By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ABSECON — Maybe what Holy Spirit senior K.J. Sherman needed on the Friday night before state playoffs week was to taste his own blood.
The Spartans’ senior captain took an inadvertent head butt from Middle Township’s Adrien Laboy and paid for it with a black eye and a nice gash above his left eyebrow. Sherman paid Laboy back with a 25-10 technical fall victory that gave Holy Spirit a 40-0 lead after the 144-pound bout. The Spartans cruised to a 52-30 win over the Panthers, finishing the regular season with a 9-6 record and in second place behind St. Augustine Prep in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference standings.
“After I came back from that injury time I was fired up and ready to go. It lit that fire in me. Every good match is a good match, but matches like that where his technique or his strength poses a problem and I have to change up my style a little bit, that’s awesome because that helps me be able to wrestle no matter what or what opponent I go against,” said Sherman, a state qualifier during his career at Spirit. “We both went in (for a shot) and he head-butted me, and this (black eye) happened. But, it was just an accident, so no harm done. It’s wrestling. We get cuts and bruises every now and then.
Seemingly everybody on the Spartans’ roster had something to wrestle for on a night that shows just how far this program has come from the days of Pat D’Arcy and a handful of other guys in the room. Phillip Doctuer, a senior who won just four matches as a freshman, closed out an outstanding senior regular season by getting some revenge against Middle’s Kani Perry. Last season, Perry pinned Doctuer in just 58 seconds to help lead Middle to a 48-27 victory.
“I feel great about myself because last year I wrestled that kid and I got pinned with a headlock in less than a minute. It was the biggest mistake of my life and it still haunts me to this day,” Doctuer said. “He’s the same kid, so I felt like I had to come out here and prove that was a fluke (last year).”
Holy Spirit (9-6, 5-1 Cape-Atlantic League American) ripped off seven straight wins — including three straight first-period pins, by Carter Pack at 106 pounds, Max Elton at 113 and Bryce Manera at 120 — to build a 40-0 lead and run away with the match. Middle Township (11-6, 2-6 CAL American) ripped off four straight wins from 150 pounds to 175, three by forfeit and a second-period pin by Sam Keppel at 157, cutting the deficit to 40-24, but a big pin from junior Robert McDevitt at 190 pounds sealed the deal for the Spartans.
Middle got a solid win from David Giulian at 215 before Doctuer’s inspiring win at heavyweight to close things out. It couldn’t have gone better for the Spartans on Senior Night. Aside from Doctuer and Sherman, Gavin Paolone — the 126-pound son of Spirit coach Ralph Paolone — scored a second-period pin during his bout.
“It’s so amazing,” Doctuer said. “I’m so glad my mom could be here because she’s been there my whole life and has supported everything I’ve done, every decision I’ve made. So, I have to thank her, I have to thank God, thank Jesus Christ, and I have to thank my team because they really made me work today. One kid you have to watch out for next year, Robert McDevitt, he’s a great wrestler and I have to respect him. You guys have to watch out for him next year. I know my season is about to be over soon, but if you’re looking for the next kid to get some press, it has to be Robert McDevitt.”
There’s plenty more for all these Spartans wrestlers to push for in the coming weeks, as the team state playoffs begin next week followed by individuals.
“I want to be first in districts. That’s my main goal,” Doctuer said. “I want to make sure that I know in my mind I can be first place in something. This is the only sport where I felt I had confidence and goals in. The main goal is to place first in districts — that’s a dream of mine.”
For Sherman, the next few weeks are sure to be an emotional ride. His father, Ken, passed away suddenly in early January 2020 at just 56 years old. Sherman was a sophomore at the time, and qualified for states about six weeks later.
“Of course I was thinking about him. My mom had his picture with her and I was wearing his varsity jacket (from Waynesboro, Pa.), which is, ironically, the same colors as our school,” Sherman said. “I loved going out there in his jacket (before the match) and receiving that senior award. It feels amazing to win tonight. When I was a freshman I made it one of my goals to never lose a home match — that was my goal. And tonight, I kept that record going. To win that match, on Senior Night, in a good match, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I loved it. Now I want to finish on the top of that podium (at states). No shiner is going to stop me, no head-butts, nothing is going to stop me.”
What’s next: Holy Spirit hosts Donovan Catholic on Feb. 9 in the semifinals of the South Jersey Non-Public B tournament, time TBA. Middle Township travels to West Deptford on Monday in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 2 tournament, time TBA.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays