Hunterdon Central High School’s wrestling program has been successful for decades, but what the Red Devils have accomplished this season, capped by what happened Friday night, should be ranked near the top.
The Red Devils (18-1) won the NJSIAA North 2 Group IV championship in front of a big crowd at the Central Fieldhouse by beating longtime nemesis and defending state champion Phillipsburg 30-29. It was the second time this year; the Red Devils beat the Stateliners, which hadn’t lost a sectional final in many years. Central beat Phillipsburg 34-30 in a January dual meet, thus earning the top seed and some home advantage in the sectional final.
Phillipsburg’s legendary following showed up too. But the Liners – winners of a whopping 32 section titles – won’t be able to chase an 18th group title.
Central trailed 29-27 as the final bout, but senior Tim Higginson, who missed virtually all of last season with an injury, continued his own memorable year with a 11-8 win over Max Elling to deliver the winning points and a 19th sectional title for his program. The Red Devils last won in 2011, and now will attempt to advance to its 13th group final Sunday at the Bennett Center at Toms River North High School.
Hunterdon Central will need to win its 10 a.m. semifinal matchup against Southern Regional to make its first group final in two years when it lost to Jackson Memorial after beating P’Burg in the semis.
The way the Red Devils are wrestling, don’t think they can’t do it.
“All these kids have wanted to do this year is wrestle,” said Hunterdon Central coach Steve Gibble. “I know I have been saying it for weeks, but that’s really what it’s been about.”
Four straight wins between 170 and 220 set the table for the memorable night. The biggest of the four was 195-pounder Nestor Crespo’s pin of Tim Hinkle in 4:39 after Hinkle led 14-10. That victory was huge for Central since it knew of the talented group of wrestlers that would close the match – Dylan Nace at 126, Collin Boylan at 132, Gary Dinmore at 138 and Higginson.
Crespo’s fall was followed by Paul Rallis 8-5 victory over Kyle Kinney at 220. Kinney’s name was prominent in the talk of the rematch since he injury defaulted in the January dual meet, leaving many to consider his return pivotal in P’Burg’s chances. It was Kinney’s first bout since injury in the January dual meet.
Phillipsburg needed more at 285 because of the early results, but Gabe Barba limited Stateliner Jarrett Williams to a 9-0 major. Central forfeited to Brandon Paetzell at 106 before the Liners’ Zach Fisher majored Central’s Kyler Rodriguez 13-4 at 113. P’Burg freshman 120-pounder Daniel Wissing – making his varsity debut – pinned Gabino Careaga. That gave the Stateliners a 29-15 lead, but that was all they could manage.
Nace majored Tylor Petchonka at 126, Boylan held off Anthony Johnson 1-0 at 132 and Dinmore won by technical fall at 152, setting the table for Higginson.