Hunterdon Central's wrestling team was fully aware of the historic evening taking place in the home gym of one of its longtime rivals.
But the Red Devils spoiled a party and had cause for their own celebration after a 35-24 Skyland Conference inter-divisional victory over Warren Hills on Alumni Night Friday in Washington.
"We did what we've been doing all year -- we have to," said veteran coach Steve Gibble, whose team needs to win close ones and get bonus points as it forfeits one weight class at 113 pounds. "The kids have a great attitude and a great work ethic. They have a focus and a goal and it hasn't wavered all year. They've been outstanding all year long."
Juniors Collin Boylan (132) and Gary Dinmore (138) closed out the victory with wins in the final two bouts after Warren Hills (17-7) came storming back from a huge deficit to pull within three (27-24). Senior Joe Kratochvil's 2-1 win over Dylan Nace -- a rematch of their Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final -- that ended with another late stall point to give Kratochvil, a Region 1 runner-up, the victory.
Boylan worked former Region 1 qualifier Justin Pidoto for a 6-0 decision, while Dinmore, a state runner-up last year, racked up 12 takedowns in a technical fall win over Tommy Rush.
But dropping key decisions at 145 and 220, and getting pinned at two other weights, hampered Warren Hills' upset plans on a night when the program celebrated its 75th season with several former state champions in attendance.
"You're not going to be in position to beat a great team like Hunterdon Central, when you're not getting wins in close bouts, and in other spots your giving up bonus points late in matches," said Blue Streaks coach Jarrett Hosbach, now 2-5 against the Red Devils in eight seasons. "We didn't fare too well in one-point matches, and when we needed takedowns to win we didn't get them."
Hunterdon Central (13-1), ranked No. 6 in the state by the New Jersey Wrestling Writers, won the first five bouts -- and nine total -- as it raced out to a 21-0 lead. A key decision by Dylan Cote in the opening bout at 145 -- getting a third-period escape for a 6-5 over senior Kevin Bundschuh -- followed by Tim Higginson's 7-1 win over Evan Butka at 152, set the tone for the Red Devils, now 40-12-1 all-time against the Blue Streaks in a series dating to 1960.
Credit Gibble and his staff for weighing in Cote down a weight class -- he lost 2-1 in overtime to Butka in the HWS third-place consolations -- and bumping Higginson up to bolster Central's chances to win the first two bouts.
Pins by Tyler Cote (160) and David Fenton (170) also played huge role in the outcome.
Tyler Cote held only a 3-0 lead after two periods against Xavier Adetula, who took bottom to start the third. Cote locked up a cradle for back points and then used a Peterson roll to earn the fall in 5:34. Fenton, leading 7-1 in the third, used an armbar to deck Ryan Ostir in 4:42.
Sophomore Nestor Crespo really took the wins out of Warren Hills' collective sails with a wild 16-10 decision over Steve Cleaver at 182. Crespo, who blew a big lead and was pinned by Cleaver at the HWS tournament, built a 7-2 lead in the second period before Cleaver got a late reversal to close the gap heading into the third. Cleaver tied the bout at 7 with a takedown, but cut Crespo loose and gave up a five-pointer that turned the tide for good.
Junior Ryan Witner stopped the bleeding with a miraculous 7-6 win over Paul Rallis at 195 -- getting an escape at the buzzer to win it. Witner hit a five-pointer and nearly decked Rallis with a cradle early on, but wilted over the course of three periods.
Gabe Barba's 3-2 win over Tyler Bridygham at 220 was another crushing defeat for Warren Hills, which also lost a key 2-1 decision at 106.
"I think we lacked a sense of urgency when we really need it," said Hosbach, whose team will be off until the North 2, Group 3 sectionals start on Monday, Feb. 11.
HUNTERDON CENTRAL 35, WARREN HILLS 24
145 -- Sr. Dylan Cote (16-6), HC, d. Sr. Kevin Bundschuh (15-8), 6-5.
152 -- Sr. Tim Higginson (18-5), HC, d. Jr. Evan Butka (18-12), 7-1.
160 -- Sr. Tyler Cote (20-3), HC, p. Sr. Xavier Adetula (8-9), 5:34.
170 -- Sr. David Fenton (21-2), HC, p. Jr. Ryan Ostir (15-14), 4:42.
182 -- So. Nestor Crespo (14-6), HC, d. Jr. Steve Cleaver (16-13), 16-10.
195 -- Jr. Ryan Witner (14-15), WH, d. Sr. Paul Rallis (13-8), 7-6.
220 -- Sr. Gabe Barba (10-4), HC, d. Sr. Tyler Bridygham (14-12), 3-2.
285 -- So. Andrew Pacheco (24-5), WH, p. Jr. Dan Hausman (3-6), :34.
106 -- So. Kyler Rodriguez (7-6), HC, d. So. Austin Pidoto (18-9), 2-1.
113 -- Fr. Carsen Johnson (3-0), WH, forfeit.
120 -- So. Max Nauta (24-4), WH p. Fr. Gabino Careaga (1-14), 3:48.
126 -- Sr. Joe Kratochvil (25-4), WH, d. Jr. Dylan Nace (15-8), 2-1.
132 -- Jr. Collin Boylan (19-3), HC, d. Jr. Justin Pidoto (5-6), 6-0.
138 -- Jr. Gary Dinmore (21-0), HC, tf. Sr. Tom Rush (5-24), 25-7, 2:57.
Records -- Hunterdon Central 13-1; Warren Hills 17-7.
Official -- Doug Hesse.