WOODBRIDGE- The North Plainfield High School wrestling team might not have had been grabbing headlines coming into the District 14 tournament this year, but one of their top wrestlers pulled off the most impressive come-from-behind win of the night to leave with first place gold around his neck.
After falling behind 7-1 in a championship match, North Plainfield’s Xavier Pena recorded a third period pin to take home a first place finish in District 14’s 106 pound bracket.
Although Pena came in with an 20-6 overall record, and an undefeated record at 106 pounds, the freshman almost ended up being the fifth-seed due to an error by the officials. Pena got his rightful spot as the bracket’s top-seed just before the tournament started this morning, but the young grappler said almost being overlooked like that gave him a little bit more motivation heading into his first match.
A 7-3 decision win over Xavier Laracuente of Woodbridge booked Pena’s place in the championship match against South Plainfield’s Tommy Fierro. As well as being a Tiger/Canuck matchup, the final also pitted this year’s Somerset County champ against this year’s Greater Middlesex County champ.
The 17-3 South Plainfield wrestler got off to a fast start in the final, as a takedown and back points in the first period, and a takedown and an escape in the second period, gave Pena a 7-1 deficit about four and a half minutes into the match. Even though most in the crowd thought the match was over, Pena thought otherwise.
“I knew in my mind I could still come back and win it,” Pena said after the match. “I knew I just had to be confident in myself.”
A well-timed takedown in the closing seconds of the second period cut Fierro’s lead to one. Once on top in the third period, Pena threatened Fierro with a cradle attempt and then transitioned it into an armbar which he used to get the pin with 41 seconds left in the match.
“I knew I could get that bar in and when I did I just ran it,” Pena said.
North Plainfield coach Jim Miller was confident in his wrestler going into the match, but even he wasn’t anticipating a win like that.
“I didn’t know what to expect really, but I wasn’t expecting a fall,” the coach said. “I expected a brawl, which it kind of was.”
“(Pena’s) very, very tough,” Miller added. “He has a great mindset and he likes a challenge. His losses are at 120, and 113. He’s been minding his diet so that he feels good, and he’s got a very good skillset.”
With regions coming up , both Pena and his coach see a spot in the state tournament as an achievable goal.
“I already told him that his goal should be Atlantic City,” Miller said. “I told him it starts this weekend, and if you can take it one match at a time you can get there. I think the further het gets in it, the tougher he’s going to get. That’s the kind of kid he is.”