Brandon Daniels, DJ Willard crowned WMass wrestling champions



  • Franklin Tech’s Spencer Telega, right, tries to outmaneuver Hampshire Regional’s Michael Baldwin during the title bout at 152 pounds at the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Championships, Saturday at Taconic. Telega edged Baldwin, 3-2, for the title. RECORDER STAFF/JEFF LAJOIE

  • Hampshire Regional’s DJ Willard, left, wrestles Frontier Regional’s Miguel Olvera-Aguilera during the 160-pound final at the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament, Saturday at Taconic. Willard won via a 10-1 major decision. RECORDER STAFF/JEFF LAJOIE

For The Gazette
Sunday, February 11, 2018

PITTSFIELD — For Brandon Daniels, there was no tomorrow. The Gateway Regional senior was seconds away from falling in the sectional championship match for the third consecutive year.

But while Daniels could hear the countdown to the final buzzer echoing above him, he decided this time would be different. This time he’d be a wrestling champion.

Trailing 4-3 in the final seconds of the third period, Daniels secured a miraculous takedown of Taconic’s Mike LaFreniere as time expired. After a brief conference between the referees, Daniels was awarded two points on the final maneuver of the match, giving him a wild 5-4 decision and the Western Massachusetts Division 3 title at 113 pounds, Saturday at Taconic.

“It was live or die time,” said an emotional Daniels afterward. “I could hear them counting the final few seconds and I told myself, ‘If I don’t scoop the leg here, I don’t win the match.’ Plain and simple. I put all my focus into it and got it done.”

The takedown and subsequent points awarded with it came with less than a second remaining. That’s all that stood between Daniels and a potential third-consecutive championship-bout loss. The top-seeded wrestler in the 113-pound field wasn’t interesting in continuing that trend.

“It means the world to me. It really does,” he said. “I’ve been practicing with this team since the sixth grade, competing since I was in seventh grade. This is what all those hours practicing all those years comes down to. I finally got the ‘W.’”

The brief chaos that followed the end of the match saw a crowd of coaches, wrestlers and fans trying to get a listen to the conversation at the scorer’s table. Gateway head coach Michael Forand was in the mix, but said he had faith that the takedown had come before the buzzer sounded.

“Last year we took (a loss) in the opposite direction so it’s a lot better being on this side of it,” Forand said. “This was a big one. Being a two-time runner-up, (Daniels) deserved this. They definitely don’t get any closer than that.”

While Daniels’ win was the most exciting match of the finals, Hampshire Regional’s DJ Willard’s march to the 160-pound championship was one of the more impressive ones. The top-seeded Willard earned pins in his first two matches, setting up a title-bout against Frontier Regional’s Miguel Olvera-Aguilera. The two held each other off the scoreboard in the first period before Willard snatched control with a takedown and a near-fall in the second. He cruised from there, capturing a 10-1 major decision to eclipse last year’s runner-up showing at 160 with a title in his senior campaign.

“He was super tough, especially early on,” said Willard of Olvera-Aguilera, the No. 2 seed. “I think I underestimated him a bit. But I was able to capitalize on a mistake he made and get back on track.”

Willard improved his impressive record on the season to 36-4. He helped the Raiders to an area-best fifth place team showing with 145.5 points. Host Taconic won the WMass title with 228.5 points.

“It’s awesome,” Willard said of the title. “I’ve been working on winning one of these for six years now and I’ve been so close. To see it pay off is awesome.”

Olvera-Aguilera was the top Frontier finisher, as the Red Hawks finished sixth as a team.

“I’m a little disappointed in that last match but overall I’m happy with the whole weekend,” said Olvera-Aguilera, who moved within one victory of 100 career wins following the semifinal round.

Willard’s teammate, Michael Baldwin, gave Franklin Tech’s Spencer Telega everything he could in the 152-pound championship. Baldwin, the No. 2 seed, tied the match 1-1 with an escape early in the third period, before Telega earned a takedown for a 3-1 lead with 50 seconds remaining. Baldwin got within 3-2 with an escape with 10 seconds remaining, but the top-seeded Telega, who lives in South Deerfield, held on to pick up the tight decision.

South Hadley’s Jacey Rondeau made an impressive march to the 195-pound championship match. Seeded sixth in the field, Rondeau knocked off Franklin Tech’s Ayden Stacy, the No. 3 seed, in the quarterfinals via a 5-3 decision, and followed that with an overtime victory in the semifinals against No. 2 Devin Messer of Hampden Charter.

Taconic’s Shawn O’Shea, the top seed, awaited in the finals, and Rondeau trailed just 2-1 after one period thanks to an escape. But O’Shea scored a reversal in the second and a takedown in the third, sealing a 6-1 decision to capture the title at 195.

Smith Vocational’s Tyreek Sanders also navigated his way to the championship at 285 pounds thanks to some wins against higher-seeded wrestlers. Seeded seventh in the field, Sanders defeated Frontier’s Jackie Phong, the No. 2 seed, in the quarterfinals and pinned Pathfinder’s Zach Beeman, the No. 6 seed, in the semis to earn a spot in the 285 title bout.

Top-seeded Akhmet Azizov of Hampden Charter ended the ride however, as he built a 9-1 lead in the opening period before pinning Sanders at the 1:37 mark to capture the championship.

Also placing were:

106 — 5. Nathaniel Picard, Hampshire; 6. Jake Mattson, Frontier Regional.

113 — 3. Tanner Finch, Frontier Regional; 5. Forrest McSweeney, Hampshire Regional.

120 — 4. Joe Podolak, South Hadley.

126 — 4. Bailey Murry, Frontier; 5. Kyle Roe, Granby; 6. Max Abel, Hampshire Regional

138 — 3. Connor Pettis, Frontier.

145 — 3. Rearkeous McMillan, Frontier; 5. Nathan Hogan, Hampshire;

152 — 3. Jake Erali, Smith Vocational.

160 — 6. James Buddluph, Smith Vocational.

170 — 3. Justin Flores, Smith Vocational; 6. Mason Willard, Hampshire.

195 — 4. Kobe Clifford, Hampshire Regional; 5. Nathan Austin, Frontier.

285 — Jackie Phong, Frontier; 5. Tallon Garelli, Hampshire.

Division 1

Northampton’s Noah Brink fell in the third-place 132-pound match at the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Championships, Saturday at Springfield Central.

Vitalliy Borodin, of Westfield, defeated Brink, 1-0, with an escape in the third period. It was a rematch from earlier in the day.

Brink defeated Jaron Luke, 8-1, and Borodin, 6-5, in his first two matches, respectively. After an 11-8 loss to Manuel Cruz, of Putnam, in the semifinals, Brink beat Ceddric Cruz, of Putnam, 4-2.

Northampton’s Maddox McPherson earned a 15-2 tech fall against Jose Alvarado, of Putnam, to place fifth at 106.

McPherson was pinned by Jacob Ice, of Minnechaug, in 2:57 in his first match. After a bye in the consolation round, McPherson fell 9-6 to Stephen Pooler, of Central.