WANTAGE -- It's safe to say that a stern message was received by Kittatinny's wrestling team.
Unhappy with the performance two nights earlier in a 24-point loss to Phillipsburg, coach John Gill challenged his team to bounce back in one of the biggest matches of the season, and the Cougars responded in fine fashion with a 38-23 victory over High Point in the 41st meeting of this storied rivalry before a packed house on Friday night.
Kittatinny (15-1), which suffered a 42-18 defeat at home against P'burg on Wednesday, was much sharper in winning nine bouts, including four key tossups. Sophomore Perry Maio started the night with a huge 2-1 win at 120 pounds to set the tone. Junior Dylan Minter (152) and senior Taylor Molfetto (160) -- both coming off losses -- also added key decisions to help the Cougars snap a two-match skid in this series.
"It started right off the bat [with Maio's win]. Minter and Molfetto won and a lot of things started happening for us," said Gill, who picked up his 530th career victory and is now 12-23-1 all-time against High Point.
High Point (13-6), which had won nine of the previous 10 meetings, needed to win most of the close ones to have a shot at the upset. The loss at 120 hurt off the bat, but sophomore Trey Osborn pulled through with a 2-0 decision at 126 to even the team score. But those losses at 152 and 160 were big and even a 12-point spurt up top with pins at 195 and 220 weren't enough as the 'Cats yielded two pins and two majors.
"It's very, very difficult to beat good teams when you give up that many bonus points," said High Point coach John Gardner, who received a plaque commemorating his 300th coaching win -- a 38-30 victory over Jefferson on Jan. 20 -- during a brief prematch ceremony. "We had situations where we were wrestling well, but you have to finish. We knew and they knew [the tossup] matches would be very important. They got the better of us tonight."
Minter (14-9), a District 3 runner-up last season, converted a takedown with 45 seconds left in the third period for a 3-1 win over Aric Wingle, while Molfetto turned sophomore Rob Turro twice in an impressive 11-3 major that gave Kittatinny a 19-7 lead through seven bouts.
Junior Josh Klimek followed with a 12-4 major at 170 and freshman Zach Mafaro's pin at 182 stretched the lead to 29-7 with five bouts left. Klimek converted a takedown with 10 seconds left in the third period for the additional team point. Mafaro was locked in a tight one with senior Kurt Rosner, who was awarded a penalty point for a slam that tied the bout at 3, before slapping on a cradle for the fall in 3:25 that really got the Kittatinny crowd going.
"Coach Gill stresses getting those extra [team] points to win close matches," said Klimek, who is looking like one of the top 170-pounders in Region 1. "We had a lot of good efforts. This was a big one for us."
Kevin Lewis' pin of Luke DeGroat in 2:31 at 195 halted the visitors' four-match win streak and Cliff Rutter's fall over Nick Simpson at 220 kept High Point in the hunt as it trailed 29-19 with three bouts to go. But Griffin Waldron's 4-0 win at 285 -- in another tossup -- sealed it for Kittatinny, which still trails 13-27-1 in the all-time series.
Another bummer for High Point was senior Jared Kobis, a Region 1 champion, limping off the mat following a 14-1 major of Jake Vanwingerden at 145. Kobis (19-0), who earned his 90th career win, tweaked his right knee in the second period and needed to be helped into the locker room after the bout. He later returned to the bench with an ice pack and crutches nearby. Kobis also has battled shoulder problems for most of his fine career.
"We're hoping it's not serious," Gardner said.
The focus for both teams shifts to next week's sectional tournaments. Kittatinny, the No. 1 seed in North 1, Group 1, will seek the program's 20th championship. High Point, the No. 2 seed in North 1, Group 2, will look to extend its Sussex County record for titles to 25.
"We're four wins away from an awesome season," said Gill, whose team also figures to challenge for a Group 1 championship on Valentine's Day in Toms River. "We have to take them one at a time starting on Wednesday."
As for the 'Cats, who started only four seniors in this one, Gardner is hoping the underclassmen, including five starting sophomores and a freshman, keep this loss in mind down the road.
"Hopefully, we'll get better from this. I'm not talking for tomorrow, but hopefully they'll remember when Kittatinny comes back here in two years," he said. "If that happens, then this won't all be a negative."
KITTATINNY 38, HIGH POINT 23
120 -- So. Perry Maio (16-9), K, d. Sr. Justin Liebl (18-11), 2-1.
126 -- So. Trey Osborn (14-12), HP, d. So. Calvin Brook (15-9) 2-0.
132 -- Sr. Nick Klinger (25-1), K, d. So. Shane Kobis (19-11), 3-2.
138 -- Sr. Austin Scrivani (24-1), K, p. Fr. Oviane Marsh (0-6), 1:45.
145 -- Sr. Jared Kobis (19-0), HP, md. Sr. Jake Vanwingerden (17-9), 14-1.
152 -- Jr. Dylan Minter (14-9), K, d. Jr. Aric Wingle (13-5), 3-1.
160 -- Sr. Taylor Molfetto (16-6), K, md. So. Rob Turro (15-9), 11-3.
170 -- Jr. Josh Klimek (20-5), K, md. Sr. Liam Gorman (15-12), 12-4.
182 -- Fr. Zach Mafaro (19-5), K, p. Sr. Kurt Rosner (0-6), 3:25.
195 -- Sr. Kevin Lewis (20-8), HP, p. Sr. Luke DeGroat (12-12), 2:31.
220 -- Jr. Cliff Rutter (12-15), HP, p. Sr. Nick Simpson (11-10), 1:46.
285 -- Sr. Griffin Waldron (5-7), K, d. So. Thomas Hubmaster (4-12), 4-0.
106 -- Fr. Devin Flannery (21-6), HP, md. Fr. Derek Molfetto (9-14), 14-1.
113 -- Jr. Mark DiGeronimo (18-5), K, forfeit.
Records -- Kittatinny 15-1; High Point 13-6.
Officials -- Barry Jackson and Tim Wyatt.