PROVIDENCE — When the final second ticked off the clock in the 195-pound championship final, Cumberland High senior grappler Tom LaCroix broke free of his opponent's last-ditch clutch, leaped into the air and pumped his fist in jubilation.
His teammates, most of whom were on the mat's borders anxiously watching, immediately mobbed veteran head coach Steve Gordon, then did the same to LaCroix.
With his 12-4 major decision victory over South Kingstown High's Ryan Smith, LaCroix not only clinched his first-ever individual state crown but also gave his Clippers a most unexpected title at these R.I. Interscholastic Wrestling Championships, held at the Providence Career & Technical High School field house late Saturday night.
Mere seconds after the triumph, Gordon – in his 43rd year as Cumberland mentor – hustled to the scorers table to make sure his inkling was correct, and it certainly was.
With LaCroix winning by eight (a.k.a. major decision), the Clippers – who had trailed Hendricken by four entering that bout – indeed had secured the team championship over the Hawks by a single point, 171.5-170.5.
“Way to go, Tommy!” Gordon exclaimed, hugging his matman. Then, to no one in particular, he offered, “We've been riding his coattails all year!”
Still shaking his head at the dramatic turn of events, a misty Gordon explained, “If someone had told me (Saturday) morning that we'd win this tournament, I would've called him a liar. This is unreal, just unreal!
“His major decision gave us the five points we needed,” he continued. “We got four points for the win and a bonus point for the major. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd win this thing. (Saturday) morning, we had some tough losses; some of our better kids lost, but we did fight back in the consolations and got some points.
“Tommy wrestled phenomenal. He's good on his feet, and he got his back points … You know, I've lost the state (team) championship by this much before, and now we've won by this much (holding his thumb and forefinger a quarter-inch apart). This is incredible!”
Had LaCroix merely won by seven points or less, the Clippers and Hawks would have tied. According to meet officials, it would have been the first recorded deadlock since 1989, when Warwick Veterans and Coventry shared the title.
LaCroix, who closed his winter campaign a perfect 39-0, claimed he saved his best match for last.
“I knew if I won, we'd just be tied (with Hendricken); I also knew I needed bonus points for the team to win the state title outright,” said LaCroix, who finished second at 195 last year. “Of course, I felt the pressure.”
Just nine seconds into the second period, LaCroix mustered a two-point reversal to take a 6-1 lead, but, with 41 ticks left, an official called him for an illegal scissors move, giving Smith a point. LaCroix immediately followed with a two-point takedown, and entered the third with a 9-2 cushion.
A mere 11 seconds into that final stanza, Smith managed a two-point reversal to slice the deficit to 9-4, meaning LaCroix needed three more points to earn the major decision.
With 55 left, Smith yielded LaCroix a one-point escape (choosing to remain in a neutral position), and – with 29 seconds remaining – the latter manufactured the two-point takedown to earn the individual and team championships.
“On that last move, he shot, then I cross-faced him and picked his ankle for the takedown,” said LaCroix, a tri-captain with fellow classmates Max Carlsten and Sean Creamer. “At that point, I was just thinking, 'Hold on, Tom! Just 30 more seconds and it'll all be over.
“Words can't describe it,” he added of delivering to Gordon his fourth team title, the others achieved in 1979, 2005 and 2010. “I'll never, ever forget this moment … When our guys mobbed me, I was feeling complete and utter amazement. Still, this is more for the team than it is for me.”
Truth be told, the Clippers could have made it somewhat easier on LaCroix and Gordon earlier in the evening, but Exeter/West Greenwich standout Christian LaBrie posted a 5-2 win over junior Jon Maccini at 138 pounds.
Not long after, at 152, Steve Jarrell of East Greenwich downed Carlsten, 12-2.
“I really wanted to win, but it just didn't happen for me,” Maccini stated. “I just need to work harder. I finished third last year, and now I'm second. Hopefully, I can take it next year.”
Other key Cumberland points came from Cody Beaudette, who finished third after defeating Ponaganset's Jarrett Clarke, 6-2, at 113 pounds; Erik Travers, who also took third by pinning the Chieftains' Joshua Noury at 3:24 at 145; and Creamer, who placed fourth after dropping a 5-0 verdict to Chariho's Steve Thomas at 132.
Actually, East Providence manufactured a pretty solid outing as well. At 126, Joao Vicente pinned North Kingstown's Connor Hayward just 1:16 into the match for his second straight title; and, in the last bout at 285 (or heavyweight), junior Jonah Auerlio pinned La Salle's Will Sturgis at 3:59.
Those victories helped the Townies to 142.5 points, good for a fifth-place tie with Coventry.
“These kids wrestled really well,” said longtime EP coach Tom Galligan. “Obviously, we had a few things happen that we wished didn't, but we also had some good things occur, those we didn't expect. Our sophomore at 152, Austin Baptista, made it to the semis, but lost to (the Clippers') Carlsten. It was 4-4 with 20 seconds left, but Max pinned him. Still, Austin finished fourth.
