Central be-Deviled by Rebels
It certainly was there for the taking, but Hunterdon Central's wrestling team came up one point short in a 28-27 loss to Howell in a very entertaining Group 5 final. With Delaware Valley winning Group 2 and Phillipsburg in Group 4, the area missed out on three champions in a season for the first time since 1989 -- when those two schools and Central all won titles. The only other time we had three winner was in '87 with P'burg (G4), Del Val (G2) and Voorhees (G3).
The Red Devils (24-3), who set a school record for single-season wins, were unable to deliver the program's second title and first in nearly 30 years. Central dropped to 1-13 all-time in the finals, and coach Jon Cantagallo-Rohm has to be lamenting three critical bouts that got away as Howell (30-1) won the rematch and its first championship -- avenging a 30-29 loss on Jan. 7.
"We had several opportunities to put up wins," said Cantagallo-Rohm, who guided Hunterdon Central to its second sectional title in his three seasons -- the program's 21st overall. "I'm very proud of my guys. Things didn't work out in our favor, we had a few lapses, and not executing. But onward and upward."
Central could not have asked for a better start as junior Hunter Graf started things off with a technical fall at 120, followed by a clutch 9-4 win by senior Peter Nace at 126, as he avenged an earlier 9-5 loss to Darby Dietrich in a battle of state qualifiers. This time, it was Nace putting Diedrich to his back, and nearly getting the fall.
But the first sign of trouble came at 138 pounds. Central went with its plan to insert Pasquale Vizzoni at 132 against region runner-up Kyle Slendorn, who was only able to manage a major decision. Sophomore Vincent Romaniello was a slight favorite against Howell junior Daniel Esposito at 38, but Romaniello lost 2-1 in the ultimate tiebreaker, as he was unable to get out on bottom in two straight 30-second rideout periods. Romaniello won, 8-5, when they met last season.
Another one-point loss by Bryce Hall at 145 swung the momentum temporarily toward Howell, which won three of four, including back-to-back majors at 160 and 170, to take an 18-12 lead with six bouts to go.
But consecutive pins from freshman Julian Heiligtag (182) and senior Michael Iodice (195) appeared to put Central back in control with senior Victor Lacombe on deck at 220. After all, Lacombe had beaten fellow state placewinner Eric Keosseian rather handily, 5-1, when they met a month earlier.
Lacombe was well on his way to another win -- going up 3-1 after a takedown with 34 seconds left in the third period -- and all but sealing the title for the Red Devils when he gave up a takedown at the buzzer to lose 4-3. Several media members and officials thought the period had already expired, but, after a brief consultation with mat judge Ron Fazio confirmed the call by referee Gary Wade -- stunning Lacombe and the Central bench, while Howell erupted in celebration.
"I didn't," said Cantagallo-Rohm when asked if he thought the takedown occurred before the buzzer. "But I'm not an official. They made the final call and we have to live with the decision."
Instead of holding a nine-point lead and needing essentially just one win in the final three bouts, Central needed two. But a decision at 285 and a key major at 106 gave Howell eight bouts and a victory on criteria, forcing the Red Devils to win the finale at 113 pounds by at least a technical fall. But a 6-3 win by sophomore Jack Bauer wasn't enough and the Howell Rebels, who only had four seniors in the lineup, celebrated their history-making victory.
There will be plenty of second-guessing. But should Central, which had to send out first, gone with freshman Lukas Bakerian at 220 -- Keosseian was the only one weighed in there for Howell -- and bumped Lacombe to 285, in order to assure that one win it needed? Well, you also have to consider that Jacob Nash handed Lacombe a 3-1 loss last year, and that Lacombe had won the previous meeting against Keosseian, while Nash won a two-pointer against Angelo Crespo.
Central took its best shot with one of its best and it didn't work out. Simple as that.
GROUP 5 FINAL
HOWELL 28, HUNTERDON CENTRAL 27
120 -- Jr. Hunter Graf (32-1), HC, tf. Jr. Eli Orford (13-11), 16-1.
126 -- Sr. Peter Nace (24-4), HC, d. So. Darby Diedrich (30-3), 9-4.
