Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wrestling: 'Cats nip Cougars in sectional thriller

HAMPTON -- It wasn't hard to figure that Sussex County's most fierce wrestling rivalry just might boil down to the final few bouts. In that event, High Point junior Kevin Lewis and senior Henry Kuperus were more than prepared -- at least from a mental standpoint.

The duo came up aces with a pin at 220 and a decision at 285, respectively, as the No. 6 seeded Wildcats pulled out a thrilling 32-31 victory over No. 3 Kittatinny in the North 1, Group 2 quarterfinals on Tuesday night before packed and raucous crowd at Kittatinny Regional High School.

High Point (6-8), which has won five straight sectional titles and nine of the last 10 meetings against Kittatinny, next travels to No. 2 Pequannock for a semifinal matchup on Wednesday night. The winner will face either No. 1 Lenape Valley or No. 5 Pascack Hills -- a 31-29 winner over No. 4 Emerson-Park Ridge -- in Friday's championship match.

"We have to take a look at Pequannock and figure out a way to get through that match," said 'Cats coach John Gardner, whose squad dropped a 39-31 heartbreaker to Lenape Valley on Jan. 6. "To think beyond [Wednesday] is pointless. We have to be prepared to win [in the semis]."

"We've been working real hard in practice, just trying to get better every match," said Kuperus, who sealed the win over Kittatinny with a 10-4 decision over Griffin Waldron in the finale at heavyweight.

Kuperus (7-15), who countered two headlock attempts for takedowns in the third period to ice it, decked Waldron in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament.

"I knew he was going to try for the headlocks," Kuperus said. "I've been working with Kevin Lewis all week on defending that. It feels good to get a win."

Wins have been hard to come by this season for a mostly inexperienced group of High Point upperweights. Entering this one, the 'Cats were a combined 11-45 among the wrestlers they sent out from 170-285, sans Lewis at 220, the only one of the bunch with a winning record. Lewis (20-9) set the table for Kuperus by cradling Nick Simpson for a pin in 26 seconds.

"It's exciting," Lewis said of his first rivalry match. "It was a little nerve-wracking. We knew there would be a big crowd and it's a big match. We knew [when they drew the 106 starting weight] that it would come down to us. We had to get prepared to win."

Kittatinny (9-9) suffered the rare first-round sectional exit, its first since being upended by Pascack Hills in the North 1, Group 2 semifinals in 1999. Coach John Gill's teams had been to 15 straight finals since, winning the last four North 1, Group 1 titles and missing only in 2009 and '10 with losses to Newton in title matches during that stretch. Adding in a loss to Hopatcong in the 1997 North 1, Group 2 final, and amazingly, the Cougars had competed in every sectional final since 1993, sans that semis upset in '99.

"I'm disappointed. We haven't exited this early in a long time," said Gill, who has guided the program to 19 sectional championships, which is tied with Hunterdon Central for sixth-best all-time in New Jersey, in his 35 seasons. "It hurts. We've got quite a bunch of numbers that take up two banners [on the gym wall]."

Kittatinny started off on a great note with Mark DiGeronimo's pin of Malcolm Sinclair at 106 pounds, a big bonus considering DiGeronimo (21-5) scored an 8-0 major decision when they met at the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament last month.

"When we got pinned at 106, I thought we were in trouble," said Gardner, now 9-8 all-time vs. Kittatinny in 17 seasons.

Leading up to the match, both coaches felt like 113 and 285 were critical bouts. High Point coach John Gardner went as far as to call them "must wins" for his team and sophomore Chase Babus came through with a clutch 4-2 win in sudden-victory overtime against Kittatinny freshman Perry Maio at 113. Babus converted a takedown with 23 seconds left to pull the 'Cats within three on the scoreboard.

"Chase and Henry have both come up short in spots this season," Gardner said. "I'm really happy that tonight they came out and [won]."

