Sunday, March 3, 2013

Wrestling: Final rundown from Regions 1,5

As we head into the final week of the season -- "Hard to believe, Harry," to quote late Phillies broadcaster Richie Ashburn -- here are some final thoughts and observations from what was a great and also bizarre weekend in Region 1 at Wallkill Valley Regional High School.

Also, I want to point out some noteworthy happenings that went down at Region 5 over at Hunterdon Central involving wrestlers from Hunterdon County.

Three-times the fun

Voorhees senior Jadaen Bernstein and Hunterdon Central junior Gary Dinmore captured their third Region 5 titles on Saturday, as the area had a light total of state qualifiers.

Bernstein is only the fourth Viking to win three region championships -- joining Glenn Hall (1980-82), Dan Moody (1981-82) and current head coach Eric Hall (1993-96), the only wrestler to win four at the Hunterdon County school.

Bernstein is the area's best shot at a state championship this weekend in Atlantic City. The state runner-up at 160 pounds in 2011, who owns a career mark of 132-18, is looking to become Voorhees' fifth state champion and first since John Brienza in 1998. Glenn Hall ('81), Lee Getz ('82) and Dan Moody ('83) also won titles for the Vikes.

Dinmore is the fifth Hunterdon Central wrestler to win three region titles -- joining Tom Gibble (1978, 1980-81), Mike Darlington (1986-88), Ken Hall (1993-95) and Pat Strizki (2005-07).

Dinmore, who finished second in the state at 132 last year, is 92-11 overall and is seeking the Red Devils' first state title since Alex Shaffer became their 12th in 2010.

One for the books

Delaware Valley senior Mike Pongracz hopes to end a fantastic career with a state championship on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall. The two-time state placewinner closed out the second phase of the postseason in style with his second Region 5 title -- the Terriers' 42nd overall and 16th since moving from Region 1 in 2001.

Pongracz is the sixth Del Val wrestler to win at least two titles -- joining Jeff Segreaves (1974-75), Jamie Wicks (1987-88), Brent Conly (1991-93), Dan Kelly (2005-07) and Kris Sigafoos (2005-07).

Speaking of Kelly, Pongracz eclipsed the Hunterdon-Warren wins record previously held by Kelly (142-12 from 2003-07), with his 2-0 win over Hunterdon Central's Dylan Nace in the semifinals. Pongracz is 144-14 heading to AC as the Terriers' lone qualifier.

Say what?

Once again, I really hate to bag on officials because they have a thankless and tough job. But the officiating this past week at Region 1 was among the worst I have seen in my 20-plus years of covering this sport, not  to mention another 10 as a fan.

The controversy didn't stop on Wednesday, where Lenape Valley's Joe LaBell was absolutely hosed on a stall call at the buzzer and eventually lost to Kittatinny's David Popek in sudden victory. The call infuriated  Patriots coach Doug Vetter, who exited a side door along with referee Frank Leitner to further voice his displeasure with the outcome.

I spoke to Vetter on Saturday about the incident and being the gentleman that he is, Vetter said he wanted to get things off his chest outside the building as to not create a further scene in full view of the capacity crowd. It was not his intent to start a fight with Leitner, as many surmised from watching the two exit the gym.

Unfortunately, Lenape Valley was on the other end of a horrendous situation on Saturday, when D.J. Barrett won an overtime bout against High Point's Antonio Porraspita in the 170-pound wrestlebacks.

Porraspita originally was declared a 1-0 winner on a locked hands point in the final seconds of regulation -- getting his hand raised and leaving the mat area. Referee Bob DeFalco and his mat judge confirmed the call before ending the bout, then changed it after discussing things again after the conclusion. A search for Porraspita ensued and he returned to the mat along with irate Wildcats coach John Gardner.

Apparently, there was a buzzer malfunction and it was deemed that the locked hands infraction occurred after the period had in fact ended. Making matters worse, Porraspita appeared to sustain a leg injury in OT. Needless to say the whole thing stunk to high heaven. I have never seen a wrestler leave the mat after being declared the winner, only to be brought back to resume action. I hope to never see it again.

And one more from Wallkill Valley. Referee Dave Marotta was involved in one of the more embarrassing scenes you will see when he, along with the official scorekeeper, apparently lost track of the score in the third-place bout at 160 between P'burg's Jake Kocsis and Morris Hills' Steve Acevedo.

The score should have been 6-4 in the third period, not, 7-3, as was on the scoreboard and on the official bout sheet. Morris Hills coach Joe Barchetto vehemently protested it was the wrong score to no avail. Marotta was clearly lost and said he had to go with what was on the official scorer's sheet -- a big difference going from a four-point to a two-point deficit. It forced Acevedo to go for big moves instead of just the tying takedown. There's no excuse for a referee to lose track of a bout score.

Afterward, Barchetto, still very upset, double-checked himself by reviewing the bout on a camcorder and went over to Marotta to explain where the ref went wrong. Marotta's responses of "What do you want me to do about it now," in addition to, "Well [Kocsis] got another takedown anyway," didn't exactly sit well with Barchetto.

Back points

Belvidere crowned a pair of Region 1 champions in the same year for only the fourth time in school history, as seniors J.B. Lawson (220) and Ryan Appleby (285) became the 18th and 19th winners for the County Seaters.

The other double-winners for the Warren County school were in 1995 (Matt Tresslar and Josh Cowley), 1998 (Josh Tresslar and Bryon Lauer) and 2000 (Ron Schroeder and Josh Costantino).

Phillipsburg's Brandon Paetzell prevailed with his first Region 1 title in a tough 106-pound class. In doing so, Paetzell (32-5) is one win from setting the school's single-season record for victories by a ninth-grader and is the first Stateliners freshman to win a region title since John Rutledge won the first of his three championships in 1977.

A testament to the great wrestling that went on in Region 1 was the usual agreeing and disagreeing with the voting of the Outstanding Wrestler Award. I though the choice of Newton's Josh Sibblies was right on the money. The No. 7 seed won a very tough 182-pound weight class -- beating the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 while knocking off Belvidere's Evan Bray, a returning champ, in the semifinals.

Warren Hills' Max Nauta (113), High Point's Mike Derin (132) and Roxbury's Dillon Artigliere (160) would have been fine choices as well.

Nauta, who beat the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, is the first winner for the Blue Streaks since Jon Slack (285 in 2010). Derin helped High Point (41 champions) move within one of third place for the most number of winners by a school in this region. Randolph has been stuck on 42 since its last champion -- Mike Suk in 2008. Only Dover (Wayne Stevenson in 1986) and Vernon (Don Quimby in 1996) have a longer title droughts.

The Region 1 Hall of Fame's Class of 2014 is a great group, with legendary Washington/Warren Hills coach John Goles headlining the field. The late Goles should have been included with the first bunch in 2006 and will rightfully take his place in the Hall next year. Gene Mills, Matt Valenti and the Rossi brothers, Carmine and Sam, will also be inducted. Kittatinny's Roman Fleszar was the lone member of the Class of 2013 -- the 15th member of the prestigious Hall of Fame.

Region 1 celebrated its 30th anniversary at Wallkill Valley, which opened its doors for the 1982-83 school year. The tournament was previously held at Phillipsburg, which hosted the 1982 tournament before the event shifted to Sussex County. I was planning on doing a retrospective on the years at Wallkill Valley, but there are far too many great memories to list. Suffice it to say, this tournament has been my personal favorite for 30 years and let's hope it stays right here for another 30. Besides the wrestling, you can't beat that smell of popcorn in the air. Next year won't come quick enough!

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