Innarella-Cefolo IV had all the drama of the first three intense, pressure-packed meetings.
Only this time, a whole lot more was at stake.
So when Delbarton’s Christian Innarella was able to have his hand raised in the Region 3 consolation bout at Union High, he could breathe a sigh of relief because he automatically qualified for the state tournament in Atlantic City Friday night.
Anthony Cefolo, Hanover Park’s returning state champion, placed fourth and didn’t make it back to the state tournament.
Innarella survived in another ultimate tiebreaker, 2-1, and awaits Monday morning’s seeding meeting at the NJSIAA offices in Robbinsville. He was sixth in the state at 113 last year.
It was the fourth straight epic match Innarella and Cefolo have engaged in this year.
In the Morris County Tournament finals in late January, Cefolo took a 5-4 ultimate tiebreaker victory.
But Innarella has won the last three battles, all of them 2-1 wins, all of them nail biters.
In the District 9 finals last week, Innarella rode out Cefolo for 30 seconds in the fourth OT to win, 2-1.
In the Region 3 quarterfinals on Friday night, Innarella benefited from a stalling call on Cefolo with five seconds to go in regulation to win, 2-1.
In the third-fourth place match yesterday, Innarella rode out Cefolo in the final overtime to win it.
With the score tied 1-1 after four periods, Cefolo rode out Innarella for 30 seconds as Innarella tried two different Granby Rolls in an effort to free himself, only to have Cefolo maintain control.
But in the third extra session, Innarella answered by riding out Cefolo – although there was a point when it appeared, with the clock closing in on the final seconds, that Cefolo either reversed Innarella or, at the very least, escaped. But the two referees, after discussing it for a moment, decided that there was no change from Innarella being in control.
Earlier in the day, it appeared as though Innarella was too deflated mentally to bounce back and even get to the third-place consolation match.
In the region semifinals, Innarella was majored by Gov. Livingston’s Jon Mele, 17-6. At that point, he had a very difficult time gathering himself for his loser’s bracket match against South Plainfield’s No. 2 seed Ray Jazikoff, who was upset on Friday night.
But Innarella bounced back and came away with a 12-10 win over Jazikoff.
Then came the Cefolo match.
“It was the most pressure I have ever felt,” Innarella said. “I lost in the semifinals and I just shut it down. I just didn’t think I could come back. I came back because I didn’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t make it to the states.”
Innarella need not worry. He’ll be returning to the Boardwalk.
“I try not to think about the pressure, I just try and wrestle the best I can,” Innarella said. “I knew I had to keep working. If I gave up, I’d have to live with it for the rest of my life. If I lost, I probably would be off crying somewhere, or slamming my headgear or something. But I don’t have to worry about that now.”
Cefolo had a difficult time coming back to the third-fourth consolation match himself. In his first consolation match, he pinned Scotch Plains’ Tom Cunningham with a pin in just 20 seconds. But then he needed overtime to beat Parsippany’s Stephen Persuad in double overtime, 2-1, in order to advance to the loser’s bracket final.