UNION, NJ - The 2015 NJSIAA Region Tournament concluded Saturday afternoon, where all three Scotch Plains-Fanwood wrestlers placed within their respective weight class.

The Raiders came into the Region tournament fresh off a practice on their home mats in Scotch Plains.

“On Thursday we stayed at the high school and practiced -- just the three of them.  Our one assistant Salgano jumped in, a few alumni guys came back just to get on the mat with them, so that’s where the team aspect comes into play,” said Assistant Coach Nick Giannaci. “You get alumni guys that gather around the program that want to see these kids do well and they’re willing to help out.  We had a nice practice -- a good practice.”

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On Saturday, JT Beirne (138 lbs.) earned an early trip to the Region Finals in a 3-2 victory over South Plainfield’s Dan Hedden. The No. 2 seed Beirne would have to wait patiently with other finalists until the afternoon to face Tyler Gazaway of New Providence.

The Raiders met their first obstacle in the semifinal round Saturday morning when Brian Lapham (145 lbs.) faced No. 1 seed Travis Vasquez of Delbarton. Vasquez pulled away from Lapham 7-2, and ultimately finished first in the Region tournament.  

Alex Mirabella (195 lbs.) also drew a No. 1 seed in JT Valley of North Plainfield, where Valley won by way of a tiebreaker.

The day was not over for the two seniors, as Lapham and Mirabella wasted no time in wrestle backs, winning out and earning a slot in the 3rd place consolation match.

Lapham squared off against a familiar opponent,  Christian Bassolino of Hanover Park, who delivered Lapham’s only loss of the regular season earlier in February. Unable to wrangle Bassolino, Lapham fell short 9-3. In a competitive 143 pound weight class, the loss ended Lapham’s chance to enter the State tournament in Atlantic City.

“He wrestled good kids in a good weight class, and unfortunately it didn’t work out for him, but that’s the sport of wrestling,” said Coach Giannaci.  “We’re extremely proud of him and his entire career, his entire body of work, and what he has been able to do. You can’t replace a Brian.”

“The sport of wrestling is going to break your heart one way or another,” Giannaci said.

Brian Lapham remains the winningest wrestler in Scotch Plains-Fanwood history with 127 career wins, an achievement that certainly gives the senior an edge going into Bucknell’s Division I program next year.

The consolation round proved to be bittersweet for the Raiders and company, as one wrestler ended his high school career and another reached an unfathomable goal.

In a District championship mirror-match, Mirabella faced off once again with Khalil Burns of Linden.  

At the District Tournament in Westfield, Mirabella was crowned champion after pinning Burns in 1:31. At the Region Tournament, Mirabella allowed Burns to score two on a reversal, but was back to his old ways, pinning Burns in 2:50.  

The 3rd place finish landed Mirabella a ticket to Atlantic City, where he will achieve his goal of wrestling in the State tournament.  

“It doesn’t feel real yet,” said Mirabella after his win. “I can’t believe it.  I didn’t think I’d make it this far. Getting that pin was decisive. I’m going to AC!”

In his semifinal victory, JT Beirne scored a guaranteed slot in the State tournament, but had one match left on Saturday. Beirne held strong in a hard fought bout against Tyler Gazaway, but could not overcome a 2-1 lead.  

“I have never had a good Region tournament in the past. This is first year I’ve won more than two matches,” Beirne said.  “I still have my chance to go on a run in AC, so I’m pumped.”

The senior wrestlers have just a week to prepare mentally and physically for the State tournament.  It is the first time both Mirabella and Beirne will appear on the grand stage.

“Unless you’ve been reading the papers throughout the state, you don’t have scouting reports on the kids that you’re about to wrestle, so you can just go out there, wrestle loose, how you want to wrestle,” said Giannaci.  “For Alex and JT, they can go out and wrestle their style and give it their best shot. That’s all we ever ask of them, ‘Wrestle your best, don’t beat yourself.’”

The NJSIAA State Tournament takes place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ.  This year’s tournament will begin Friday, March 6 at 5:00 p.m.  The semifinal round will take place Saturday, March 7, and the final round Sunday, March 8.

State Tournament tickets and group orders can be purchased through the Boardwalk Hall box office or ticketmaster.com.