Friday, March 3, 2017

Wrestling: Harrison, Graf, Palumbo lead locals in AC

ATLANTIC CITY -- Between last year's cup of coffee here and last weekend's loss in the region quarterfinals, Phillipsburg sophomore Cody Harrison certainly got his wakeup call.

Harrison won his first two bouts -- including a pin of No. 4 seed Anthony Clarizio of Cedar Grove in 1:09 at 126 pounds -- in advancing to the quarterfinals of the 84th State Wrestling Championships on Friday night at Boardwalk Hall.

"It was nice to win the first match [10-4 over Lower Cape May's Alexander Pruszinski] because it gives you confidence going into the second one," said Harrison, a transfer who went 0-2 at 106 pounds in AC as a freshman for Warren Hills. "I was very disappointed last year, and I just wanted redemption."

Phillipsburg junior Brian Meyer (145) and senior Robert Melise (220) also went 2-0 for the Stateliners, as a total of 12 wrestlers from the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area will compete in the Round of 8 on Saturday at noon, while another 35 will try to battle back for medals in the wrestlebacks that begin at 9 a.m. The second day concludes with the semifinals and more wrestlebacks at 6 p.m.

Harrison (25-5), who finished third in Region 3, stepped across on a single-leg takedown attempt and sunk a half-nelson to stick Clarizio. Now in the quarters, Harrison needs just one more win to guarantee placing in the Top 8. But he's not content with just any medal.

"It puts me in a great spot as far as placing, but I want to win it," said Harrison, who will next face DePaul state placewinner Daniel Percelay. "I still have three more matches to win. I can take anyone down, and I'm good on offense. I have great workout partners. Meyer and I push each other to the next level."

Meyer (35-7), a two-time region champion who lost in the pre-quarterfinals last year, moved into the quarters for the the first time with an 8-1 decision over West Deptford's Corey Fischer.

Melise (35-2), who is one of the area's best shots at state gold, continued his tear at 220 with a technical-fall win in the opening round before pinning Pennsauken's James Thompson in 1:37 to reach the quarters, Melise, the school's all-time pins leader and last year's state runner-up will meet South Plainfield sophomore Zach DelVecchio (42-1), who finished seventh at 220 in 2016.

Hunterdon review

In addition to Phillipsburg, Hunterdon Central has three wrestlers in the quarterfinals with junior Hunter Graf (120), along with seniors Michael Iodice (182) and Victor Lacombe (220).

Graf met a familiar opponent in the second round -- scoring four points off a takedown and a near-side cradle in the first period en route to a 4-2 win over Lenape Valley senior Jacob Falleni in a loaded 120-pound class that features seven returning medal winners.

Graf (39-2), who placed eighth at 113 last year, is now 3-0 all-time against Falleni, including wins -- 6-4 in 2016 and 6-0 in '17 -- in the last two Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournaments. That quick 4-0 lead in this one might have actually worked against Graf, who gave up a takedown with 26 seconds left in the third period and nearly got turned with a merkle in the closing seconds.

"I don't usually consider my self a staller, but you can't help it some times when you get up that much early," said Graf, the No. 7 who will next face Lodi's Chris Caban, who upset No. 2 Michael Kelly of St. Peter's Prep, 6-5, the second round.  A win over Caban could set up a potential semifinal rematch with Pope John sophomore JoJo Aragona, who scored a 2-0 win over Graf in the HWS finals on Jan. 14.

"[Falleni] is a good kid and doesn't stop wrestling. I need to step my game up. Tomorrow is a new day. You have to make something out of the hand you're dealt, and do whatever you can to win."

Iodice, who went 2-2 and did not place at 170 last year, reached the quarters with a 7-3 win over Cinnaminson's Shaun Davilla. He will next face Queen of Peace placewinner Dominic Mainiero.

Lacombe, who finished fifth at 220 last season, moved into the quarters with a 3-1 victory over previously-unbeaten Michael Mascioli of St. Joseph-Hammonton.

Delaware Valley has two going for gold as Matt Kolonia (138) and Kyle Lightner (195) reached the quarterfinals for the first time.

