By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — The host Minutemen may have been the No. 2 seed in South Jersey Group 5 and hosting their half of the bracket on Monday night at Washington Township High, but getting to a sectional championship still runs through Kingsway.

One of the dominant programs in all of South Jersey, the third-seeded Dragons remained one of the hottest teams around by dispatching No. 6 Eastern Regional with ease, winning 52-15, before turning around a half hour later and upsetting Washington Township, 39-22, to punch their ticket to the sectional championship match on Wednesday night against top-seeded Southern Regional, one of the top five teams in the state.

Southern ripped through Egg Harbor Township, 63-11, and beat Highland, 61-6, to improve to 16-1 on the year. The Rams will host Kingsway at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the South Jersey Group 5 championship.

For Kingsway, beating Washington Township was some sweet revenge, as the Minutemen took down the Dragons back on Jan. 11, 38-32, in a regular season matchup.

Washington Township’s Robert DuCoin tries to work out of the hold of Kingsway’s Nathan Taylor during their 126-pound bout in the South Jersey Group 5 semifinals. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“This is the one we came for,” Dragons coach Mike Barikian said after the win over the Minutemen. “This was two programs that have been very competitive for years. These kids have competed against each other since they were little kids, all the way through rec league and everything else. Not disrespectfully, but our kids have always gotten the better of Washington Township growing up, so losing to them earlier this year meant something to this community and these kids. This was a date they had circled on the calendar.”

Kingsway set the tone early, as Nathan Taylor began the match with a technical fall victory that gave the Dragons a 5-0 lead. Brendan Callahan followed at 132 pounds with a thrilling 2-0 victory over Jackson Hoopes, as Hoopes nearly got a reversal at the third-period buzzer — just like he did in January when he beat Callahan, 2-1.

“It’s been in the back of my mind ever since we lost that night. It was a rough night and I just kept that in mind. I was thinking that we had to be ready to go, I had to be ready to go. As it was getting closer and closer I was thinking that I had to go out there and score more points, I can leave the match up to (an official’s) decision like last time,” Callahan said. “This time the key thing was I got a reversal instead of an escape and that helped because even if the same thing happened and he got the call and got two (points), it goes into overtime. And I feel like I was dominating him in neutral. We were both tired, but I feel like I could have pushed through.”

“It was a very similar kind of match. We have to finish a little more quickly and cleaner on him, but (Hoopes) is tough to score on, I’ll give him that,” Barikian said. “But they’ve wrestled three matches and besides that questionable call at the end of the last match he hasn’t scored a point on Brendan. We have to do a better job of scoring, but Brendan came here and had a good day. In his first match he made it difficult on himself by giving up two sets of back points but still battled back against (Eastern’s Gavin ) Haegele, and this match (vs. Hoopes) was one he wanted to have back, so it was good for him.”

Kingsway’s 190-pounder, Luke Van Brill, reacts after getting a first-period pin. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

The Dragons — who have now won eight straight matches — kept things rolling for the next four weight classes, as wins from David and Tommy DiPietro at 138 and 144, respectively, and tech falls from Sean Kirwin at 150 and Benjamin Dryden at 157 had Kingsway out to a 26-0 lead.

Washington Township rallied to cut the deficit to 26-10 after a pin from James Henhaffer and a major decision from Dan Wilson, but Kingsway won at 190 with Luke Van Brill and at 215 with Christopher San Paolo to push the lead out to 36-10 and effectively seal the win. The Minutemen ripped off three straight wins before 120-pounder Nathan Lubonski capped the win with a 6-2 decision.

Now, the Dragons (16-8) have a chance to go up against one of the toughest teams in the state and try to pull a major upset.  

“As far as strategy is concerned, unless you have extra bodies — I can’t bump a guy up two weight classes and so anything crazy, it is what it is,” Barikian said. “Southern is a phenomenal team. They are tough from 106 all the way through heavyweight, but we’ll show up and wrestle. We’ll get some good matches and some good matchups for state seedings, and see some guys we’ll see down the road.”

Added Callahan, “at the beginning of the year I was skeptical because we lost a lot of good guys (to graduation). But now I’m seeing it’s not that bad and we’re coming up. We had some tough moments, like against Delsea and Washington Township, but we’ve bounced back and we’ve been on a nice streak. We’re hoping we can keep it going.”

What’s next: Kingsway at Southern on Wednesday at 6 p.m. for the South Jersey Group 5 championship. Washington Township turns its attention to the upcoming individual district tournament.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays