ALBANY – Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer waited for an opening that almost didn’t come, then made the most of it to win the Division II, 132-pound title in the New York State wrestling championships on Saturday.
Trailing 1-0, with 1.5 seconds to go, the Cheektowaga junior took down Tristan Rifanburg of Section IV’s Norwich to capture a dramatic 2-1 victory that put the crowning touch on a perfect 47-0 season.
Sporting a bloodied lip with another line of red trickling down his forehead, Rodriguez-Spencer raced to embrace his parents who watched their son’s well-executed performance from front-row seats.
“The kid was tough,” he said. “I knew if I could get a good takedown I could beat him. I worked so hard after finishing second last year at 126 pounds. I wasn’t going to finish second again.”
Starting on top to open the final period, Rodriguez-Spencer let Rifanburg go intentionally and fell behind 1-0, so he could begin looking for a takedown opportunity. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to ride him out,” he said.
Eyeing the clock winding down, he never panicked and shot in for a double-leg hold leading to a body lock that allowed him to throw down a stunned Rifanburg, whose championship hopes were suddenly dashed as an elated Rodriguez-Spencer leaped up and raised his arms in triumph.
“I’m so proud of you,” said his father, Todd Spencer, hugging his son.
Rodriguez-Spencer was one of six state finalists.
Also in Division II, senior Drew Hull of Roy-Hart won a hard-fought 2-0 victory over sophomore Frank Garcia of Norwich to win the 145-pound championship in the last match of his high school career.
“This is the best way to go out,” Hull said. “It was so important to me. There was no way I was going to the finals and let someone else walk out with my dreams.”
He finished the year with a 45-0 record and has a scholarship to wrestle next year at the University of Virginia.
While his bout was going on, senior Eric Lewandowski of Lancaster battled for the Division I, 145-pound title on the opposite mat, but came up on the short end of a 4-2 match that was decided in the final 10 seconds. The match see-sawed as Lewandowski took a 1-0 lead in the second period, fell behind, 2-1, early in the third and knotted the score before losing to Louis Hernandez of VIII-Mepham.
Freshman Dakota Gardner of Fredonia reached the Division II, 126-pound final with an at-large berth, but suffered a 6-2 loss at the hands of junior William Koll of IV-Lansing. For Gardner, who placed sixth last year at 120 pounds, the second-place finish was a big step up and he has three more chances to win a state title.
“I’ve got to work on different styles, do more scrambles, try a different game plan,” he said, already looking forward to next year. “He had some nice moves I really didn’t expect.”
Gardner said last year’s experience gave him a decided advantage heading into this year’s event. “Last year I came out wanting to hit hard and got tired out,” he said. “I’ve learned how to calm down before a match and not get distracted by the big crowd.”
About 4,000 people were on hand at Albany’s Times Union Center.
Steve Michel of Lancaster took a 7-6 lead into the third period of his Division I, 120-pound match before losing, 11-7, to junior Alex Delacruz of I-Ossining. “I’m just disappointed,” he said. “He beat me with a funky move.”
At Division II, 285 pounds, only 63 seconds stood between Matt Montesanti and a state title. The Medina senior was tied, 3-3, with Matt Abbott of IV-Windsor, but Abbott recorded a takedown and completed a five-point move by nearly pinning Montesanti to win, 8-3.
Montesanti finished the year with a 40-1 mark.
“Wish it was 41-0, right Matt?” Mustangs coach Don Duncanson said. “That’s all right. Matt finished higher at states than his brother Dominic who wrestles Division I for UB. They’ve both got that Montesanti toughness.”