By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
The Amsterdam High School wrestling team started Wednesday night's meet against Schenectady with a celebration, and it simply carried throughout the night.
The Rams started Wednesday night in "The Pit" at Lynch Literacy Academy by honoring the team's seven seniors -- along with head coach Ken Benton for recently breaking the 300-win barrier for his career -- and when one of those seniors, 145-pounder Josh Gonzalez, was the first AHS grappler to take the mat, it certainly seemed like a good omen.
Gonzalez got things started by dominating his match with Schenectady's Antonio Zamora before notching a pin in five minutes, 23 seconds, then wins from two other seniors -- Dan Banewicz via forfeit and James Marquez via technical fall -- spotted Amsterdam to a 17-point advantage that only got bigger as the Rams powered to a 63-19 win that clinched the team's eighth consecutive Big 10 regular season title.
"Josh Gonzalez getting a pin to open the match, that didn't hurt," Benton said. "It was nice to have him as a senior to be able to pin his opponent."
Gonzalez picked up one of six Amsterdam pins on the evening, as the Rams won 11 of 15 weight classes to cruise to victory. Chris Garrison, Joe Kelly, Christian Lopez, Brandon Lapi and Dal Orengo all added pins, while Marquez's technical fall, a major decision win by Ian Alejandro and forfeits accepted by Banewicz, Jorge Rivera and Adam Tatun rounded out the win that wrapped up Amsterdam's 20th league title since 1984.
"It was great. Everything we dreamed of," Marquez said.
"It was nice to win the Big 10 again," Lapi added. "Plus, celebrating [Benton's] 300th win. It was nice to come out and beat them like we should and like we planned."
Though the Rams honored their seven seniors -- Marquez, Banewicz, Lopez, Alejandro, Gonzalez, Rob Santiago and Ken Garcia -- it was the performance of two of the team's youngest wrestlers that added to the smile on Benton's face after the win was in the books. Garrison and Kelly, freshmen wrestling at 182 and 285 pounds, respectively, each turned in impressive pins that helped Amsterdam run out to a 47-7 lead and clinched the championship with six weight classes remaining.
"I was really pleased with the way they stepped up," Benton said. "A lot of the younger guys -- Chris Garrison at 182 is only a freshman, Joe Kelly at 285 is a freshman -- they came out with pins. It's a matter of them being focused, and they stepped up for the team."
Younger wrestlers stepping up on Senior Night has been a trend Benton has spotted over the years,
"Our younger guys have had to step up for us because a lot of our more experienced guys were wrestling their better kids," he said. "It's nice when they can do it. You could sense it in their preparation in the wrestling room before they came down that everyone knew they had a job to do."
Amsterdam's seniors went 5-for-7 on the night, with Lopez -- in his first year on the team as a senior -- particularly happy to notch a pin against Schenectady's James Schnepf at 195 pounds.
"Being a first-year wrestler, it's nice going out and getting a pin," Lopez said.
With the league title out of the way, the Rams can now begin to focus on building up to Feburary's run of postseason tournaments. That process starts Friday with the team's top wrestlers heading downstate for two grueling days at the massive Eastern States Classic tournament at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake.
"We've got a real tough tournament coming up with Eastern States," Lapi said.