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Home Featured Lions defeat rival Eagles, 40-27, in Middletown wrestling showdown

Lions defeat rival Eagles, 40-27, in Middletown wrestling showdown

Lions defeat rival Eagles, 40-27, in Middletown wrestling showdown
Middletown High School North 126-pounder Nicholas Wall takes down Middletown South's Declan Connolly during their match on Jan. 6 in Middletown. Wall won by an 8-2 decision to help Middletown North defeat Middletown South 40-27.

MIDDLETOWN — The latest chapter on the mat between the Middletown North High School and Middletown South High School wrestling teams ended with a Lions’ roar on Jan. 6.

Wrestling on their home mat, the Lions handed the Eagles their first loss of the 2022-23 season, 40-27, and won their first dual meet against their crosstown rival since 2019.

“Our guys came out and wrestled tough and did their jobs. They wrestled really well tonight,” second-year Middletown North coach Eric Morley said.

The turning point came nine matches in at 106 pounds with Middletown South leading, 21-18.

Middletown North’s Brady Klinsky pinned his opponent in a minute to boost the Lions to a 24-21 lead. The Lions won four of the final five bouts to claim their seventh dual meet victory.

Junior Anthony Astorino continued Middletown North’s momentum during the 113-pound bout against Zachary Veniskey.

Astorino and Veniskey battled to a 4-4 tie after three periods. After neither competitor was able to score a takedown in a one-minute overtime period, two 30-second tiebreakers were used to determine a winner.

Both wrestlers had the opportunity to control the top or bottom spot in the referee’s position.

Astorino began the first tiebreaker on bottom and scored a reversal to take a 6-4 lead. In the second tiebreaker, Astorino held Veniskey scoreless to claim three team points and push the lead to 27-21.

“I just had to pull through at the end and I did,” Astorino said. “It was great to see my peers cheering me and my coaches being excited for me.”

Middletown North’s Jacob Portman (120) won by pin in :49 and teammate Nicholas Wall (126) followed with an 8-2 decision over Declan Connolly. With a 36-21 lead and two bouts left, the Lions had clinched the victory.

The final two bouts saw Middletown South’s Jack Zaleski (132) win by forfeit and Middletown North’s Justin Fearon (138) score a 10-0 major decision over Ryan Willi.

The Lions have won eight of their last nine dual meets against Middletown South.

Middletown North (7-3) competed in the Elizabeth High School Minuteman Invitational on Jan. 7 and placed second in the team standings in a field of 17 schools.

Coming off an 8-12 campaign in 2021-22, Morley likes where his team is sitting with its strong start and believes the Lions can make a run at a state sectional tournament team title if his grapplers continue to improve.

“This year our numbers are really high, our enthusiasm is really high and our culture is really good. You kind of saw the product of that (against Middletown South),” the coach said.

Middletown South (4-2) bounced back from its loss to Middletown North by going 1-1 at the Cranford High School Duals on Jan. 7.

The Eagles defeated Governor Livingston, 51-26, and lost to defending NJSIAA Group V state champion Phillipsburg, 59-12.

Last season the Eagles went 15-5 and reached the Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament championship match.

Seventh-year coach Anton Atterbury said his squad is capable of contending for a state sectional tournament title this season, but knows the Eagles still have a lot to work to do to get themselves in position to do just that.

“We have a long way to go,” the coach said. “Consistency is huge with good teams and we are obviously not there yet with the consistency.”

Two key returners from 2021-22 are Zaleski and David Hussey, both of whom qualified for the state tournament.

Zaleski is a three-time state tournament qualifier and a three-time state medalist, placing fourth for the second year in a row at the state tournament last season.

The senior wants to go out with bang and has his eyes set on becoming the program’s first state champion since Glen Pritzlaff (171) in 1994.

“I have accomplished a lot in my career, but obviously winning the state title is the goal. Winning that state title would mean everything to me,” Zaleski said.