MERIDEN — Hey, Nick Martone!
You are the Class M heavyweight wrestling champion. You’ve won 100 varsity matches. You’ve earned the top seed in the State Open. Where are you going now? Disney World?
Well, maybe, in a manner of speaking.
Part of Martone’s dreamscape involves his family’s popular pizzeria, Castello Pizza, which greets hungry visitors as they approach Hubbard Park.
Castello’s has a second location along the state’s southeastern shoreline in Niantic. That isn’t far from Guilford, where Martone heard the cheers of family and friends after reaching one of wrestling’s pinnacles.
So where was Martone when most of the state’s 56 divisional champions were enjoying a celebratory respite before starting their training regimen for this weekend’s State Open? Try Castello’s by the Sea after closing hours, mopping up the remnants of a busy Saturday with the same enthusiasm he did in mopping up his three foes during Saturday’s grueling competition.
“That’s the way we are,” Martone said about his close-knit, family with deep pride in their product. “My Dad said, ‘Great! You won.’ I had to go to the restaurant. He’s always reminding me that he came to this country with $200 in his pocket, so if he can do it, I can do it.”
The reduced size of the heavyweight bracket enabled Martone (32-2 on the season) to relax on Friday night while some combatants in the other weight classes were competing in the round of 32 and virtually all in the round of 16.
Platt’s top-seeded senior, also a decorated nose guard and short-yardage fullback last fall, had little trouble with No. 8 Vinny Bonaluni of Avon (9-3) in the quarterfinals or Duane Soto of Warren Harding (by fall, 2:50) in the semifinals.
His foe in the final was Sergio Ferreira of Stratford, who came into the bout with a 25-2 record.
After a scoreless first period, Martone had the bottom position to start the second and escaped promptly for a 1-0 lead. Nine seconds later, he recorded the takedown that made the difference 3-0.
Ferreira escaped to get on the board and escaped again in the third period to narrow the gap to 3-2, but Martone and his coach Bryan McCarty knew the score was not indicative of the match’s flow.
“Nick was outstanding. It wasn’t that close,” McCarty said. “He was in control. We weren’t that nervous. As the seconds wound down, he was still attacking like he wanted to score. He did a nice job.”
Martone had as much confidence in his victory as he has that Castello’s customers will come back for sausage and peppers after they sample the pepperoni.
“It wasn’t close. My skill level was not comparable to his,” Martone said, speaking analytically rather than critically of his Bridgeport opponent.
“He had good moves, but he’s probably not a heavyweight. He’s not strong enough to play with the big boys. We were going through film. There were a couple takedowns I missed could have had. The plan was to get the takedown, score in neutral and ride him out for rest of the period.”
Martone’s approach is guided by Platt assistant Joe Winowski. They noted that Ferreira had a speed advantage.
“He was fast and I was nervous at first,” Martone said. “Coach Joe said, ‘Imagine you’re wrestling me.’ It comes down to who had the heart and the practice room, and I was better prepared mentally and physically.”
Martone said McCarty summoned Winowski primarily to guide Martone because he saw he had a budding championship contender when he entered the program as a freshman.
“He’s my mentor on the mat. He yells at me when I do stupid things,” Martone said. “When I won the M’s, he jumped into my arms. We’re very close. We have fun, but when it’s time to work, we know what we have to do.”
McCarty’s confidence never wavered.
“He had to wrestle real well and not let things go to chance,” he said. “We wanted him to create offense on his feet, score and hold guys down. With heavyweights, the first period usually goes by with a lot of pushing, a 0-0 score and hoping the coin flip is in your favor. He was able to score on his feet, which was a huge difference and he got that takedown in the final. Even though he went 0-0 he was able to hold him down, which is big for a heavyweight.”
Castello’s floor is clean. The ovens are ready and Open. So is Martone.
“Martone is definitely not satisfied,” he said, speaking in the first person for emphasis. “I was walking with some coaches and they asked if I celebrated the M’s. I said no. I went to work. I’ll celebrate when I have Class M, the State Open and the New England title.
“I’ll face anybody. I don’t really care who,” he added. “The coaches tell me what mat I’m on, I go and wrestle the way I wrestled Saturday.”
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