By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
Kevin Gallego did everything that he could to prepare for his final wrestling season at Hillsborough High School, and it paid off.
The senior was one of five Raiders to place in the top three at the District 18 tournament Saturday and advance to the Region 5 tournament that was scheduled to begin this week and continues Friday and Saturday at Hunterdon Central.
“This is definitely really special to me,” Gallego said. “This is all I’ve worked for the past four years. This is awesome to see it finally all come together.”
Joshua Villa was third at 113 pounds. He won, 10-6, over Sean Snodgrass of Bound Brook in the consolation round. Anthony Donnadio took third at 120 pounds. He won, 10-9, over Jacob Frisch of Montgomery.
Tanner Johnson was second at 145 when he lost to three-time champion Mekhi Lewis of Bound Brook. Anthony DelGuercio was second at 182. He lost by pin to Kyle Murphy of Bridgewater-Raritan.
“All the kids, whether they were winning or losing, I couldn’t ask more of them,” said Hillsborough head coach Steve Molinaro. “They progressed. They climbed all year long. I’m very happy with how we progressed through the year.”
Gallego’s progress landed him his first berth in the region tournament. He’d been to districts, but never found his way into the top three.
“It’s awesome to finally have all this work after three years on varsity to pay off and finally make it to regions,” said Gallego, who was third at 132 pounds. “It’s always been tough. It’s a battle with making weight and wrestling tough opponents at districts.”
Gallego had a tough road to his bronze medal. He had to knock off a pair of opponents that had beaten him earlier this year, but revenge never tasted so good. Seeded fourth, Gallego avenged a regular-season loss against fifth-seeded Mike Brodsky of Bridgewater-Raritan, 3-1, in the first round.
“I never looked past any of my opponents,” Gallego said. “I just go out and wrestle the same no matter who I’m wrestling.
“He beat me during one of our dual meet. It was a very close match. He beat me in overtime.”
Gallego gained confidence from the win. It was a hard-fought victory over a fellow senior who was wrestling to extend his season as well.
“I was very confident,” Gallego said. “I was very excited wrestling in the districts for my last year. I wanted to go out there and give it my all. It was a little bit of a confidence boost, but I was still very focused on the rest of the day.”
Gallego lost to top-seeded Evan Drill of Somerville in the semifinals to fall into the consolation match.
“Even when I lost my second match, Coach Molinaro said, you wrestled the best you have, now you have to go out there and win,” Gallego said.
Gallego was in a high-pressure spot. Lose and his season was over. Win over Bobby Demeter of Manville, who had beaten him in the Somerset County Tournament, and his season could continue at regions.
“During our regular-season dual, I beat him, but it wasn’t really a show of whether I improved or not because he got injured. It was an injury default,” Gallego said, adding, “I did a lot of off-season (work) this year, going to clubs and stuff, because I really wanted to make it out of districts and make some memories for myself, have my hard work pay off, have something to show for it.”
His 7-4 win over Demeter kept his season alive and gave him his first berth in regions, where he was to be joined by four other Raiders.
“That was about right,” Gallego said of the HHS region qualifiers. “We all did our best and showed it out there this Saturday.”
Gallego had been planning all year for a big finish to his Raiders career. He was one of the veterans that helped to push the younger wrestlers in practice and set the standard on the mat. With Saturday’s third-place finish, he improved to 22-12.
“Everyone matured throughout the season and learned how to wrestle better,” Gallego said. “It was a combination of the coaches doing a great job and us as teammates getting to know each other.”
The Raiders came on strong and made a solid showing in the district tournament. It was reassuring.
“Coming into the season, you didn’t really know what to expect because of a lot of young kids in the lineup,” Molinaro said. “The bottom line is every kid in the lineup has improved. Especially toward the end of the season, they were wrestling tough and beating some people maybe they didn’t think they could. They really started wrestling well.”
The districts provided a platform for the Raiders to show their progress. They wrestled their best no matter what their seed or opponent’s record.
“We knew some had a tough road and they got themselves through,” Molinaro said. “Anthony Donnadio was in the first or second toughest weight in the district. He had to beat a kid in consolation he kept splitting with.
“Kevin Gallego had to beat a kid in the first round that had beaten him. He overcame a knee injury in the consolation and beat Demeter again. It showed a lot of guts.”
Gallego’s growth from freshman to senior year is a tribute to his hard work and determination. He has valued being a part of the program and being able to represent HHS in competition.
“Wrestling in general, especially this program,” Gallego said, “it’s taught me to be more responsible and more self-determined and do your best all the time, try to accomplish your goals and set a goal and try to achieve it.”
Gallego took his same mentality into the region tournament. He wasn’t going to overlook anyone, and after he showed his determination in districts, no one will overlook him either.
“He’s so happy to be in the regions,” Molinaro said. “He deserved it. He wrestled his heart out.”
HILLSBOROUGH: Five wrestlers advance to region tournament
By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group