UNION – It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was pretty close and was certainly impressive.
The South Plainfield wrestling team had five wrestlers win in the NJSIAA Region 3 quarterfinal round in Union on Friday night.
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Of the five, freshman 106-pounder Joe Heilmann defeated his opponent, Dylan Saggio of Millburn, 2-1 and 138-pound junior Daniel Hedden defeated Gene Angelo by a score of 3-0.
The Tigers also got wins from 160-pounder Jordan Handwerger and the 220-pound Dakota Pauls.
“We were hoping to get at least six in, we got five, so it’s a good not great round,” South Plainfield head coach Kevin McCann. “The whole point of being here is to finish top 3; if we won it was the easy way in, now some guys have to go the hard way.”
The Tigers started the quarterfinals off hot with a win from Heilmann. In a sea full of freshmen in his weight class, Heilmann shined.
“It’s a real tough weight class to compete in, but I think he has the tools to do it,” McCann said.
Heilmann scored points early, and then maintained a somewhat conservative approach going into the home stretch.
“I felt pretty dominate on my feet, I took him down a minute into the first period and then rode him the rest of the way,” Heilmann said. “I got one or two shots in the third but wasn’t able to finish them. I still got the win and that’s all that matters.
This was Heilmann’s first match in regions since he won a District 12 title and had a bye in the pre-quarters.
The underclassman has upperclassman goals and is eyeing a spot on the podium at Boardwalk Hall in the state tournament in Atlantic City a week from Sunday.
“I’m taking it match by match and I’m really exited to make it this far my freshman year,” Heilmann said. “I want to make it to AC, but I’m still just taking it match by match.”
Heilmann’s teammate Hedden found the same success against his opponent and, like Heilmann, is one step closer to Atlantic City.
“He had a lot of pressure to come in here and win,” McCann said. “His next win is even bigger because he can punch his ticket to AC. That’s what he wants to do, to go down there and try to make the podium.”
Hedden’s match was close all the way, but he was able to hold on, secure the victory and keep his dream alive.
“I felt good on my feet and my top game was really strong,” Hedden said. “I dominated my position and made sure I wasn’t looking ahead of my opponent at all.
There are familiar faces between Hedden and the Atlantic City podium. He will meet Scotch Plains-Fanwood senior JT Beirne in the semifinals. He’s beaten Beirne twice. If he gets by Beirne, he could see New Providence junior Tyler Gazaway in the region final. Gazaway has beaten Hedden in overtime in the last two District 12 finals, and also beat Hedden in the region semifinal last year.
“My next goal is whoever I have next, I’ll focus on beating him and then I’ll worry about Gazaway,” Hennon said. “I’m a different wrestler. If I have Beirne or Jones it doesn’t matter, I’m just going to be looking to score a lot of points again.”
Staff writer Daniel LoGiudice: dlogiudice@njpress