Lake County has a chance at multiple champions

  • Warren's Joel Vandervere celebrates his win against Marian's Travis Ford-Melton in the Class 3A 126-pound semifinal bout at the 2019 IHSA wrestling state championships at State Farm Arena at the University of Illinois in Champaign Friday.

      Warren's Joel Vandervere celebrates his win against Marian's Travis Ford-Melton in the Class 3A 126-pound semifinal bout at the 2019 IHSA wrestling state championships at State Farm Arena at the University of Illinois in Champaign Friday. John Starks | Staff Photographer

By Mike Garofola
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 2/15/2019 10:45 PM

CHAMPAIGN -- There were some magnificent and memorable matches on the second day of the state wrestling tournament but none perhaps better than the Danny Pucino-Fabian Lopez semifinal Friday night at State Farm Center.

Pucino, the Libertyville junior, would break the hearts of the fans of the reigning state champion when he beat the DeKalb star 3-1 to advance into the Class 3A championship match tonight in Champaign.


Pucino (44-1) will be joined by Grayslake Central's Alex Cramer, who with his energy and inventive attack reminded everyone in the big crowd that he's a defending champ, and likely on his way to another.

"Fabian is a great friend of mine, but when that whistle goes off, both of us forget friendship and just go out there and do battle," said Pucino, who now has a chance to become the first in program history to claim a state title since Mike Baumann did so in 1991.

"I beat him earlier in the year, but both of us are way better now so to beat an opponent like him to get into the final means a lot to me," added Pucino, who will face Eddie Bolivar (42-3) of Oak Park-River Forest.

Cramer (46-0) has been near flawless thus far, and according to Grayslake Central head coach Matt Joseph there's more where that comes from.

"Alex has been getting better and better each time out and with his confidence level way up there he's in a really good spot for finals tomorrow night," said Joseph, whose best man faces Major Dedmond (34-1) of Freeport.

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"I've started slow in each of my matches thus far, kind of checking out my opponents and their styles that I might not be too familiar with but once comfortable, I went after each of them and never slowed down," said the Old Dominion recruit.

Can the Lake County area celebrate two more state champions?

If you are wearing the colors of Carmel Catholic and Warren the answer is a resounding yes.

Reigning state champion Riley Palm (31-1) continues to look unstoppable at 138, witnessed by his destruction of Ryan Gardner (43-9) from Bloomington.

"I'm feeling really good," said Palm over and over again following his 11-3 major decision to set up a final with Kyle Schickel (40-4) from Lemont.

Warren sophomore Joel Vandervere vaulted into the spotlight during his rookie year in 2018, finishing third overall, and now one year later he's in the final after his thrilling overtime victory against four-time state qualifier Travis Ford-Melton (29-6) of Marian Catholic.


"Travis is very defensive, but I can be also so it came down to staying composed, using my length when riding him and just relying on what I do best," said Vandervere, who will meet No. 1 Dylan Ragusin (Montini Catholic, 42-6) Saturday following the 5:30 p.m. Grand March.

Pucino's teammate Michael Gunther (138, 41-4) missed a chance to join his friend in the finals after a hard-fought loss to Justin Benjamin (St. Charles East) in his semifinal, 5-2.

Alex Barbarise (120, 37-5) and Danny McPherson (126, 42-7) positioned themselves to improve upon their sixth-place medals from a year ago when the Antioch duo won easily in their second round wrestleback bouts Friday.

Teammate Xavier Sanchez (23-5) is right there as well at 285, and will take on league rival Jack Brunati (42-4) from Lakes.

Carmel senior Tommy Hoy (160, 37-3) inched toward his first state medal after blasting his second round opponent to advance, along with Barbarise and McPherson into wrestleback quarterfinals Saturday morning.

Semifinals will follow immediately afterward, with third and fifth place bouts set to start at 1 p.m.

Stevenson senior Max Gomez (39-9), knowing the final minutes of his high school career were ticking away, erased a 4-0 deficit to Diego Facio (Larkin) then went on to win 7-5 to keep his hopes alive.

Gomez will face his friend Cody Goodman (47-5) of Deerfield in a rematch of last week's second round bout at sectionals in which Goodman recorded a major decision victory.

The fantastic four year career of Gomez'a teammate, Tommy Frezza, came to an abrupt halt when the Stevenson star was eliminated from his third state tournament when Oak Park-River Forest star Nico Bolivar recorded a 6-3 decision in the second round of wrestlebacks.

Frezza, who was sixth here a year ago, was this close to being a four-time state qualifier, losing in the blood round in his rookie season.

Frezza finishes at 38-6 this season, 142-33 for his career.

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