ALBANY – Joseph Velazquez never feels like he’s out of the match but when the Middletown senior came to his corner for blood-time stoppage, the outcome looked bleak.
Velazquez trailed second-seeded James Araneo of Ward Melville 15-4 in a state 170-pound quarterfinal. Araneo, who owned a technical-fall win over Velazquez in the regular season, led 8-0 on four tilts in the first period.
Middletown coach Jason Lichtenstein instructed Velazquez to go for broke. Velazquez had nothing to lose but to try and throw Araneo the first chance he had.
Moments later, Velazquez celebrated in the arms of his coach after shockingly pinning Araneo 36 seconds into the third period and pulling off the biggest upset by a Section 9 wrestler on Friday’s opening rounds.
“I really worked hard for this,” said Velazquez of his semifinal berth in his state debut. “I would have never seen it coming but I never gave up on it. I didn’t want to lose to him again. I just wanted to come back.”
Velazquez’s pin highlighted Middletown’s most successful state day in more than two decades. Middletown senior 106-pounder Justin Morales earned his first semifinal trip on his third try, defeating Webster-Schroeder’s Joe Berenson 10-5. The last time that Middletown advanced two wrestlers to the state semifinals was 1998 when Rocco Mansueto won his second straight state title and twin brother Phil, a 1997 state champion, finished second.
“Everything goes back to Rocco and Phil,” said Lichtenstein, a teammate of the Mansuetos. “We love those guys but we are trying to get past that time.
“I talked to Rocco all week and he wants these kids to pass him. When I first took the job, the goal was to pass those guys and for people to stop remembering 23 years ago and embraced what these kids are doing now.”
Morales passed Rocco and Phil on Middletown’s all-time wins list to become the school’s leader now at 157 victories and counting this season. He wrestled looser than his previous two state appearances and it showed with two dominant wins.
“It means everything to me,” said Morales of guaranteeing his first state medal. “My main focus was to have fun. I have nothing else to lose. I was thinking too much in the past.”
While, Velazquez’s work ethic shined in his quarterfinal. Lichtenstein is always seeing Velazquez, who is just in his third year of wrestling, running past his house when not practicing. The senior says setting his alarm to 6 a.m. has been a norm during his training.
“Joe is the absolutely the toughest kid that I have ever coached,” Lichtenstein said. “He’s like a boxer. He always had a puncher’s chance.”