Jake Moore found himself in a familiar position Monday night.
The Cherry Hill West High School senior was pinned during the Lions’ upset loss to Millville on Jan. 24 and was in danger of suffering a similar fate when the two teams took the mat again, this time with a berth in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals on the line.
But Moore used his survival instincts and fought off his back en route to a crucial come-from-behind win during the Lions’ 37-30 triumph over the Thunderbolts.
Cherry Hill West (22-4), the No. 5 seed in the tournament, will square off with top-seeded Clearview in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“It means the world to me because it’s my senior year, it’s my first year on varsity. I feel proud,” Moore said.
When the Lions squared off with fourth-seeded Millville during the regular season, they lost 45-34. During that match, Moore was decked by Patrick Cassidy in 2:46.
When Moore found himself on his back in the second period again, this time against Raynaldo Maldonado, he refused to stay down.
“I survived so much in life; I survived Hurricane Katrina,” said the Vinton, La., native. “(I thought) I can’t get stuck again. I can’t let the coaches down. I can’t let my team down, cause it’s like my family and I just don’t want to (let them down). So, I gave it all my effort and just rolled over.”
Moore didn’t get pinned, but still found himself trailing his 145-pound bout, 8-2. He notched a reversal in the second and scored three third-period takedowns, including one with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, to even the score at 10-10 and force to overtime. There, he earned one more takedown for a 12-10 sudden victory, which gave the Lions an 11-0 advantage.
“I’m tougher now,” Moore said. “I practiced fighting off my back because I didn’t have the best season, and that’s one thing that can turn a match around, fighting off your back just that one time.”
The Lions responded to Moore’s effort.
Cherry Hill West’s Connor Rogovich was next on the mat and he earned his fourth technical fall in his last seven matches, dropping Jose Galindez with a nearfall at the second-period buzzer 18-2 as he extended his team’s lead to 16-0.
After the Thunderbolts trimmed the deficit to 16-9 with a decision from Zach Goranson (160) and a fall from Keith Mahoney (170), James Potts delivered another critical win for the Lions.
By winning the coin flip, Cherry Hill West was able to drop Potts down to 182 against Jose Soto, one of Millville’s returning region qualifiers, after Potts wrestled at 195 the last time the teams met.
Soto had the bout’s only two takedowns, but Potts had two reversals that he turned into back points, including one as the second-period horn sounded. That move was the difference as he held on for a 9-5 triumph.
“A lot of it is waiting for the right moment,” Potts said. “I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable on the mat, and I wait for the right moment and I felt him out of position and I just took advantage of it.”
“I hate blaming the coin flip, but they got Potts on Soto and the fact we count on Soto for wins, you take him away from us that’s a big deal,” Millville coach Scott Stay said. “They got the lineups.”
Potts’ win gave Cherry Hill West a 22-9 advantage, and back-to-back pins by Jayson Peralta and Brandon Moore meant the Lions needed just one more victory to clinch the win.
Millville made it tough, though, as Curtis Jones won a hard-fought decision at heavyweight and Jose Santiago and Josh Forand earned falls at 106 and 113, respectively, to trim the lead to 31-24.
However, Hunter Dunn took a forfeit for Cherry Hill West at 120 pounds to seal the deal.
“It’s awesome, especially coming into the year, not really knowing how our team would be,” Potts said. “Last year, we lost a couple good guys and our team came through and it felt great.”
As for Millville (7-18), while Stay said he was “shocked” his team made it to the playoffs, the Thunderbolts still weren’t happy with the outcome.
“Just disappointed we couldn’t get a win,” Goranson said, “especially since we already beat them.”
Reach Josh Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org