132 -- Jr. Kyle Slendorn (32-1), H, md. So. Pasquale Vizzoni (9-6), 12-3.
138 -- Jr. Daniel Esposito (30-3), H, d. So. Vincent Romaniello (27-6), 2-1 UTB.
145 -- So. Xavier Kelly (25-5), H, d. Sr. Bryce Hall (26-9), 3-2.
152 -- Jr. Kevin Ciresa (24-4), HC, md. Sr. Nick Sulkowski (15-15), 10-2.
160 -- So. Christian Murphy (29-4), H, md. Sr. Chris Taylor (11-15), 12-2.
170 -- Fr. Shane Reitsma (32-0), H, md. So. Dan Furmato (16-15), 13-4.
182 -- Fr. Julian Heiligtag (11-13), HC, p. Jr. Rashaun Hansford (6-8), :20.
195 -- Sr. Michael Iodice (29-5), HC, p. Sr. Danny Schick (13-13), 3:50.
220 -- Sr. Eric Keosseian (31-2), H, d. Sr. Victor Lacombe (30-2), 4-3.
285 -- Sr. Jacob Nash (25-5), H, d. Jr. Angelo Crespo (18-13), 7-0.
106 -- Jr. Jesse Liptzin (23-8), H, md. Fr. Anthony Romaniello (19-8), 13-5.
113 -- So. Jack Bauer (24-7), HC, d. Fr. Luke Rada (24-7), 6-3.
Records -- Hunterdon Central 24-3; Howell 30-1.
Referees -- Ron Fazio and Gary Wade.
GROUP 5 SEMIFINAL
HUNTERDON CENTRAL 62, PASSAIC TECH 6
113 -- So. Jack Bauer (23-7), HC, md. Fr. Dylan Toy (16-4), 8-0.
120 -- Jr. Hunter Graf (31-1), HC, p. Jr. Loui Hamdeh (23-6), :53.
126 -- Sr. Peter Nace (23-4), HC, p. Sr. Demetrius Pagan (22-7), 1:08.
132 -- So. Christian Vertedor (21-1), PT, d. So. Pasquale Vizzoni (9-5), 8-3.
138 -- Sr. Bryce Hall (26-8), HC, d. Jr. Hamzeh Sheika (22-5), 4-2.
145 -- Jr. Kevin Ciresa (23-4), HC, md. Jr. Cameron Bruffy (21-7), 10-2.
152 -- Sr. Ryack Sanchez (15-6), PT, d. Sr. Chris Taylor (11-14), 10-8 SV.
160 -- So. Dan Furmato (16-14), HC, p. So. Alex Casiano (7-5), 3:40.
170 -- Fr. Julian Heiligtag (10-13), HC, injury over Sr. Nicholas Lepold (17-10).
182 -- Sr. Michael Iodice (28-5), HC, p. Fr. Richard Bowers (0-3), :33.
195 -- Fr. Lukas Bakerian (10-16), HC, d. Jr. Joshua Acevedo (6-8), 7-3.
220 -- Sr. Victor Lacombe (30-1), HC, p. Jr. Tyler Markham (16-3), :51.
285 -- Jr. Angelo Crespo (18-12), HC, p. Sr. Abdulkhaliq Elrias (5-5), 1;31.
106 -- Fr. Anthony Romaniello (19-7), HC, forfeit.
Records -- Hunterdon Central 24-2; Passaic Tech 17-3.
Cougars detoured from the start
What is it with what seem to be never-ending bus stories and Toms River? Kittatinny is the latest team with travel woes. Seems the bus that was scheduled to take the Cougars to Pine Belt Arena never showed on time, leaving coach John Gill scrambling to get another to make their scheduled Group 1 semifinal at 11:30 a.m.
"I called [the dispatcher] and was on hold for awhile. I knew that wasn't good," said Gill, whose team literally got off the new bus and stepped onto the mat for an eventual 39-33 win over Point Pleasant Beach.
Kittatinny (19-5) saw its season end for a second straight year with a loss to Paulsboro in the final -- 44-16, as the Sussex County school won just three bouts. Amazingly, the Cougars were able to survive in the semifinals, but it was far from easy.
