It took until the final day, but Newport Wrestling had finally wrapped up its attempt to return to PIAA-AA team duals.
On February 5 in the Cumberland Valley, the Buffaloes lost a narrow 38-32 decision to North Lebanon in the consolation semifinals to come two match wins short of the finals for the three states districts.
“Because a lot of our kids are so young, I’ve told them to be here (to fight for a chance to advance to the states) is very special and you can’t take it for granted,” said Mike Capozzoli, whose team opened the postseason with victories over ELCO (45-24) and Berks Catholic (31-30) before losing to eventual champion Bishop McDevitt 46-30 in the semifinals. “We’ve worked really hard to make our program able to do that. I wanted our younger boys to understand that.”
The Buffaloes’ postseason run started with a bang.
They wowed their home crowd by winning their first four fights, including pins from Ryan Lawler (138), Mason Messick (152) and Ganon Smith (160), and exploded to a 21-0 lead over ELCO.
Newport slammed the door with pins from Nathan Rode (189), Caleb Lesher (285), Roman Polcha (106) and Travis Lilly (126).
Two nights later at Bishop McDevitt, the Buffaloes slipped past Berks Catholic 31-30 to reach the semifinals and ensure they would advance to Saturday’s medal rounds.
Capozzoli maximized his team’s chances by sending Adalynn Smith (113) and Alexis Otstott (160) to wrestle. The Saints, who have a policy prohibiting their wrestlers from facing girls, gave up 12 forfait points, well beyond the brink of the Buffalos’ victory.
Still, Capozzoli needed strong performances from the rest of his line-up to secure the win.
Lilly won by big decision 8-0, Lawler won by fall, Smith pulled out a 5-0 decision and Rode was stuck.
That brought the Buffaloes to a semifinal showdown with No. 2 seed McDevitt.
The Crusaders, a mix of top talent from various Pennsylvania programs, proved too big a hurdle for Capozzoli’s lineup.
McDevitt won eight of 12 contested weights, including five by fall. Worse, Buffalo’s 189-pounder Ethan Jezewski was thrown hard to the mat and forced to retire.
Capozzoli’s top wrestlers continued to deliver.
Lilly won 13-7, Lawler and Rode each recorded their third pins and Smith defeated Anthony Glessner in a featured matchup 6-4.
Polcha’s relinquishment of 106 represented Newport’s final score.
On paper, Newport’s matchup with the Vikings looked like a toss-up.
The Buffaloes had to do everything they could to get through.
It started well enough when Lesher reversed and pinned Owen Stichler with 25 seconds remaining in the first period.
Capozzoli then made the decision to oust Polcha from Vikings star newcomer Aaron Seidel (35-1) in favor of a match with Julian Zaragoza, who appears to be a less accomplished talent. The runner-up proved far better than his record, notching two takedowns, a reversal and three sets of nearfalls for eight points en route to a 15-4 major decision.
The Vikings then extended their lead to 22-6 with pins from two of their veteran wrestlers, Owen Breidegan and Owen Lehman.
Lilly stopped the run with his fourth tournament win, a 5-1 decision.
“Travis made a conscious effort to improve his technique,” Capozzoli said. “He still has work to do, but he’s had a great week.”
Lawler followed with a dominating 17-1 tech fall to put Newport 22-14, but an 11-1 Major Decision loss by Andrew Degiglio and a pin at 152 extended North Lebanon’s lead to 20.
Newport needed a last four weight sweep to stand a chance… and that wasn’t possible.
Because Jezewski couldn’t wrestle — he wasn’t medically cleared — the Buffaloes had to retire at 189.
Despite a final wave of pins from Smith, Rode and Tyler Geer, the Buffaloes were six points short of reaching the third-place playoff.
“Over the past eight days combined – from Bedford to today – we’ve battled really hard. That’s what we want your kids to experience,” said Capozzoli, whose team finished their doubles plan with a 13-3 record. “It was hard getting out of Bedford and having to turn around and wrestle again on Monday. They gutted it.”
Rode (24 points), Lawler (23), Smith (18) and Lilly (12) were the only Buffaloes to win all four matches.
Smith, now 27-0, increased his career tally to 116 wins.