Friday, March 8, 2013

Wrestling: Winning is the thing for HWS title hopefuls

The first two rounds of the 80th New Jersey State Wrestling Championships are in the books. As usual, it's all a blur with eight mats going non-stop on Friday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Delaware Valley's Mike Pongracz, Hunterdon Central's Gary Dinmore and Voorhees' Jadaen Bernstein all marched into the quarterfinals on Saturday at noon, while High Point moved three of its four -- Mike DerinJason Gaccione and Kyle Stoll -- into the final eight at their respective weights.

The tournament resumes at 10 a.m. on Saturday with the first round of wrestlebacks (Friday night losers) followed by the quarterfinals and another round of wrestlebacks at noon. The third round of wrestlebacks are slated for 5 p.m., with the semifinals and fourth round of wrestlebacks to follow at 7 p.m.

Perhaps the most impressive first-round performance was turned in by Newton's Josh Sibblies, who decked Franklin's Kurtis Hewitt in 1:19. Sibblies (35-4), the Region 1 champion in his first AC appearance, converted the opening takedown, before trapping Hewitt's arm across his back and working the Somerset County wrestler over for the quick fall.

Here's a recap of what else went down involving Open Mike area wrestlers. There are 11 area wrestlers alive in the quarterfinals, with 19 dropping into the wrestlebacks with a chance to finish as high as third place. New this year is that first-round losers are still eligible to wrestle.

One tough Terrier

Pongracz had to work a little harder than expected for his 4-3 win over Williamstown's Anthony Racobaldo.

Pongracz (32-0) escaped and converted a takedown off a dump with 35 seconds left in the second period to erase a 2-0 deficit. Pongracz, now 145-14 overall, cut Racobaldo (37-5) loose late in the third to cap the scoring.

“He took me down in the first period and I knew I needed to get those points back,” said Pongracz, a senior, who gave up the first two points off a low-single shot with 20 seconds left in the first period. “I just needed to hold him down and ride tough on top.”

That’s exactly what Pongracz, a tough leg rider, is known for. Surprisingly, Racobaldo took bottom to start the third down, 3-2, considering he got the first takedown early in the bout.

“I thought he was going to take neutral,” said Pongracz, who finished eighth as a sophomore and fifth a year ago. “I was relieved.”

Pongracz, who is at a killer weight class, will face South Plainfield’s Corey Stasenko (sixth at 145 last year) in the quarterfinals. The Del Val wrestler is looking to become his school’s first winner since Dan Kelly in 2007.

Man with a plan

Dinmore, a runner-up at 132 pounds last year, built a 12-0 lead before decking West Orange’s George Luis Terrero in 2:57 at 138 pounds. Dinmore (34-0), a three-time Region 5 champion, has taken a different approach in his third trip to AC as one of the favorites to make the finals.

Hardly anyone is giving Dinmore a chance in the rematch with three-time champion Anthony Ashnault of South Plainfield, who beat Dinmore, 5-2, in last year’s 132-pound final. Ashnault (38-0) ran his career mark to 167-0 with a technical fall win in the pre-quarters.

“I’m not as [unknown here] as I was before,” said Dinmore, now 93-11 for his career and will face Jackson Memorial’s Brian Hamann in the quarterfinals. “It makes me wrestle every match like it’s my last one, like it’s the greatest match ever. I have more of an idea what to do. I have a goal -- to win the whole thing.”

Dinmore’s win was the lone bright spot for Central, which saw five of its six qualifiers fall on the night. Dylan Nace (126), Collin Boylan (132), Tim Higginson (145), Tyler Cote (160) and David Fenton (170) all fell into the wrestlebacks, which begin at 10 on Saturday morning.

Victorious Viking

Bernstein, a runner-up at 160 in 2011 and seventh last year at that weight, is on the other side. The Voorhees senior is a consensus favorite to win this year’s 170-pound title. He opened his third and final state tournament in dominating fashion -- a 12-3 major of Lacey’s Luke Fernandez. Bernstein (40-0) is looking to become the Hunterdon County school’s fifth state champ and first since John Brienza won the 130-pound title in 1998.

“I knew [Fernandez] was a tough kid and he had a good shot [for takedowns],” said a fired-up Bernstein, who will meet Watchung Hills’ Mike Carroccia in the quarters. “I just had to take that away and dominate. I’m feeling good -- and doing everything possible to win a state title.”

Lion with heart

Pomrinca (37-3) continued his amazing run of overtime wins and knocking off fellow state placewinners with a 3-2 decision in the ultimate tiebreaker over Marc Mastropietro of Hasbrouck Heights/Wood-Ridge at 120 pounds. Pomrinca, who defeated Mastropietro, 4-3, on a last-second takedown for seventh place last year at 113, finished third at Region 5 with wins over two state medal winners in the wrestlebacks.

It’s not by design, but Pomrinca has stepped up his training for those OT situations during recent practice sessions. It’s paying off with big wins, as he escaped with 11 seconds left to advance to the quarterfinals for the second straight year.

“Either [teammate] Matt Moncourtois or someone else takes turns riding me for 30 seconds or I try to hold them down for 30 seconds,” said Pomrinca, now 76-8 overall. “My first match [a 1-0 decision over West Deptford’s Tyler Kaminski] I was a little nervous. After my match with Craig [Bound Brook’s De La Cruz] I definitely worked on getting out [on bottom].”

Back points

How about Warren Hills senior Joe Kratochvil? The senior, who was 5-20 as a freshman, moved into the quarterfinals with 6-5 win over Ridgewood's Joseph Oliva at 126 pounds. Earlier, Kratochvil posted a 5-3 win over Cherokee's D.J. Mele.

Kratochvil (33-6) will face Watchung Hills junior Mike Magaldo, a 2012 state champion, in the Round of 8.

Teammate Max Nauta made it two of three Blue Streaks in the quarters as the sophomore earned a 5-0 decision over Bridgewater-Raritan's Matt Noble at 113 pounds. Nauta draws Clifton's Jean DuBois in the quarters.

Phillipsburg's Jimmy Schuitema is the lone Stateliner still going in the winners' bracket and needed overtime to do it as he won a tight 6-4 match in sudden victory against South Brunswick's Jordan Pagano at 152. Schuitema earned a date with South Plainfield's Dylan Painton in the quarterfinals.

Brandon Paetzell (106), Anthony Johnson (132), Max Elling (138) and Jake Kocsis (160) are the P'burg wrestlers in the wrestlebacks. They are joined by High Point's Bobby McDonnell (220), Lenape Valley's Peter Lipari (120) and Matt Benvenuto (138), Kittatinny's Nick Romyns (145) and Kieran Gerrity (170), North Warren's Matt Ritchie (120), Pope John's Noa Merritt (285), Belvidere's J.B. Lawson (220) and Ryan Appleby (285) and Warren Hills' Andrew Pacheco (285).

Region numbers

Regions 3 advanced the most wrestlers to the quarterfinals with 20. Region 2 is next with 16. Region 5 has 15, Region 6 has 14 and Regions 7 and 8 each have 13. Region 1 is next-to-last with 12 and Region 4 has only 9 in the Round of 8.

Region 4 was tied with Region 3 (16) for the most quarterfinalists a year ago.

A unique occurrence at 182, where there is one wrestler from each of the eight regions in the quarters. Region 3 has all three left at 120.

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