Point Pleasant Beach won three of the first four bouts to grab a 12-6 lead and had Kittatinny in another six-point hole with six bouts to go. But the Cougars won four of those, including pins by junior Josh Hiler (170), Josh Klimek (182) and Zach Mafaro (220), to reclaim a six-point lead before the matched hinged on the final bout at 106, where sophomore Derek Molfetto ended the suspense with a pin in 42 seconds.
Curiously, Beach weighed in regular 106-pounder Will Jarvis at 113, leaving backup Jared Kerr to close it out. Jarvis handed Molfetto a 6-2 loss in last year's semifinal.
In all, it was a rough day for Sussex County on the whole as High Point lost a 32-30 heartbreaker to Hanover Park in the Group 2 semifinal, while Sparta dropped a 44-15 decision to champion South Plainfield in the Group 3 semis.
Needing to win the last three bouts, the 'Cats got two decisions from Brandon LaRue (106) and Maverick Liebl (120), but the one that got away was in between at 113, where Devin Flannery watched a 6-5 lead in the third period slip away by giving up a reversal and two back points in a 12-6 loss to Dominic DiFrancescantonio.
"We competed hard. The kids did a good job," said coach John Gardner, who guided High Point to its 25th sectional title on Friday. "We're disappointed, obviously, you don't wrestle to lose. We just came up a little short. We thought coming in we needed to win eight matches, we won seven. We just needed one more. But we have nothing to be ashamed of. Hanover Park is a good team and well coached. Hats off to them."
GROUP 1 FINAL
PAULSBORO 44, KITTATINNY 16
120 -- Sr. Mark DiGeronimo (22-4), K, md. Fr. Jacob Perez (22-8), 9-0.
126 -- Jr. Rick Eli (17-4), P, p. So. Nile Mattar (8-17), 1:22.
132 -- Sr. Anthony Duca (29-3), P, d. Jr. Perry Maio (16-14), 13-8.
138 -- Sr. Joey Perez (28-4), P, md. Jr. Mike Callahan (20-14), 22-9.
145 -- So. George Worthy (20-6), P, d. Jr. Calvin Brook (22-10), 6-4 SV.
152 -- Fr. Brandon Green (28-3), P, d. Sr. Kasey Hotz (20-9), 7-2.
160 -- So. Santino Morina (29-4), P, md. Jr. Shane Smith (26-8), 12-2.
170 -- So. Anthony Morina (20-6), P, d. Jr. Josh Hiler (26-7), 7-2.
182 -- Sr. Josh Klimek (29-4), K, p. Jr. Dimetrius Day (12-6), 3:49.
195 -- Sr. Josh Bailey (14-11), P, d. Fr. Jacob Mafaro (18-9), 4-3.
220 -- Sr. Zach Mafaro (28-5), K, p. Jr. Miles Moore (12-14), 2:09.
285 -- Sr. Frank Mooney (19-9), P, p. Sr. Jake Johnson (2-2), 3:25.
106 -- Fr. Georgio Mazzeo (23-6), P, d. So. Derek Molfetto (17-15), 2-0.
113 -- So. Geno Duca (23-5), P, p. So. Mike Nelson (12-14), 1:05.
Records -- Kittatinny 19-5; Paulsboro 23-0.
GROUP 1 SEMIFINAL
KITTATINNY 39, POINT PLEASANT BEACH 33
113 -- Jr. Will Jarvis (24-5), PB, d. So. Mike Nelson (12-13), 2-1.
120 -- Sr. Mark DiGeronimo (21-4), K, p. Fr. Jesse Bowers (17-11), 1:39.
126 -- Jr. Jude Lovgren (24-4), PB, p. Jr. Dan Doherty (2-7), 2:57.
132 -- Sr. Rodman Rupp (27-2), PB, d. Jr. Perry Maio (16-13), 3-1.
138 -- Jr. Mike Callahan (20-13), K, d. Jr. Jared Hoeler (7-6), 13-7.
145 -- Jr. Calvin Brook (22-9), K, p. Fr. Jason Sherlock (21-5), 4:25.
152 -- Jr. Jimmy Sherlock (29-2), PB, p. Sr. Kasey Hotz (20-8), 1:49.
160 -- Sr. Jason Bowers (23-4), PB, d. Jr. Shane Smith (26-7), 7-0.
