Yes, 14 wrestlers captured individual NJSIAA District 24 championships on Saturday.
But it seemed everybody inside Pine Belt Arena at Toms River High School North was anxiously awaiting the announcement about which team snagged the team crown.
With Toms River South trailing Southern Regional by five points heading into the heavyweight final between South’s Marvin Hayden and Central Regional’s Atanacio Carrillo, the Indians needed something big from the senior. Carrillo managed to keep the bout tight and Hayden won a 3-1 decision in overtime, allowing the Rams to win a third straight team title with 194 points.
“I’m sure it was exciting for everyone else,” said Southern head coach John Stout. “But for me, that wasn’t the way I would have wanted it.”
Without senior 132-pounder Matt Theobold in the tournament because of a shoulder injury, and without Tyler Zahradnik at 138 pounds, the Indians didn’t have quite enough to overcome a seven-point deficit heading into the finals, ultimately finishing with 193 points.
“I’m so happy for this group of kids,” Stout said of his team, which had eight wrestlers in the finals, winning four, including two in overtime and one by injury default. “Earlier in the season, they were a bit down, but they worked hard to come back and even give themselves a chance.”
After Owen McClave (106), Kevin Corrigan (113), Brandon Murray (120) and Zach Maikisch (126) each won their respective championships, Southern got its first points in the finals from Zach Wilhelm, who was winning his bout, 10-0 over Toms River North’s Ryan Davis, before Davis had to default due to an injury.
B.J. Clagon then won his fourth district title with a 16-6 major over Lacey’s Steve Knapp to keep the Indians temporarily ahead in the team standings. But Southern’s Chris Serpico kept things close when he won a 15-5 major at 152 against North’s Dylan DaSilva.
Then the craziness began, as Southern and South wrestlers were slated to meet at 160 and 182.
Gerardo Jorge started the Rams’ rally when he and Antrez Clagon went into overtime, before Jorge ultimately pulled out a 2-1 victory during the ultimate-tiebreaker period. Tied at 1 and Clagon already warned for stalling, Jorge rose to his feet with Clagon draped on his back. The referee called another stall with nine seconds to go.
“I felt a lot of pressure,” Jorge said. “It was my first time in a final and I knew the team race was close. I knew I had to win. But I also knew that if I kept getting to my feet and staying on my feet that he would get called for stalling.”
After Lacey’s Luke Fernandez won at 170 pounds by way of a 17-0 technical fall, Southern’s Connor Case all but sealed the team race when he won a 4-1 decision in the third overtime period at 182, scoring an escape with 17 seconds left and getting a late takedown, against South’s Quentin DeCarlo.
“Coach (Dan) Roy told me we were one point ahead going into the match,” Case said. “He said, ‘If you don’t win, we don’t win.’ I beat him before but I knew it would be close. I just had to keep my head in the match and get one for the team.”
Stout wasn’t aware Roy put the pressure on Case.
“See, if I knew that, I’d be really mad right now,” he said. “I’m glad it worked out.”
Also capturing another district crown was Toms River East’s Rich Lewis. He won 13-4 major decision over Southern’s Jake Campana at 138. The two-time region champion believes he can win it all in Atlantic City.
“I’ve had great people around me, pushing me,” Lewis said. “The goal is to dominate my matches and win it. I’ve always known I’ve had the right pieces, now I just have to put the whole puzzle together. I just have to keep my composure and push the pace.”
Adding to Lacey’s third-place points (135), Pat Schinder won the 220-pound title with a 10-2 major over Barnegat’s Matt Frigon, who sprung the upset of the day with a 5-3 overtime win over top-seeded Jesse Bauta of Southern in the semifinals.
Also snagging a crown was Toms River North’s David Mitchell at 195, winning a 3-2 decision over Toms River East’s Armando Leonor. The Mariners finished fourth in the team standings with 95.
B.J. Clagon was voted Outstanding Wrestler after becoming South’s first-ever four-time district champ, while North coach Bill Wilburt was named District 24 Coach of the Year.