Gaels earn first victory over Hand (Updated)

Since joining the Southern Connecticut Conference when forming its program 14 years ago, the Shelton High wrestling team had never defeated perennial league powerhouse Daniel Hand of Madison.

On Jan. 15, that changed when the Tigers visited the Gaels at Murray Gymnasium in an SCC A Division matchup.

With Shelton trailing 33-28 heading into the final bout of the night at heavyweight, senior Jose Nieves pinned Hand’s Peter Elias with seven seconds left in the second period to give the Gaels a 34-33 victory.

Early in the match, the Tigers were docked one team point for unsportsmanlike conduct following the 152-pound bout, as the penalty point ended up proving costly to Hand.

“We kind of looked around and figured that could be an important point,” Shelton coach Bill Maloney said. “It was nice to have a senior step up there for us.”

Nico DiStassio (113), Kyle McGinnis (120), Liam Cummings (170) and Alex Merdinger (195) won via fall for the Gaels. Ethan Lam (132) and Nick Pogacsas (152) prevailed in minor decisions, as Shelton improved to 16-2.

“It was a nice program win for us to beat a team of Hand’s caliber,” Maloney said of toppling the Tigers, who dropped to 6-3 overall.

Shelton went on to finish second at the New Milford Invitational on Saturday.

The host Green Wave, ranked third in the state, ran away with the team title, scoring 246.5 points, with Shelton (123.5), Bethel (114), Newington (110) and Hand (98.5) rounding out the top five.

Six Gaels medaled, with Cummings winning the title at 170. The senior captain, who improved to 25-0 overall, defeated Cheshire High’s Gabe Vega, 4-1, in the final.

Kyle Tobin at 220 finished second, losing by fall to New Milford’s Tom McIIveen in 1:56. Merdinger (195), Pogacsas (152), Scott Plucienik (126) and McGinnis (120) all took thirds.

The schedule does not let up, as Shelton travels to second-ranked Xavier High (15-3) in Middletown for a dual meet tonight at 7.

“They’re really tough,” Maloney said of the Falcons. “But we’ll wrestle hard.”