170 -- Jr. Josh Hiler (26-6), K, p. Jr. Sean Gould (15-7), :11.
182 -- Sr. Jack Baker (28-1), PB, p. Fr. Jacob Mafaro (18-8), 1:28.
195 -- Sr. Josh Klimek (28-4), K, p. Sr. Cody Liguori (15-11), :55.
220 -- Sr. Zach Mafaro (27-5), K, p. So. Nick Kenmure (19-7), 1:48.
285 -- Sr. Cade Watkins (24-5), PB, p. Jr. Chris Litterio (11-12), 4:39.
106 -- So. Derek Molfetto (17-14), K, p. Fr. Jared Kerr (2-1), :42.
Records -- Kittatinny 19-4; Point Pleasant Beach 22-2.
GROUP 2 SEMIFINAL
HANOVER PARK 32, HIGH POINT 30
126 -- So. Nick Raimo (24-1), Ha, forfeit.
132 -- Sr. Lou Raimo (26-7), Ha, p. Fr. Billy Talmadge (17-10), 1:39.
138 -- Jr. Sean Conley (22-5), Ha, d. Jr. Shane Kobis (18-8), 6-1.
145 -- Jr. Trey Osborn (17-9), HP, d. Sr. Marco Zecca (12-10), 4-1.
152 -- So. Nick Zarra (17-14), Ha, d. Sr. Trevor Kocher (6-10), 4-1.
160 -- Jr. Matt Liberato (16-7), Ha, tf. Jr. Sawyer Fenlon (4-6), 17-1, 3:34.
170 -- Sr. Aric Wingle (22-7), HP, p. Jr. Sebastian Bassolino (13-17), 3:58.
182 -- Sr. Rory DeLuca (24-6), Ha, p. Sr. Matt McDonnell (9-13), 3:24.
195 -- Jr. Hunter Flores (13-5), HP, p. So. Pasquale Dimaiolo (3-19), :14.
220 -- Sr. Cliff Rutter (16-6), HP, p. Jr. Daniel Jimenez (12-15), 3:36.
285 -- Jr. Thomas Hubmaster (16-8), HP, d. Sr. Giancarlo Dellanno (9-14), 4-1.
106 -- So. Brandon LaRue (27-2), HP, d. Fr. Jake Bursese (22-11), 2-0.
113 -- So. Domenic DiFrancescantonio (26-8), Ha, d. So. Devin Flannery (21-3), 12-6.
120 -- Jr. Maverick Liebl (17-7), HP, d. Jr. Michael Rubin (21-9), 4-2.
Records -- High Point 16-6; Hanover Park 17-4.
GROUP 3 SEMIFINAL
SOUTH PLAINFIELD 44, SPARTA 15
126 -- Sr. Jake Giordano (32-2), SP, p. Fr. Cassius Battaglia (3-14), 2;12.
132 -- Fr. Garrett Stewart (25-6), Spa, d. Sr. Jacob Painton (14-20), 6-0.
138 -- So. Joe Sacco (31-3), SP, md. So. Carter Sheridan (17-13), 10-2.
145 -- Sr. Kyle Blythell (29-5), SP, p. Jr. Kevin Berlin (8-11), 3:05.
152 -- Sr. Jake Hoffman (12-8), SP, d. Sr. Sean McHugh (18-13), 5-2.
160 -- Sr. Ben Lundy (25-9), SP, d. Sr. Sean Finnegan (18-14), 4-2.
170 -- Sr. Paddy Finnegan (19-12), Spa, d. So. Brenden Hedden (9-16), 1-0.
182 -- Sr. Ryan Marston (25-9), SP, p. Sr. Mike Freeman (9-22), 4;35.
195 -- Jr. Robert Gennat (26-6), Spa, d. So. Luke Niemeyer (29-3), 5-3.
220 -- So. Zach DelVecchio (33-1), SP, md. Sr. William Loewen (19-4), 18-7.
285 -- Sr. Zach Herbert (23-2), Spa, forfeit.
106 -- So. Thomas Fierro (15-3), SP, d. Fr. Cooper Stewart (14-3), 5-3.
