CUMBERLAND — As Warwick Vets High compiled consecutive wins and pins in the earlier segments of this Division I-North showdown Thursday evening, Cumberland High junior Matt Kay’s level of nervous butterflies increased five-fold per battle.
When it came time for him to take the mat against fellow 220-pounder and Hurricanes’ sophomore James Gogan, and his Clippers trailing 36-30, Kay’s anxiety reached its peak.
“I knew I had to win; if I didn’t, we were done,” Kay stated. “Especially with the undefeated thing on the line – that is, the team – I didn’t want to be the one responsible for our first loss.”
Kay manufactured a two-point takedown and two-point nearfall with 1:11 left in the first period, and – with two ticks left in the opening session – recorded a three-point nearfall to take a commanding 7-0 lead. Just 17 seconds into the second two-minute period, Gogan mustered a one-point escape, but it took Kay only 10 more ticks to throw Gogan to the mat, and another two to pin his shoulders.
With that triumph, at 2:31, not to mention teammate Matt Riley’s victory by forfeit, veteran mentor Steve Gordon’s troops had secured a thrilling 42-36 verdict before a crowd of at least 150 at the Wellness Center.
“Like I said, I was nervous, but I also knew I felt stronger; I knew I could lock up with him,” Kay stated after his Clippers remained unbeaten at 2-0-1 in league action, and he improved his individual mark to 2-1. “I was able to hit a toss early on, and – the second time – I decided I’d go to the well again. It paid off.
“Right now, I’m so psyched,” he added with a grin. “It was probably the most nerve-wracking match I ever had, but we won. We’re still undefeated, and I’ll take it!”
Kay wasn’t the only one to feel the anxiety.
“Warwick Vets is always tough,” noted senior Erik Travers, a co-captain with Jon Maccini. “It’s become quite a rivalry over the past few years, and this was too close for my liking. They came out on fire, and some of our guys weren’t ready for it … But Matt pulled off a big one. He came up big for the team.
“I can speak for each and every member of this team that we were all nervous (entering Kay’s bout). They had kept racking up the points, and I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to come back. I was going nuts. Thanks to Matt, we’re still unbeaten.”
Cumberland had notched an easy win when freshman Kylie Creamer pinned Nick Thompson just 42 seconds into the 106-pound match, but John Altieri collected an 11-7 triumph over junior Cody Beaudette at 113, and that sparked a run of five straight Hurricane wins.
Davin Lourenco dropped Joe Passanante at 1:28 at 120; Nate Colicci did the same to Brett Abilheira-Cargill at 3:10 of the 126-pound bout; sophomore Tom Galligan (son of East Providence head coach Tom Galligan Sr.) pinned senior Kyle Durkin at 5:04 at 132; and senior McKenzie Pacheco snatched an 11-4 decision over senior Richie Whitman at 138.
Courtesy of that verdict, Vets had cushioned its lead to 24-6. The Clippers, however, responded in kind.
Maccini needed only 1:32 to pin Owen Amirault at 145, and – at 152 – Division II Super Bowl MVP Travers rode a 7-1 first-period advantage to another pin at 3:01 to cut the deficit to 24-18.
Vets’ co-captain George Schmeider eventually pinned fellow senior Kyle Szumita at 5:33 in the 160-pound division, but Cumberland junior Chris Hayes (170) and sophomore Nick Giorgio (182) both received six points due to forfeits to knot it at 30-30.
The Hurricanes, who fell to 1-3 in league, regained the six-point cushion after junior Devon Hurst corralled senior Brian Chea at 195, but that’s when Kay took care of business, despite the nerves.
When asked how he felt about Kay’s critical victory, Gordon grinned, “He won the entire match for us, so what do you think?”
Then he described the Clippers’ woes at this early juncture of the campaign. He claimed he had to go to battle without usual starter and junior Kris Nordby at 120 (due to a stomach ailment) and Nick Tribelli at 132 (flu-like symptoms).
“We were bobbing and weaving to assemble a lineup early on,” he stated. “We knew it was going to be tight because it always is against Vets. They don’t have a ton of depth, but they have very good wrestlers, especially in the lower divisions. We were giving them at least six points (at 120 and 132), and – if we got pinned – 12 points.
“(Those absences) hurt us, but what are you going to do?” he continued. “You’ve got to wrestle with what you’ve got … We haven’t had a full complement of wrestlers all season. Once we get them back, and have a whole lineup, we’ll be OK.”
Stated Travers: “It’s a brand new team, so we’re not thinking about (earning a second consecutive state title). We’re just thinking one match at a time. If you think too far ahead, you’re going to lose, so we’re just going match by match.”