Middletown North moves on to sectional wrestling semis

Eric Sucar
Middletown North’s Brian Ruane (right) tries to gain position on Ocean Township’s Anthony Perez (left) during their 195-lb. bout at the NJSIAA District 22 Wrestling Tournament held at Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver on February 19.

By Wayne Witkowski

Middletown High School North’s wrestling fans hoped for a showdown at home against Middletown High School South Feb. 8 in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section II, Group IV semifinals, but they will get a different opponent.

Middletown North, the No. 2 seed, kept its end of the deal when it rolled past No. 7-seed Colonia High School, 67-3, in the quarterfinals Feb. 6. Junior Stanley Wodjylak decisioned John Poznanski, 5-4, at 145 pounds in the bout of the night to hike his record to 27-2. At 220, Kevin McCarthy also got a big victory when the junior pinned Adrian Najar at 3:34.

Their efforts helped Middletown North raise its record to 22-3 in its first season hitting the 20-win mark after winning 19 matches last season. Colonia is 10-9.

North Hunterdon High School is the next opponent in the sectionals heading to Middletown North for the semifinals. It overpowered No. 6-seed Middletown South, 53-9, Feb. 6.

Middletown South slipped to 16-10. It had hoped to exact some revenge from a 61-9 defeat to Middletown North Jan. 20.

Middletown South sophomore A.J. Vega opened the quarterfinals meet winning a 6-4 decision before North Hunterdon reeled off five pins, a major decision and a forfeit over the next seven bouts to roll to its 17th victory in 22 matches. It’s North Hunterdon’s fourth straight victory — the last three by lopsided scores — after it dropped two in a row to Hunterdon Central Regional High School, 37-31, and Phillipsburg High School, 45-16, which is the odds-on pick to annex another sectional championship.

Phillipsburg beat Middletown North in the sectional semifinals last year and the finals two years ago.

Middletown South junior Jack Hardzewicz (182), who is 24-5, and freshman Michael Hollard (113), who is 22-8, won their bouts. Twenty-win wrestlers James Piehler, a freshman who is 25-6 at 106 pounds, Justin Weimer, a junior who is 20-7 at 160, and Steve Walling, a senior who is 21-10 at 170, lost their bouts.

Middletown North, meanwhile, took a commanding 25-0 lead from the outset, as 106-pound freshman Thomas O’Keefe started things off by winning a major decision to improve his record to 11-1 and the next three wrestlers got pins in the second period: highly regarded freshmen Tyler Klinsky (113 pounds) and Fred Luchs (120), who are each 26-5, and senior Andrew Lacey (126), who is 10-9 sharing that weight class with junior Jon Provenzano. Sean Deering followed with a winning decision at 132 pounds to improve his record to 14-7. Deering is a two-time district runner-up at 106 and 113 pounds.

Colonia then won a decision at 138 for its lone victory before Wojdylak put the Lions back on track. The defending district champion has 80 career victories.

“The guys wrestled very physical tonight, which enabled us to score a lot of points,” coach Matt Sirchio said, referring to bonus points. “The boys keep improving in every position in each match, which is a trend we need to continue this week. The key to success against North Hunterdon is to keep up the intensity, limit their attacks and score on ours.”

Tyler Klinsky (106), a freshman who is 25-4, Nick Cofone (170), a junior who is 18-4, and seniors Thomas Anderson (182), who is 22-3, Brian Winz (195), who is 21-7, and heavyweight Ray Nelson, who is 18-10, did not wrestle. A district runner-up last year, Anderson just missed advancing to the state championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City when he finished fourth in the region. He has 96 career victories.

Austin DeWise, who advanced to the region tournament last year after finishing third in the districts, also can’t be overlooked at 220, where he is 8-5.

They have helped fill the gaping void left by the graduation of Anthony Vetrano, who was third in the state last year at 182 pounds and finished with a school record of 122 career victories, and Chad Freshnock, who finished with 113 career victories wrestling at 220 pounds.

The quarterfinals rout in the sectionals was a needed show of force for Middletown North, which started off 19-0 this season before losing to Raritan High School (24-2), 35-24, Jan. 28 in its first trip to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and then to Howell High School (26-1), 43-21, Feb. 1 and Delsea Regional High School (19-4), 45-22, Feb. 4 in regular-season dual meets.

The Lions had gone 6-0 in the Shore Conference B North Division — their first outright division championship since the 1978-79 season. They shared the A North title last year with Christian Brothers Academy before being moved this season to B North. They were ranked No. 5 in the final Shore ratings.

“We’ve started this climb the past few years, starting with a signature win in the Shore Conference Tournament last year, reaching the quarterfinals,” said Sirchio, who is in his 11th season as coach.

This year’s team advanced to the conference semifinals after victories over Toms River High School North and over Manalapan High School in the quarterfinals. The grueling nonleague meets helped prepare the Lions well for the end of the season.

“The guys have put their work in but had their share of injuries,” Sirchio said.

Sophomore Jacob Anderson is out for the rest of the season at 160 pounds with an injury after a 10-9 start.

“We’d love to get another shot at Phillipsburg, which has won 35 of the last 37 section titles,” the coach said. “I think our team is very talented. Down low and up top, we’re very strong. Most teams’ best guys are in the middle [weights]. It might not show in the records, but our young guys are coming together.”

When the state sectionals conclude this weekend, wrestlers will gear up for the district tournaments next week. With a big state skake-up on the districts, Middletown North moves from District 22 to District 17 with Middletown South, where they will join Hunterdon Central, Hillsborough High School, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, Franklin High School, Keansburg High School and South River High School. Hillsborough will host that district. Both Middletown teams will send their top three finishers in the district this year to Region V instead of Region VI as in the past.