UNION, NJ - The withdrawal of Zach DelVecchio from the Region 4’s 220-pound bracket might have put a bit of a damper on South Plainfield High School’s start to the region tournament, but by the end of the competition, the Tigers had plenty of reasons to hold their heads high.
By the final matches, South Plainfield managed to put eight of their wrestlers in position to place in the tournament. Joe Heilmann took full advantage of his opportunity and earned a region title, and five other Tigers walked away from Union High School with a berth in the state championship.
For Heilmann, the 126-pound championship match also gave him a chance to get revenge for a loss in last year’s tournament. The top-seeded and No. 2 in the state ranked South Plainfield senior clinched a first period pin over Carl Banks of Irvington and a 14-2 major decision over Watchung Hills' Danny Miller to earn in a spot in the finals against a familiar foe in third-ranked Mike Kelly (St. Peter’s Prep).
The two finalists previously met in last year’s Region 4 120-pound final, and on that occasion Kelly, stifled Heilmann’s usually potent takedown game and earned a 4-0 victory over the South Plainfield standout. This year’s 126-pound final was as competitive as last year’s bout, but this time around it was Heilmann who prevailed. The South Plainfield senior connected on a key takedown to secure a 3-2 decision over Kelly. The win gave Heilmann his second region title, and keeps him undefeated on the season with a 40-0 record. The victory also gives Heilmann a stronger chance at improving upon his third place finish in last year’s state tournament.
Joining Heilmann in Atlantic City will be Anthony White, David Loniewski, Tommy Fierro, Joe Sacco and Luke Niemeyer. White, a second-seeded freshman at 106 pounds booked his way to the finals with decision wins over Patrick Adams (St. Peter’s Prep) and Gabriel Leo (Roselle Park) before he took second place due to a 5-0 loss to CJ Composto of Westfield in the finals.
Loniewski, a second-seed, booked his way to the 120-pound finals in his first year as a Tiger, but fell to second place after a championship loss to Matthew Armamento (Roselle Park). Fierro, a sophomore, earned a spot in the 132-pound finals, but took a 5-2 loss to Seton Hall’s top-seed Charles Cunningham. Joe Sacco took second place at 145 pounds after earning a 3-2 decision over top-seed Rhise Royster (Rahway) and falling to second-seeded Jeff Johnson (Middlesex) 3-1 in the finals.
Niemeyer, a third-seed at 195 pounds, suffered a setback in the semifinals in the form of an overtime pin loss to No. 5 ranked Scott Fernandes of Voorhees. The No. 6 ranked South Plainfield junior recovered by taking a pin over Jackson Burns (Bernards) in the consolation semifinals and then earned the third place spot on the podium with a first period pin over Jonathan Guardado (North Plainfield).
Brenden Hedden took fifth place at 182 pounds with a pin over Sam Gladson (Millburn).
South Plainfield’s coaching staff also got some recognition during the tournament as coach Steve Johnston received the Region 4 Assistant Coach of the Year award.