You wouldn’t know it by the way they performed last Saturday, but a handful of Baldwin wrestlers were nowhere near 100 percent entering the Nassau qualifying tournament hosted by Plainedge.
Juniors Demetri Walker, Jelani Dowe and Kahlil Cuffe were all hampered by injuries down the stretch of the regular season but did more than just hit the board in the qualifier. Walker and Dowe reached the finals at 138 and 152 pounds, respectively, and Cuffe took third at 160. Ten other Bruins punched their tickets to the county championships this weekend at Farmingdale State, making it the largest contingency coach Jim Murphy has had in his eight-year Baldwin tenure.
“Even though we didn’t have any champions, we really wrestled well,” Murphy said. “To be in a qualifier with MacArthur, Plainedge, Farmingdale and Great Neck South, all schools with top competitors and large numbers, we held our own and got through more than I expected.”
Roosevelt, Garden City and Sewanhaka West were also part of the qualifier, won by county dual meet champion MacArthur. The Bruins missed reaching the dual meet playoffs but bounced back nicely after sending 11 to the county tournament last winter.
Dowe and Cuffe were among the team’s wins leaders as sophomores with 17 apiece. Dowe’s ankle has been an issue in recent weeks and kept him from using a signature move, Murphy said. “He has a good one-leg takedown and he’s had to adjust his strategy a little bit,” the coach noted.
Cuffe, who’s dealt with a knee injury, showed he belongs in the conversation for a county championship despite falling short at the qualifier. He had eventual champ Jalees Briggs of Farmingdale, the No. 2 seed, on the ropes with less than 15 seconds left in the quarterfinals. Briggs knocked off top-seeded Tyler DeSena of Garden City in the finals. “Kahlil is right there with those guys if he brings his best to Farmingdale,” Murphy said.
Walker, meanwhile, has been hampered by a hand injury and making good use of athletic tape. “He still had it taped up like a club,” Murphy said. “It’s probably going to be that way at counties.”
Another junior who amassed 17 victories last season, Jendy Rodriguez, finished third in the qualifier at 170 pounds. “Jendy has solid technique and doesn’t panic under pressure,” Murphy said. “He always gives a solid effort.”
Baldwin’s biggest surprise last Saturday was a third-place finish for sophomore Gabriel Calazan at 120. He battled back after dropping his opening match to top-seed Brandon Herrera from Plainedge and worked past junior teammate Isaiah Blemur in their last bout. Blemur had 19 wins a year ago.
Other impressive showings were put in by juniors Julian Appolon (third at 106), Michael Frazier (second at 285) and Leonidos Tobar (third at 285.) Also on the Baldwin bus headed to the big county stage will be Keshawn Rose (113), Joseph Ramirez (160), Kwasi Bonsu (170), Matt Anatasia (182) and Jaysen Riveria (195.)