113 -- So. Alex Amato (21-13), SP, d. So. Chris Hwang (13-2), 7-4.
120 -- Jr. Joe Heilmann (33-0), SP, p. So. Rocco Gignatelli (12-18), :38.
Records -- Sparta 19-9; South Plainfield 29-1.
Credit Phillipsburg for picking up the slack without the services of senior 195-pounder Drew Horun, who sat out the Stateliners' run to the Group 4 title. In the final, his absence resulted in what was at least a nine-point swing in a closer-than-expected 35-24 victory over Mendham.
Horun was cleared to wrestle, but coach Dave Post opted to sit one of his top wrestlers. That decision prompted a lineup shift as several wrestlers needed to pack on some pounds on the trip south.
"Guys were pounding water, and we asked [Brian Meyer] to weigh-in at 152 after he worked out for 45 minutes before we left [to make 145]," said Post, who has won five titles in his seven seasons at the helm of his alma mater. "He didn't care, he got to eat. But these guys have faith in [the coaches]. i love these kids and I can't be happier for them."
It also put quite a bit of pressure on some of the middle weights, where P'burg (16-1) was an underdog or just a slight favorite. But they are battle tested. Junior Tyris Manley (12-8) knocked off a returning region qualifier, while sophomore Kyle Tino (12-14) scored a huge 8-3 win over Mendham's Alex Schlegel, who came in with 19 wins. With a break here or there, it could have been a much different match, considering the Minutemen won the first three bouts en route to a 12-0 lead.
You also have to wonder about some of the lineup moves for Mendham. Sophomore Dom DiGena weighed in at 113, instead of 106, negating a matchup with P'burg junior Cullen Day. Instead, DiGena scored a 5-4 win over tough sophomore Travis Jones. Keep an eye on DiGena at 106 this postseason. Also, Brent Bartzak (12-10) wrestled in the semifinal win over Jackson Memorial, but he sat out the final. Wouldn't have changed the outcome, but unless Bartzak was injured, he wins at 182 or 195 against P'burg, and maybe Giuseppe Canino saves points at 220.
Time for changes
There is no doubt that idea to have all of the championships contested under one roof was a stroke of genius, a rare one at that, by the NJSIAA, and an instant success for wrestlers, coaches and fans alike.
But as with most good things, this event is getting spoiled, and not in a good way, with the advent of Group 5 three years ago. Not only has this watered down the tournament, see Group 4 as evidence, but it has cluttered and disrupted what used to be a smooth and streamlined event.
Last year, the chief complaint was the schedule, which left huge gaps in time between the semifinals and finals. In order to tighten things, someone came up with the brilliant idea to wrestle two finals alongside two semifinals. Wrong!
It was embarrassing to the sport to watch Group 2 and Group 3 get lost in the shuffle as the Group 4 semis were going on. The finals deserve to have their just due. And let's face it, this facility is really crowded on the floor, with little room for the wrestlers and coaches, not to mention the media. And could anyone hear the announcer? I mean, when he wasn't giving results that happened an hour before the live action.
I know many, including myself, have advocated for a new facility or to have the Non-Public finals contested off site. The latter is the likely alternative, or at the very least, have them both be the final round at 7 p.m. That way, you can have four mats going with semifinals at 9 a.m. and 11:30, with the finals for both at 2 and 5 p.m. Problem solved on that front.
As for the location, hey, it sucks for people in the northern part of the state who have to travel two hours or more to Toms River. High Point had to leave at 5 a.m., in order to make weigh-ins at 7:30 and wrestle at 9. Not to mention that Phillipsburg wrestled at 7 p.m. -- with just a hardy few souls left in the stands sans the 'Liner faithful -- and probably did not get home until midnight. And yeah, it was a school night after all. But there was no juice in the place, and workers were rolling up the mat used for the Non-Public B final while the Group 4 final was still in progress. What a disgrace.
Many have talked about the Rutgers Athletic Center -- better known as the RAC -- as a logical choice since it's in the middle of the state. But according to one NJSIAA official, it will never happen since the state gets Pine Belt Arena for virtually no cost. Rutgers would likely charge to host.
But a simple schedule change in Toms River would solve some of the issues. Having finals separate from semifinals is a must.