This Long Branch wrestling team does not have the studs of the 2008-2011 teams. But they have the character. They scrap, this group.
Friday night Long Branch faced down a formidible Delaware Valley team to reclaim its Central Group II sectional throne, 30-23.
All the work. All the effort. All the sweat and sacrifice stamped this senior team with a belief in itself that did not falter. Forty-eight hours ago, sophomore Andy Hernandez got pinned in the sectional semifinals. Friday night, Hernandez (16-11) took the mat with the sectional championship weighing squarely on his shoulders.
Entering the final bout at 126 pounds, Long Branch led 27-23, but Delaware Valley’s Mike Adams (12-6) seemed the favorite. If Adams won by a major or better, the Terriers were going to win their 15th sectional title.
“My last words to Hernandez were ‘wrestle to win,’ ” Long Branch coach Dan George said. “I did not want for him to wrestle tentative, that’s when you get pinned. So many of these matches could have gone either way. They knew how to slow us down and they are pinners.
“This title feels as good as our first one (2008). We lost so many close matches this year, it’s hard to believe we are back on the top of the mountain. This match was just like our season, a roller-coaster.”
George’s words proved prophetic. Hernandez didn’t wrestle not to lose. Following the lead of teammates Arturo Rios (182), Joe Guidetti (220) and Mike Jones (106), all of whom won toss-up-type bouts on their feet, Hernandez parlayed three takedowns after a scoreless first period to defeat Adams, 6-2.
“My weakest position is usually on my feet,” Hernandez said. “But I had to score some points. I stayed in my stance, stayed focused. Wednesday night I was not prepared, but I had confidence tonight. I just warmed up well. Nick (Pappayiliou) told me to wrestle hard and I did.”
Long Branch will face Voorhees in a Group II semifinal 10 a.m. at the Pine Belt Arena on Sunday.
This sectional final was even at 10-10 after four bouts and 16-16 after seven, and the Green Wave held a fragile 21-19 advantage after 10 weights. Three Long Branch wrestlers –Rios (182), Chris Pappayliou (195) and Thomas Flanagan (113) — came from behind to win. A combination of takedown production and good defensive position allowed Long Branch to win nine bouts.
The Terriers pinned in the first bout at 132 behind Mat Gilmore and led 10-0 when their best wrestler, Mike Pongracz, majored Nick Menkin, 12-2, at 138.
Long Branch seniors Nick George and Luke Balina answered back. George flipped over a dazed Holden Baker and gained an unexpected fall in 4:50 at 145. Balina pancaked Alex Niemann to his back and won 11-3. Niemann had been Delaware Valley’s hero against Raritan on Wednesday.
Senior Jacob George (160) earned a hard-fought, 6-4 win over Kody Eichlin (19-3) and Long Branch led for the first time, 13-10.
“Winning as a senior is great,” Jacob George said. “It feels awesome. Everything came together for us and it’s just a great feeling.”
The lead was short-lived as Luke Zehnbauer (170) decked Nick Pappayliou (27-5) in the first period to put Delaware Valley in front 16-13. Senior Joe Guidetti (220) won a critical, 8-4 decision over Brian Baehr (18-8) for the Green Wave. A pumped-up Guidetti outclassed Baehr on his feet.
“I went to an extra level tonight,” Guidetti said.
Terrier Mark Tomanek (7-1) won in overtime at 285 and Long Branch was penalized a point for unsportsmanlike conduct. But Mike Jones’ four takedowns at 106 held off Kyle Defalvy, 10-8, before Thomas Flannigan controlled Terrier Vito Intili, 8-2, at 113.