ATLANTIC CITY -- Wrestling in the first round of the New Jersey Individual State Tournament, where a loss means the end of the line, is about as pressure-packed as it gets.
Momentum can be the great equalizer in this tournament, however, and winning two bouts on Friday at Boardwalk Hall is the spark that has set many a great run in motion.
Wayne Valley senior Nick Dellaferra entered the preliminary round at 182 pounds as just another wrestler fighting to stay alive, not as one of the four favorites expected to reach the semifinals. After defeating Franklin’s Keith Lewis, 3-2 in the ultimate tiebreaker, in the winner-or-go-home preliminary round Dellaferra rallied for a 7-5 win over Region VIII champion David Williams of Hammonton to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinal round.
Wrestling resumes Saturday morning with the quarterfinals at 10 a.m., two rounds of wrestlebacks, the semifinals and more wrestle backs.
“The kid I just wrestled (Williams) didn’t wrestle in the first round, I had a state-level match so I was ready for another one,” Dellaferra said.
Dellaferra entered with a 30-5 mark on the season while Lewis was 34-4 and Williams 36-3.
“My style is very big on counters and short, little shots and he wrestled right into my style,” Dellaferra said.
Waiting in the quarterfinals will be undefeated Becton-Wallington senior Bryan Loughlin (39-0). Loughlin handed Dellaferra his first loss of the season back on January 7 via a 6-1 decision.
“He’s a tough wrestler but at this point it’s the best of the best in New Jersey,” Dellaferra said. “Everyone who is here belongs here so every match is going to be tight and going to be a war. You just have to go get it.”
The 120-pound weight class is utterly stacked and produced some fantastic bouts in the pre-quarters. Ocean Township freshman Zach Hertling outlasted fellow freshman phenom Michael Derin of High Point, 6-3. Trailing 3-1 in the third period, Hertling equaled the score at three before turning Derin for three near-fall points late in the bout.
“I knew he was real strong and he was a tough kid but that didn’t stop me,” Hertling said. “I was trying to get my reversal and I knew I had to go for backs because I didn’t want overtime. I saw the arm bar, opened it up and took the opportunity.”
Hertling improved to 33-1 with the victory, his only defeat coming to South Plainfield’s Troy Heilmann, also a quarterfinalist at 120. Watchung Hills sophomore Mike Magaldo, a state runner-up last season, awaits in the quarterfinals for Hertling.
Nutley junior Robert Trombetta, the top seed in the top bracket at 120, survived a scare against JFK-Iselin’s Colin Farley with a buzzer-beating, albeit controversial, takedown to win 4-3. Farley was leading 3-2 as Trombetta secured a takedown on the edge just as the clock hit triple zeros. Heilmann majored St. Peter’s Prep’s Ryan Burkert 11-0 and will face Timber Creek’s Ricky Carter in the quarters.
The other match in the bottom bracket opposite Hertling and Magaldo pits Buena’s Billy Ward against North Bergen’s Anthony Giraldo. In a battle of two returning state medalists, Giraldo topped Delbarton’s Max Rogers, 4-1.
When Brick Memorial junior Matt Moore lost to Christian Brothers Academy’s Hayden Hrymack in the Region VI 195-pound final it was his first loss since an injury that fractured his collarbone on opening day. Moore responded quite well in his first trip to Boardwalk Hall with a pair of pins to advance to the quarterfinals. He stopped Ives Viola of Colonia in 1:40 in the prelims before dispatching of Nutley’s Nick Gaeta in 1:41. He faces Haddonfield’s undefeated senior Carson Stack (36-0) in the quarters.
“I came in really nervous since I’ve never been here before but I feel good now,” Moore said. “After that first match you feel a lot looser and you’ve got all the jitters out. Now I’m just ready to wrestle.”
The 195-pound bracket has some great quarterfinal bouts that also include North Bergen’s Eric McMullen vs. Hawthorne’s Evan Ramos, Don Bosco Prep’s Razohnn Gross vs. Delsea’s Bryan Dobzanski. There is still a question of what will happen in the other quarterfinal where Hrymack has already advanced. In a pre-quarterfinal bout, St. Joseph (Montvale) sophomore won by injury default over Franklin’s Anthony Messner, who was disqualified for an illegal slam. Carfagno’s injury time ran out because of the illegal but inadvertent slam, so he was awarded the win. He was taken off on a stretcher, however, so if he cannot go tomorrow, which appears imminent, Hrymack would essentially get a bye into the semifinals.
Don Bosco Prep freshman Zach Chakonis won a back-and-forth battle with West Orange’s Anthony Angelone, 9-6 at 220, to reach the quarters. He faces top-seeded Brandon Hull of Phillipsburg. Also at 220, Ocean Township’s Colton Bigelow squares off against Holy Cross’s Mauro Correnti in a rematch from the All-Star Invitational in which Bigelow won 9-7. Bigelow earned his 100th career win by beating Schalick’s Nick Pustizzi 8-0 in the pre-quarters.
Manalapan heavyweight Johnny Appice was also making his first appearance in the state tournament. The Braves junior entered as the Region VI heavyweight champ and won his only bout, 8-6 over Region II champ Keith Rodman of Old Tappan. The bout was tied at six in the third when Appice secured the winning takedown.
“I took a shot there just out of desperation trying to get some points and it happened,” Appice said. “I was in good position and he fell over me and I got the two.”
Appice’s opponent in the quarters is Pequannock senior Mike Spencer, who is 39-0 this season.
“I don’t know anything about him,” Appice said. “If you think how good he could be but have never wrestled him before there’s no reason to second-guess yourself. You have to just go in and wrestle your match.”
Other notable first-day performances came included DePaul freshman Dave McFadden handing Bishop Ahr’s Kyle Brady his first loss to advance to the quarterfinals. He gets Delbarton’s Christian Innarella at 113. St. Peter’s Prep senior Alex Richardson handed Roxbury’s Tim Garripoli his first loss of the season, 6-0 at 145 pounds.
Richardson gets South Plainfield’s Corey Stasenko in a rematch of a bout won by Stasenko 7-3 on January 6. Roxbury’s Dillon Artigliere edged Timber Creek’s Bryce Shade 14-12 at 152 while Passaic Tech’s Palel Deeb remained undefeated with an impressive 9-0 major decision over North Hunterdon’s Beau Vrancken. Artigliere and Deeb clash Saturday morning in one of the most intriguing quarterfinal matchups.
Bob Badders covers wrestling for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @Bob_Badders.