Kolonia (41-2) will face No. 1 seed and 2015 champion Gerard Angelo of Bergen Catholic, while Lightner (39-2), who is looking like a strong contender for the 195-pound crown, gets Tommy Maxwell of Delsea.

North Hunterdon has three in the wrestlebacks, including junior Andrew Gapas, who lost a heartbreaker in overtime -- 6-5 -- when he gave up a reversal at the buzzer to Raritan's Russell Benson after getting an escape in the first 30-second rideout.

Seniors Cole Marra (152) and Charlie Tordik (285) are the other Lions in the field.

Voorhees junior Scott Fernandes shook things up in the opening round with a dominating 12-4 win over Kittatinny senior Josh Klimek, who pinned Fernandes in the HWS Tournament. But Fernandes lost his second-round matchup to join brothers Michael (160) and Lewis (195), as well as Aidan Taylor (106) in the wrestlebacks.

Patriot is game

Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo took another step in his bid to make school history with a 9-6 win over Evan Fisler of Washington Township to reach the 145-pound quarters for a second straight year.

"I feel good. I feel confident," said Palumbo, now 43-0 on the season and 132-27 overall. "Not much has changed from last year [being the No. 1 seed]. I wrestle everyone the same."

Palumbo (43-0), who was third in 2016, is looking to become just the fourth state finalist for the Patriots, who have never had a champion. Head coach Doug Vetter was the first to reach the finals at 189 in 1990, followed by Chris Ressa (2001) and D.J. Russo ('06).

Vetter, who coached Ressa and Russo, is stepping down after this season -- his 16th as the head coach of his alma mater. There would be no better way to go out than with Palumbo snapping the Sussex County school's title drought.

"Knowing this is it for me, if that's the way it ended, that would be a storybook ending for sure," said Vetter, truly one of the good guys in the sport. "And an answer to a prayer."

Palumbo, who will Southern's Nicholas O'Connell in the quarters, credits his coach for being a fine example to follow.

"He's very wise and gives me a lot of tips," Palumbo said. "He keeps me focused. It would feel awesome to win it."

Back points

Pope John is the third team from the area with three in the quarterfinals -- including freshman Eddie Ventresca who stunned the arena by decking former placewinner Richie Koehler of Christian Brothers Academy with a cradle in 40 seconds.

Aragona, who was third at 106 last season, had a tight bout with Rahway's Sabri Murray before getting a takedown in the final seconds to ice a 5-2 win at 120.

Sophomore Robert Garcia made it three in a row for the Lions by pinning Johnson's Christopher Fuschetto in 42 seconds at 132.

The real downer of the night came in the opening round when junior Jake Rotunda, a three-time region finalist and champion this season, sustained a separated shoulder -- winning 8-0 at the time -- and was unable to continue at 126. Rotunda (33-4) also lost by injury default in the opening round in 2015.

It was a rough night for Warren Hills, which saw its three qualifiers drop into the wrestlebacks. In the opening round at 132, senior Matt Valli lost 8-6 to Howell's Danny Esposito -- leading by one with 13 seconds left before giving up an escape in the final seconds of the third period and the decisive takedown in overtime.

Rashon Wade Taylor, a first-time participant, was pinned at 152, while junior Jarod Ostir, who won his opening bout, dropped an 8-5 decision to Morris Hills ace Joey Schiele in the pre-quarters at 170, ensuring that the Blue Streaks will go 19 years without a champion since Justin Colaluce went back-to-back in 1997-98.

Newton sophomore Wyatt McCarthy gave the No. 2 seed at 145 all he could handle before getting reversed and pinned by DePaul's Ricky Cabanillas with 10 seconds left in the first 30-second tiebreaker in OT.

McCarthy (35-5) got an escape early in the third period to tie it at 4 and nearly had a takedown off a great scramble with 1:29 left on the clock.

Region 2 leads the way with 19 wrestlers in the quarterfinals, followed by Region 8 with 17 and Regions 3 and 5 with 16 apiece. Region 7 has 14 and Region 4 has 12, while Region 1 has 11 and Region 6 just seven.

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