SOUTH PLAINFIELD- It was Alumni Night tonight for the South Plainfield High School wrestling team, and some of the best athletes in the history of the program got to see a matchup between two reigning group champions.
The Tigers (25-1), who won last year’s Group 3 state title, hosted Emerson High School, last year’s Group 2 champions. The Cavaliers (16-5) and South Plainfield battled each other in some individual matches, but the Tigers ended up putting on a dominant team performance for their alumni, and won the dual 39-13.
Bill Pavlak, the coach of South Plainfield, was forced to bump a few wrestlers up in weight class to fill in a space at 170. That, combined with Emerson’s talent, made the coaches less certain they’d easily pick up another runaway victory, so the lopsided nature of the win came as a small but pleasant surprise.
“When you move guys up you don't know what’s going to happen,” Pavlak explained. “Even when it’s only six or eight pounds it does make a big difference, and it makes it a little tougher to win.”
“When we do it on paper it always looks a bit closer, so the kids make it a little easier on us during the matches,” Pavlak added. “They come through in places we’re not so sure about. We always kind of make the worst scenario and we had this match a lot close. Again, they did the job and made it a easier for everybody.
Even though South Plainfield won handedly, the Cavaliers put up strong fights in more than a few individual matches. Luke Niemeyer had a tough matchup when he faced off against Zach Lewis at 195 pounds, ast he two grapplers proved to be even for the most part. During the first three periods, the only points scored were escapes, and most of the action was spent battling for underhooks. Eventually the tie-ups wore down Lewis, and just 15 seconds into the first overtime period, Niemeyer hit a match-winning single leg takedown.
At 126 pounds, standout senior Jake Giordano fought tooth and nail with undefeated and last year's District 8 champion Luke Mazzeo. Mazzeo got an early first period takedown, and entered the last period leading 4-2. Giordano fought his way to a third period escape, and then hit a takedown with less than 30 seconds left to get the 5-2 decision win.
Pavlak believes that his wrestlers conditioning was the deciding factor of those close matches.
“It looked like by the end of the second period (Mazzeo) was spent a little bit, and we’ve won a lot of matches in the last period,” the coach said. “We always tell (our wrestlers), if you lose a match it might be because he might be a little more talented or experienced, but it’s not going to be because he beat us on conditioning.”
Joe Sacco, Kyle Bythell and Joe Heilmann all won win big with technical falls, while Jacob Painton, Ben Lundy, Sebastian Santos and Zach DelVecchio won by decision. Heavyweight Julio Gonzalez picked up a forfeit win.
The Tigers got the win as their 1997, and 1977 teams were in attendance. The 1977 squad won South Plainfield’s first ever District team title, and the 1997 team, which was coached by Pavlak, won the first state sectional team title.
“We told (our wrestlers) beforehand that the alumnis are coming here and that they need to show some pride and show them what you’ve got,” Pavlak said.” Wrestling’s changed so much in the last twenty years. Guys who haven’t been here in awhile can see that when they watch the wrestling.”
With tonight’s match over, it is officially post-season time. The Tigers are the top seed in the sectional tournament, which will begin on Monday when they take on eight seeded Steinert. Pavlak said he hopes his team can match up with Ocean Township in the finals on Friday, and then march on to the group tournament.
“If we win (sectionals) we’re the number one seed in the group,and these guys have been talking about group championships all year,” the coach said. “That’s their goal and that’s what we’re gearing for and hoping for.”