HAMPTON TWP. -- Kittatinny junior Perry Maio is making a habit of producing clutch wins in one of the biggest rivalry matches in this neck of the woods.
Maio's 3-0 decision over talented High Point freshman Billy Talmadge at 132 pounds was the turning point as the Cougars went on to a 36-25 victory on Friday night before a crowd of 1,000 in the 42nd meeting between these Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference and Sussex County rivals.
Kittatinny (15-4) has now won two straight in this series for the first time since a seven-match streak from 1999-2005. Maio got things started in the opening bout last season with a 2-1 win that sent the Cougars on to a 38-23 victory in Wantage.
But Friday night's win ranks among the biggest of Maio's career -- perhaps his finest effort.
"This is my best win so far," said Maio, who converted a huge takedown with 56 seconds left in the third period after Talmadge got in deep on a high-crotch attempt. "We knew they were bumping their lineup and there would be some tossups. [Talmadge] is a very tough freshman and I knew that I couldn't sit on a 1-0 lead. I got my hips up, and I was able to come out on top in the scramble."
For longtime coach John Gill, seeing his team come up big up-and-down the lineup was especially rewarding, and against a team that has given him fits over his outstanding career. But Maio's win made Gill especially happy.
"That was a big, big turning point for us ... a huge six-point swing," said Gill, now 13-23-1 overall vs. High Point. "Perry Maio has been wrestling every stud on the other teams we've faced. The kid was around .500 and he's got some improving to do, but maybe today will be a season-turner for him. He was focused and has matured a lot. He hasn't had a great year, but I'm very happy for him."
High Point (13-5), which has lost three of the last five meetings and still holds a 27-14-1 lead in the series, won seven bouts, but simply did not get enough bonus points where it was heavily favored in the lower weights, in addition to losing a key bout at 132. As he did last weekend against Cranford, 'Cats coach John Gardner forfeited the final bout with the outcome still in doubt -- at least on the scoreboard -- as Kittatinny had a five-point lead when stunned senior Josh Klimek (24-4) got his hand raised at 195.
"We were being realistic with what we had in front of us," said Gardner, who did have junior Hunter Flores (11-4) weighed in at 195 and had earlier given sophomore 170-pounder Grayson Sabo (7-9) the night off. "We understood what we were up against. No disrespect to our kids, but we need all hands on deck for sectionals [starting on Monday]. But hats off to Kittatinny."
Kittatinny sophomore Zach Mafaro got the place rocking in the opening bout at 220 with his pin of former district runner-up Cliff Rutter in 1:46 -- using a headlock and then a body press for the fall. But junior Thomas Hubmaster's 6-3 win at 285 sparked a four-bout run that gave High Point a 16-6 lead through five bouts. But Kittatinny saved some points as heavily-favored Brandon LaRue could only muster a 4-0 win over Derek Molfetto at 106, before freshman Devon Liebl came through with a 16-4 major at 113, as Gardner bumped his lineup from 113-126.
After Devin Flannery's pin at 120, Kittatinny seized back the momentum as two-time district champion Mark DiGeronimo twice put Maverick Liebl on his back before getting the pin with a near-side cradle in 2:44.
"Our job is to get bonus points and not give them up," Gardner said. "We gave up a lot of bonus points and [Kittatinny] did a real good job of getting them."
Maio's win cut the deficit to 16-15, but High Point won at 138 and 145 to stretch the lead to seven. Junior Trey Osborn got a takedown off a bearhug with one second left in sudden-victory overtime for a 4-2 win over Calvin Brook at 145. Osborn won, 3-1, when they met in January at the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament.
But Kittatinny won four of the last five bouts, including a pin by junior Shane Smith at 160 that gave the Cougars their first lead since the opening bout -- 24-22. At 152, Kasey Hotz overcame an early 3-0 deficit for a 9-3 victory over Trevor Kocher.
Junior Aric Wingle gave High Point a short-lived 25-24 lead with his 3-2 win over Josh Hiler at 170, but freshman Jacob Mafaro decked Matthew McDonnell with cradle at 182 to put Kittatinny in front for good.
"That was their last gasp -- Smith is a first-year varsity wrestler -- and we knew we still had Mafaro and Klimek left," Gill said. "Where we started we had to gamble and go for both wins [at 220 and 285]. Litterio saved us three points, we saved points at 106 and 113. I'm proud of them. This is one team that's had my number, so it's nice to get two-in-a-row."
Both teams move on to sectionals as No. 1 seeds in their respective sections. Kittatinny will next host No. 8 Boonton in North 1, Group 1, while High Point takes on Ramsey on Monday night.
KITTATINNY 36, HIGH POINT 25
220 -- So. Zach Mafaro (23-5), K, p. Sr. Cliff Rutter (13-5), 1:46.
285 -- Jr. Thomas Hubmaster (13-8), HP, d. Jr. Chris Litterio (10-9), 6-3.
106 -- So. Brandon LaRue (23-2), HP, d. So. Derek Molfetto (14-13), 4-0.
113 -- Fr. Devon Liebl (5-1), HP, md. So. Mike Nelson (10-11), 16-4.
120 -- So. Devin Flannery (18-2), HP, p. So. Nile Mattar (8-16), 1:37.
126 -- Sr. Mark DiGeronimo (17-4), K, p. Jr. Maverick Liebl (14-6), 2:44.
132 -- Jr. Perry Maio (14-11), K, d. Fr. Billy Talmadge (15-8), 3-0.
138 -- Jr. Shane Kobis (16-7), HP, d. Jr. Mike Callahan (17-12), 7-4.
145 -- Jr. Trey Osborn (13-9), HP, d. Jr. Calvin Brook (19-8), 4-2 SV.
152 -- Sr. Kasey Hotz (17-7), K, d. Sr. Trevor Kocher (6-8), 9-3.
160 -- Jr. Shane Smith (23-6), K, p. Jr. Sawyer Fenlon (2-4), 3:55.
170 -- Sr. Aric Wingle (18-7), HP, d. Jr. Josh Hiler (22-6), 3-2.
182 -- Fr. Jacob Mafaro (15-7), K, p. Sr. Matthew McDonnell (8-11), 1:42.
195 -- Sr. Josh Klimek (24-4), K, forfeit.
Records -- High Point 13-5; Kittatinny 15-4.
JV score -- High Point, 36-21.