled off two big upsets on his way to the championship bout. After starting the tournament with an 8-4 win over Jonathan Lowe of Wantagh, Busiello knocked off top seed Kellan McKenna of New Hartford (Section III-Central New York) in a 6-2 decision. The two wrestlers faced each other in the past, with McKenna scoring a 3-0 victory over Busiello in the finals of the prestigious Eastern States Classic tournament.
After beating McKenna, Busiello got past defending Suffolk County champ Anthony Sparacio of North Babylon, winning, 9-7, in overtime.
By getting to the finals, Busiello certainly made the most of his chance to wrestle at states, which he received as a wildcard. Only the champions in each section are guaranteed a spot at states, while the remaining spots in the bracket are filled with wrestlers who earned a wildcard based on a points system that takes into account previous place-winning finishes at counties and states and the strength of the section/county the wrestler originates from.
Through the course of the state tournament, Busiello certainly didn’t wrestle like someone who almost didn’t make it there, and he displayed a poise well beyond his years. The youngest of five children, with two older brothers who also wrestle, Busiello, who just turned 13 at the end of November, was confident.
“They gave me this chance, and I wasn’t going to take it like a joke,” Busiello said. “I just came in like I was the one seed and knew I could take over the tournament.”
He said that nerves weren’t a big problem for him either, mostly because he is accustomed to the type of pressure and competition that wrestlers find at states. Busiello regularly competes in prestigious national tournaments, and has plenty of hardware at home to prove it.
“I get a good sensation,” he said when asked about nerves. “I’m not really thinking, what if this happens or that happens. I’ve been in these tournaments before. That’s why I think I have a little bit of a head over most of these kids. No matter what, you always have to be conscious about what can happen, but you can’t be nervous. It’s all for fun. It’s serious, but if you don’t have fun then you’re not going to like it.”
“It’s crazy,” Passaro said of his younger teammate’s unlikely performance. “He’s so mature for his age.”
“I am just so overwhelmed with pride and humbled by the way this kid has handled himself on and off the mat this year,” Garone said. “He’s done things most seniors can’t pull off. It was just a wonderful year with a young kid who’s shown so much poise and composure.”
ESM senior Jimmy Leach fell just short of All-State status, losing, 5-1, to Danny Graham of West Seneca East (Section VI-Western New York) in third round of wrestlebacks at 138 pounds. A win in that match would have guaranteed Leach a top-six finish.
The match was tied at 1-1 until Graham took Leach down and scored three back points in the final five seconds to advance. He eventually finished fifth.
Leach lost, 6-2, to eventual runner-up Justin Cooksey of MacArthur in the first round, but then won his next two wrestleback matches, beating Ben Peck of Fordham Prep (Catholic League), 15-3, before dispatching fourth seed Michael Racciopi of Minisink Valley (Section IX-Orange, Sullivan, Ulster) in a 4-3 decision, scoring an escape with 20 seconds left.
“I just feel terrible for Jimmy,” Garone said. “I watched him mature from a little kid to a man. He’s one of those kids I’m going to truly miss. He’s a very special kid to me.”
It was a program-history making season for the Sharks. Not only did the program send more wrestlers than ever to states, but ESM finished third in the state with 45 points, behind Hilton from Section V (88.5 points) and fellow Suffolk team East Islip (52.5).
As expected, Suffolk County was the dominant section at the state tournament, continuing its tradition of excellence. Section XI won the tournament with 247.5 points, followed by Section VIII (Nassau County) with 205 points, and Section I (Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester) with 182.5 points.