UNION-- Xavier Pena had a pretty rough start to his Region 4 wrestling tournament, but by the end of it, the North Plainfield High School freshman came through in a big way.

After losing his first match of the tournament on Friday, Pena won his way through the consolation rounds and earned himself a third place finish in the 106 pound bracket and a ticket to the state championship in Atlantic City.

Fresh off his first place finish in last week’s District 14 tournament, Pena was paired up with Voorhees’ Aidan Taylor in his first region match on Friday.  Pena went down on points early in the Friday match, and nearly forced a comeback but ended up suffering an 8-7 decision loss. It was a big setback for the freshman, but hope for a medal still remained through the consolation rounds that started this morning.

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“I should have won that first match,” Pena said. “I knew I had to let loose and give it my best to make it to AC.”

Pena certainly did let it loose. The North Plainfield freshman bounced back by notching a forfeit win and an 8-4 decision win over Gabe Leo. In the final third-place match, Pena found himself matched up once again with Taylor, the wrestler who had narrowly knocked him out of the championship bracket.  To say that the rematch went differently would be an understatement.

Pena dominated from the get-go and never relented. A scramble in the first period ended with Pena scoring a takedown, which he used to pick up two back points. A few takedowns and back points later, Pena had a 15-2 victory, and a spot in Atlantic City.

“I knew I could win that match,” Pena said. “Today, I just wanted to wrestle the way I know I can wrestle and get the job done.”

The state tournament will kick off in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall next Friday.