“And (senior) Dominic Ferreira placed fifth at 160,” he continued. “Last year, he broke two ribs in practice just two days before states. It was just a freak accident, but he worked hard, came back and wrestled great this year.”
Vicente, now a stunning 42-1, admitted he truly wanted to clinch his second straight crown.
“I just worked hard all year; I wasn't satisfied with where I finished at New Englands last year (fourth overall),” he stated. “In the semis, the official made a controversial call. I lost, 3-0, to the kid from Malden Catholic that won it, and that set me on fire. I've been thinking about that for the past 12 months.
“My goal (against Hayward) was just to go out, take him down and pin him,” he added. “I have no set rules when I wrestle. I just react to whatever he does. It feels good to win another championship, but I want revenge at the New Englands (to be held March 2-3 at this same Providence site).
Noted Galligan: “He delivered an arm bar to the left wrist and just turned him over. He runs it the right way. A lot of kids will go around the body, but Joao goes over the top. That was a textbook move.”
The coach was just as thrilled with junior Jonah Aurelio's pin of La Salle's Will Sturgis at 3:59, just one tick left before the end of the second period.
“Jonah wrestled excellently,” he said. “He got the pin, and I think it shows a lot of character to go out and beat a kid that you lost to previously. He lost to Sturgis by three or four points a couple of weeks ago in a dual meet. Like I said, he showed character.”
Aurelio couldn't have been more satisfied with his 73rd win of the season against one defeat, or furthering his career mark to 127-15.
“This means back-to-back state titles for me, and I'm pleased with that,” he insisted. “I came back strong and worked hard. My main goal throughout the year was to get back to the state finals, and I did. But I went 1-2 at New Englands last year (at the University of New Haven). I knew the states would be pretty easy, or at least that's what I hoped. Now I want to do much better at the New Englands.”
In the only other championship final featuring a Blackstone Valley combatant, Lincoln High sophomore Alex D'Aloisio suffered a 9-1 setback to Nate Colicci of Warwick Vets at 120 pounds.
The Lions mustered 18th overall with 51 points, just .5 behind 17th-place Barrington.
R.I. INTERSCHOLASTIC WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Providence Career & Technical High School field house
Team standings – 1. Cumberland 171.5; 2. Hendricken 170.5; 3. Warwick Vets 167; 4. North Providence 155; 5. (tie) East Providence, Coventry 142.5; 7. Exeter/West Greenwich 134.5; 8. Mount Hope 98; 9. La Salle 87; 10. (tie) Johnston, Westerly 77; 12. Cranston West 74; 13. North Kingstown 72; 14. South Kingstown 71.5; 15. Ponaganset 68; 16. East Greenwich 63; 17. Barrington 51.5; 18. Lincoln 51; 19. Toll Gate 47; 20. Smithfield 45; 21. Hope 37; 22. Chariho 32.5; 23. Narragansett 31; 24. Pilgrim 30; 25. Middletown 27; 26. Cranston East 23; 27. Woonsocket 20; 28. (tie) Providence Country Day, West Warwick 14; 30. Burrillville 13; 31. Tolman 12.5; 32. Central Falls 10; 33. Portsmouth 7; 34. Moses Brown 6; 35. Mount Pleasant (did not score).
120 – Nate Colicci (WV) def. Alex D'Aloisio (LINC), 9-1.
126 – Joao Vicente (EP) pinned Connor Hayward (NK), 1:16.
138 – Christian LaBrie (EWG) def. Jon Maccini (CUMB), 5-2.
152 – Steve Jarrell (EG) def. Max Carlsten (CUMB), 12-2.
195 – Tom LaCroix (CUMB) def. Ryan Smith (SK), 12-4.
285 – Jonah Aurelio (EP) pinned Will Sturgis (LAS), 3:59.
113 – Cody Beaudette (CUMB) def. Jarrett Clarke (PON), 6-2.
132 – Steve Thomas (CHAR) def. Sean Creamer (CUMB), 5-0.
145 – Erik Travers (CUMB) pinned Joshua Noury (PON), 3:24.
152 – Marc Conte (JOHN) def. Austin Baptista (EP), 3-1.
170 – Mack Cash (NP) def. Thomas Howard (SMITH), 4-3.
285 – Joe Nardolillo (COV) def. Nikolis Zicus (LINC), 2-1.
106 – Steve Dinoble (PON) def. Drew Widdifield (WEST), 7-0.
113 – Rob Lanni (HEND) pinned Jordan Williams (EP), 3:18.
120 – Alan St. Vincent (MH) pinned Demetrius Fennell (EP), 2:36.
138 – Nick Parente (HEND) pinned Alex Abatecola (EP), 3:42.
160 – Dominic Ferreira (EP) def. Sam Traver (WEST), 4-3.
220 – David Ferreira (MH) def. Tony Kane (SMITH), 4-3.
285 – Dallas Sauer (HEND) pinned Giovanni Colasante (PON), 2:48.