Garnet Valley gets it done against Upper Darby

CONCORD — A year ago, Garnet Valley walked into Upper Darby’s gym with the Central League wrestling crown up for grabs. Both teams were undefeated. In a dominating performance, the Royals won the day and the league.

Fast forward to Saturday and nothing had changed save for the location and the wrestlers. Garnet Valley, 9-0 in the Central League, hosted 10-0 Upper Darby. And like the Royals a year ago, the Jaguars wouldn’t disappoint the home crowd. Garnet Valley (20-4 overall, 10-0 Central League) won six of the first eight matches in route to a decisive 42-13 victory over Upper Darby (17-5 overall, 10-1 Central).

“The ideal scenario was here,’ said Jaguars coach Rocco Fantazzi. “I always tell the guys Upper Darby are still champions. I considered us the underdogs. We had to knock them off.’

The match was essentially decided in the first four weight classes, starting at 106 pounds. Nick Puliti got Garnet Valley off to a fast start with a second round pin of Jake Mejias. From there, the Jaguars faced a trio of superb wrestlers. The Petril twins, seniors Anthony and Austin, and freshman Colin Cronin had gone a combined 76-10 for the Royals entering Saturday.

Garnet Valley held strong. Sal Pizzuto and Matthew Marino lost to the Petril twins each by decision before Michael Marino, who recently became the school’s all-time winningest wrestler, beat Cronin 6-2 to restore the Jags’ lead. Marino fell behind 2-0 early in the match and watched as his opponent gestured to his visiting supporters.

“What’s most important is keeping your composure,’ Marino said. “All you can do is come back and wrestle. I ended up coming out on top.’

Upper Darby, with three of their best wrestlers behind them, failed to make up the deficit.

“We started a little shaky,’ Royals coach Bob Martin said. “We felt we had to win the first four (matches) right off the bat. But they’re wrestling good kids. You have to give Garnet Valley credit.’

Up 9-6, the Jaguars went on a run, winning five straight matches to push the lead to 25-6. Senior John Dambro, wrestling at 182 pounds, had a chance to clinch the victory and at least a share of the Central League title. He obliged. Just 1:27 into his match he pinned Upper Darby’s Madhat Fares. It was career win number 101 for Dambro.

“I was pumped up and ready to go,’ the senior captain said, “I knew after the first few seconds I was going to win. I wanted to score some more points.’

After the referee raised Dambro’s hand, Dambro raised both on his own, sending the home crowd into its loudest roar of the night.

“It was everything,’ Dambro said of the gesture. “It was a little revenge for last year when they pumped up their crowd after they beat us.’

Although his two best wrestlers led the way, Fantazzi was quick to spread the accolades.

“All of these seniors have worked so hard. They’ve been with us for four years,’ an appreciative coach said, “They remember what it felt like a year ago when we had to walk out of their gym.

“You have to look deeper (than Marino and Dambro). Sean Lyons has been consistent for us. J.C. Zweier has been a great leader going against some really tough guys. Connor Walsh,’ who closed the night with a 3-2 decision, “wanted to give the crowd one last cheer.’

Garnet Valley still has to wrestle Conestoga Tuesday with a chance to clinch the outright championship. But you can’t blame them for embracing Saturday night’s victory,

“It’s incredible,’ said Dambro, who will look to place at the PIAA Tournament before continuing his career at Millersville University. “To be honest, it’s a little bittersweet. This is the last time we’ll wrestle in this gym.’

At least he can say the Jaguars, led by their seniors, went out on top.

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