Gapas wowed those in attendance with his match to the 132-pound title, while Melise was among five to repeat as champions with his pin in the 220-pound final to highlight the eighth annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament on Saturday at Hopatcong High School.
Gapas won arguably the toughest and deepest weight class by decking state qualifier and 2016 runner-up Robert Garcia of Pope John, which edged Hunterdon Central (196-193) for the team title. The Lions joined Kittatinny (2016) and High Point (2010) as the only Sussex schools to win team championship.
"I just tried to wrestle as hard as I could," said Gapas, who earned the Outstanding Wrestler Award and knocked off returning champion Matt Valli of Warren Hills for the second time in four days with a 3-2 decision in the semifinals. "If it worked out [being the OW], it worked out."
Gapas (18-1), a fifth-place finisher a year ago, scored two takedowns in the first period, giving up a reversal in between for a 5-2 lead after one period. Garcia (17-3), who finished third in Region 1 last season as a freshman, took bottom to start the second. Instead of cutting Garcia to go neutral, Gapas opted to ride and gave up another reversal. That was his last mistake -- getting a takedown near the edge and switching over to a headlock for the pin in 3:02.
"I thought about letting him go, but I am confident on top with my riding," said Gapas, who put in a lot of time at various clubs during the offseason. "I knew I could ride him and probably have a good chance of turning him. It was so exciting. [When he was on his back] I kept saying, 'Yes, let's get this done. He's a great wrestler."
Melise, a state finalist last season, made it back-to-back titles at 220 by decking fellow placewinner Victor Lacombe of Hunterdon Central with a cradle in 1:12. The win was extra sweet for Melise, who took exception when Central opted to bump Lacombe away to 285 in the dual meet on Wednesday -- a 34-24 win for the Stateliners.
Melise (16-2) pinned Lacombe -- with, you guessed it, a cradle in overtime last season in their only other meeting.
"I was really ticked off, but [the Central coaches] did what they had to do to try and win the dual meet," said Melise, who picked up his 99th win overall in the process. "I love wrestling the best wrestlers. It's what makes me better. He just kind of gave me [the cradle]. He posted up and I could feel his knee slide up to try and get out of it. I cross-faced and locked it up."
Palumbo puts it on repeat
After providing one of the most entertaining finals a year ago, Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo and Phillipsburg junior Brian Meyer gave us another thriller at 145, where Palumbo came through with another pin, this time in 5:52. There were a total of seven falls and one technical fall in the championship round.
Palumbo (19-0) displayed some serious horsepower in this title run, but put himself in some bad spots in the process -- giving up a reversal while attempting a spladle in the first period and a takedown in the second while trying to muscle Meyer, a Region 1 champion last season.
"He was pretty strong," said Palumbo, who pinned Meyer in 1:41 in last year's title bout at 145. "It wasn't very smart by me."
Palumbo, who led 5-4 after two periods, finally put Meyer away with a headlock. A rematch between the two never materialized last year as Palumbo lost in the region semifinals, but rallied the following weekend to finish third in the state. Palumbo is his school's eighth county champ and the first to win multiple titles.
"It feels awesome," said Palumbo, who is among just 22 wrestlers in tournament history to win at least two championships. "I feel like I didn't wrestle my best. I felt slow. This is the first time I've made scratch weight [at 145 in awhile.]"
Young Lions lead the way
With a trio of champs and five in the finals, Pope John made tournament history by joining Kittatinny as the first Sussex County schools to win back-to-back team championships.
Sophomore Joe Aragona (120) and junior Jake Rotunda (126) were repeat winners, while freshman Eddie Ventresca (113) burst onto the scene by winning his first title for the Lions. Garcia and Reece Mulduun (160) were runners-up.
Aragona (13-0) had a much rougher go than his teammates in a 2-0 win over Hunterdon Central junior Hunter Graf in a battle of unbeaten state placewinners. A first-period takedown was the difference.
Rotunda (16-2) built an 8-0 lead before pinning impressive Delaware Valley freshman Gage Crater with a half in 1:11. Crater (13-6) had the place rocking in the semifinals by decking Hunterdon Central state qualifier and two-time county runner-up Peter Nace.
Ventresca was in class by himself at 113, working Phillipsburg sophomore Travis Jones for a 19-4 technical fall win in 4:36.
Gapas was one of three champions for an improving North Hunterdon team, as the Lions finished fourth in the team race. Seniors Cole Marra (152) and Charlie Tordik (285) also won their first county titles after runner-up finishes in 2016. North ranks second on the all-time county champions list with 15, just four behind Phillipsburg.
Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner showed that he could be in for a special season with a dominating 5-1 victory over Phillipsburg senior Drew Horun, who was derailed in his bid for a second title. After riding Horun the entire second period, Lightner took bottom in the third and grabbed a 3-0 lead with a takedown 19 seconds in. He converted a second at the buzzer to ice it.
Voorhees senior Michael Fernandes finally got over the tri-county finals hump -- decking Warren Hills junior Jarod Ostir in 1:51 to win the 170-pound title. Fernandes (17-0), who twice finished second at 160 pounds, is the Vikes' sixth champion overall and first since Kyle DiNapoli won at 113 in 2014.
Hunterdon Central, which went 1-2 in the finals and was three points shy in the team chase, saw senior Michael Iodice win his second title -- pinning Kittatinny senior Josh Klimek in 3:44 for the 182-pound gold. Nace opted to forfeit his third-place match against High Point freshman Billy Talmadge, so the team race could have been even tighter.
Phillipsburg finished out of the top two in the team standings for just the second time in tournament history. The 'Liners, who had their run of five straight titles snapped by Kittatinny last year, finished 13th in 2010, when quite a few regulars missed the inaugural event. Junior Cullen Day (106) joined Melise as the Warren County school's 18th and 19th champs.
Delaware Valley senior Matt Kolonia (18-1) can attest to how tough it is to win a title in this rugged tournament as he lost a heartbreaking 5-3 decision to Hackettstown junior Alex Carida in a battle of state placewinners at 138. Kolonia, a two-time runner-up and 100-match winner, finished fourth as a freshman and fifth as a sophomore.
Hackettstown got its third champion overall and first in six years as Carida (17-2) rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the final 26 seconds against Kolonia. The Tigers' previous winners were Andrew Scudder (2010) and Ryan Nicotra (2011).
Warren Hills had a tough day and finished without a champion for the first time since 2012 and just the third tournament overall. Ostir was the Blue Streaks' lone finalist, while Valli, last year's OW, finished fourth at a brutal weight. Seniors Zach Nauta (145) and Taylan Zafis (285) placed third, while junior Kyle Wulff (120) was fourth. Wulff knocked off Del Val's A.J. DeRosa, 5-2, in the quarters after losses in two previous meetings this season.
Newton, which saw its run with at least one finalist end last year, had a runner-up in sophomore Wyatt McCarthy (152). Junior Jonathon Borgognoni (160) was third, while senior Nick Giordano (145) and junior Joseph DeLuca (182) were fourth for the Braves. Only Pope John (7), Hunterdon Central (6), Phillipsburg (5) and Warren Hills (5) had more semifinalists than the Braves (4).
High Point jumped up four spots in the team standings after finishing 11th last year. The Wildcats did not produce a finalist for the second straight tournament after going three straight with a champion. Sophomore Brandon LaRue (106) and Talmadge were third, while Aric Wingle (160) took fourth.
Kittatinny junior Shane Smith may have been the most unlikely champ -- pinning Mulduun in 1:25 to win the 160-pound title. As was the case in the semifinals against Borgognoni, a flying cement job was the winning move.