The first sign of trouble for Kittatinny came in the next bout, where heavily-favored Nick Klinger could not score bonus points in an 11-4 win over freshman Shane Kobis at 120. Klinger had the major in hand, but he was instructed by his coaches to cut Kobis loose with 52 seconds left in the third period. A stall warning on Kobis with 30 seconds to go made things a bit tenuous, but the frosh fought off a late takedown attempt to hold it at three points.

"We had 30 seconds to make it a four-pointer," said Gill, now 11-23-1 all-time vs. High Point. "I would have liked to see the rule book [for the criteria list] at 32-32. We thought 113 was a tossup and that was 2-2 late in the third, and 285. We needed to get one of the two and we didn't get either one."

"With the season we've had so far, it's been almost as important not to give up points in spots than it is to win," Gardner said. "It's team wrestling. That's the way it has to be."

In turn, High Point senior and state qualifier Dom Gallo also came up short in his bid for bonus with a 7-3 decision over Taylor Molfetto at 126. Kittatinny then broke the match open with back-to-back pins from Austin Scrivani and Dylan Minter at 132 and 138 to give their team a 21-6 lead through six bouts.

Without the services of Aric Wingle (concussion) at 138, Gardner elected to weigh-in stars Jared Kobis and Jason Gaccione up a weight each in order to box in Kittatinny's Jake Vanwingerden at 145. The move worked as Kobis (22-0) racked up a technical fall win over Vanwingerden, while Gaccione decked Trevor Schutte at 152 for his 133rd career victory.

Ryan Cullen followed with a pin at 160 and the 'Cats had their first lead of the night, 23-21, through nine bouts. Needing to at least hold the fort from 170-195, High Point surrendered just one bonus point as Josh Klimek registered a 14-3 major of Kurt Rosner. Luke DeGroat and Tyler Wehrenberg added decisions at 182 and 195 to give the Cougars a 31-23 lead with two bouts left, making for a wild and suspense-filled finish in the first postseason meeting and the 40th overall between these archrivals since 1976. It's also the closest margin of victory since High Point's 24-23 triumph in 1995.

High Point and Kittatinny had resided in the same North 1, Group 2 section just once previously in 1981, where Saddle Brook came away with the title.

"It was a great match. It just feels bad to be on the wrong end," Gill said. "They have a great [coaching] staff over there. Their average kids were just a little bit better than ours."

106 -- So. Mark DiGeronimo (21-5), K, p. Fr. Malcolm Sinclair (8-12), 5:09.
113 -- So. Chase Babus (4-8), HP, d. Fr. Perry Maio (8-14), 4-2 SV.
120 -- Jr. Nick Klinger (25-2), K, d. Fr. Shane Kobis (7-9), 11-4.
126 -- Sr. Dom Gallo (14-3), HP, d. Jr. Taylor Molfetto (11-14), 7-3.
132 -- Jr. Austin Scrivani (28-1), K, p. Fr. Sawyer Fenlon (2-5), 1:18.
138 -- So. Dylan Minter (10-5), K, p. Sr. Trevor Risdon (1-4), 1:52.
145 -- Jr. Jared Kobis (22-0), HP, tf. Jr. Jake Vanwingerden (19-8), 16-1, 4:25.
152 -- Sr. Jason Gaccione (29-1), HP, p. Sr. Trevor Schutte (6-17), 4:25.
160 -- Sr. Ryan Cullen (11-11), HP, p. So. Cody Mitchell (2-18), 2:51.
170 -- So. Josh Klimek (15-12), K, md. Jr. Kurt Rosner (2-18), 14-3.
182 -- Jr. Luke DeGroat (5-19), K, d. Jr. Liam Gorman (1-9), 4-0.
195 -- Sr. Tyler Wehrenberg (14-13), K, d. Jr. Tim Space (2-6), 5-3.
220 -- Jr. Kevin Lewis (20-9), HP, p. Jr. Nick Simpson (3-15), :26.
285 -- Sr. Henry Kuperus (7-15), HP, d. Jr. Griffin Waldron (11-15), 10-4.
Records -- High Point 6-8; Kittatinny 9-9.

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