SOUTH PLAINFIELD -- The South Plainfield Tigers clinched their third straight sectional title Friday night, to become the 2017 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III champions. They did so by cruising past the second ranked team in the tournament, Hopewell Valley, by a score of 41-12 before a packed gymnasium at South Plainfield High School.

The team improved to a gaudy 28-1 on the season with the victory.

The Tigers were shot out of the gates, starting the night with two consecutive pins from 120 pounder Joe Heilmann and the 126 lb Jake Giordano. In fact, South Plainfield went on to win the ensuing nine matches, all by decision including major decisions by Joe Sacco at 138 pounds and Kyle Bythell at 145.

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Senior Jake Hoffman had one of the most exciting matches of the night, squeaking past the Bulldogs’ Ray Lauricella (152 lbs) in the final minute of the third period.

Hopewell Valley didn’t register on the scoreboard until the Tigers’ 285 pound Julio Gonzalez forfeited due to the nursing of an injury.

“I saw that we had a lot of bonus points, and during the tough matches we were stingy and didn’t give up anything but decisions.” said Tigers head coach Bill Pavlak. “I know we lost two decisions, but then we had a lot of bonus points. And that’s how you get to 41 points.”

Pavlak saw plenty of bright spots overall. “What I really liked about tonight was how everyone was really into the matches, even the last couple matches where we already had the team match won. Everybody cared about if the last two guys were going to win their matches,” he said.

When asked to mention a few standout performers, Pavlak nearly listed the entire roster, signifying the complete team effort his wrestlers posted.

The victory sets the Tigers up nicely for Sunday morning at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River for the Group III finals. Immediately after the match Pavlak wasn’t sure if they’d be facing off against Old Tappan or Sparta, but said the team is motivated to make it to the second match in the afternoon. There, they would go up against either Cranford or Delsea, each of whom has been a major rival to the Tigers the past few seasons.

First year Athletic Director and former longtime South Plainfield head coach Kevin McCann took in his first sectional title from his new position. The program hardly missed a beat while enduring a coaching change and transition at the top of the athletic department this past offseason.

“It’s a credit to the program and what we’ve developed over the last couple of years,” McCann said. “We knew coming out of last year that this team was a quality team. We said it last year that we could be even better this year than we were last season. So they’re proving it,”

McCann also reflected on a senior class that broke in while he was still at the helm. The class of 2017 posed for pictures with the NJSIAA hardware after the match, their last on the home mat.

“They’re a great bunch. They have two more matches to win. They can go out with two state titles, three sectional titles, four county titles…they’ve had one great career as a bunch. I mean they’ve really made South Plainfield proud,” he said.

McCann’s emotions haven’t been as intense as they were when he was still coaching, but things might be a bit different this weekend, he says. “I haven’t been nervous yet but Sunday is probably when I’ll start to get nervous.”