An altercation with a locker following a loss in a season-opening dual meet left Perth Amboy High School senior Angel Sanchez with a broken hand.
The potential scholastic career-ending injury relegated Sanchez to road work along the city’s waterfront to stay in shape for a potential comeback while simultaneously giving him plenty of time to reflect upon his actions.
“I pretty much let my emotions get the best of me, but as I was recovering I pretty much realized I worked too hard in the summer to quit now,” Sanchez said. “Let’s just hope my recovery goes good and we’ll see what happens.”
Sanchez, who returned from the injury ahead of schedule, advanced to the semifinals of the Region 5 Tournament with a 7-4 decision over Old Bridge’s Kyle Brown in quarterfinal action at the Hunterdon Central Field House on Friday night.
Perth Amboy, East Brunswick, J.F. Kennedy and South Brunswick accounted for the bulk of the Greater Middlesex Conference’s 20 semifinalists by winning a league-best three quarterfinals apiece.
The semifinals (10 a.m.), consolation finals (1:30 p.m.) and finals (3 p.m.) will be contested today.
The top three finishers in each weight class from the state’s eight regions will advance to the NJSIAA Individual Championships on March 8-10 in Atlantic City.
The GMC posted a 19-28 record in the quarterfinal round including 11 head-to-head bouts. The league boasts at least one semifinalist in every weight class but 145 pounds and is guaranteed a finalist at 120 pounds and 220 pounds.
The 120-pound weight class, regarded as the toughest in any region, features four wrestlers from Middlesex County, three of whom placed in the state tournament a year ago and the fourth being defending region champion Sal Profaci of Monroe.
Profaci will meet J.F. Kennedy’s Carl Buttitta (an incumbent state runner-up at 106) in one semifinal, while Bishop Ahr’s Kyle Brady (third in the state last season at 113) will face Bound Brook’s Craig De La Cruz (fourth in the state at 106 a year ago) in the other semifinal.
A Dunellen resident who attends Bound Brook through the state Department of Education’s school choice program, De La Cruz is the younger brother of Derek, a Bishop Ahr graduate and former teammate of Brady.
De La Cruz won the marquee bout of Friday night with a 3-2 decision (UTB) over North Hunterdon’s Ryan Pomrinca (seventh in the state at 113 last year).
“I’ve known him since he was a little kid,” Brady said of De La Cruz. “We’ve trained together. It’s going to be a battle. This is a great weight class. Middlesex County is doing a good job, not only at 120 pounds, but representing the whole county across the board.”
Old Bridge’s Erik DeJonge posted one of the two biggest upsets of the night, according to the seeds, with his 6-2 decision over second-seeded Daniel Pepe of North Hunterdon. Delaware Valley’s Brian Baehr pinned second-seeded and previously undefeated Mike Markulec of Hopewell Valley in 49 seconds to post the other upset.
Of the 11 head-to-head bouts between GMC wrestlers, a 152-pound quarterfinal between South Brunswick’s Jordan Pagano and Monroe’s Harrison Utter lived up to its billing.
Pagano avenged his 4-3 loss to Utter in the District 20 semifinals with a 3-1 decision on a locking hands call and reversal in the third period. Pagano’s loss in the districts was only his second of the season.
“Coming into districts, I’m not going to lie, I thought I was going to breeze through the tournament, and come semis I got upset by Harrison,” Pagano said. “Mentally, I think it prepared me more for regions, just because now it puts in my head that I’m not unbeatable.”
Sanchez advanced to the semifinals along with teammates Yasel Corporan, the top seed at 106 pounds, and Humberto Argueta, who bumped up from 132 to 138 for the postseason feeling he had a better chance to reach the state tournament.
“Angel’s got a lot of quickness,” said Perth Amboy coach Mike Giordano, noting Sanchez benefits from having Corporan as a training partner. “The way Angel’s come back and maintained his conditioning level is just unbelievable.”
Sanchez, who repeatedly ran suicide sprints along the waterfront at the conclusion of his miles-long runs, is an underdog against top-seeded Robert Murray of Bound Brook in the semifinals, but Giordano isn’t counting out his comeback kid.
“He’s got a shot here,” Giordano said. “We’re in the mix.”