By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
FRANKLINVILLE — When it comes to district wrestling, fans and wrestlers alike know to expect the unexpected. Then again, they can also count on expecting a good amount of the expected. Typically, the finals in any district are loaded with No. 1 seeds and a good number of them take home championships. But there are always twists and turns during the final round that nobody could have seen coming.
There were all kinds of wild finishes at the District 30 Championships at Delsea Regional High School on Saturday, including a pin that came out of nowhere and Lower Cape May’s first two district champions under current coach Billy Damiana, as the Caper Tigers made a statement after one of their best team seasons in school history in which they won more than 20 matches.
Host Delsea only crowned two champions — senior Tim Spatola at 145 pounds and freshman Jared Schoppe at 152 pounds — but had nine in the finals, took first in the team standings and is sending nearly its entire squad to next week’s Region 8 Championships at Egg Harbor Township. EHT, long a stalwart in district competition, got one champion in freshman 113-pounder Sean Dever, who beat Oakcrest sophomore Hunter Horsey, one of three Horsey boys in the finals as the Falcons are sending five on to regions.
The surprise of the night came at 170 pounds where Mike LaRosa, a senior from Washington Township, caught Delsea senior Justin Dougherty in a pinning move halfway through the third period after Dougherty had built up a seemingly insurmountable 18-6 lead. Hunter Gandy, a junior from Woodstown, was named Most Outstanding Wrestler after pinning his way into the finals then scoring a technical fall in less than four minutes over Delsea sophomore Marius Fennal. Delsea’s Tim Spatola, a senior 145-pounder and the top seed, had a thrilling match, rallying from being down 5-2 to pin Washingtown Township senior Nick Flamma in overtime.
Lower Cape May took the Cape-Atlantic League by storm this year under Damiana, a former star, winning more than 20 matches during the team schedule, and the Caper Tigers took home some serious highlights from District 30. Sophomore 160-pounder Braydon Castillo stunned top-seeded Asa Walton of Delsea, winning 6-4 in sudden victory, then Marcus Hebron scored a pin at 195 to give the Caper Tigers multiple champions.
“I just tried to push the pace, like my coaches were telling me to do. They told me if I kept hitting my shots I could tire him out and win the match. I was just playing it smart. I knew I wasn’t going out there to try to destroy him, he’s too good, a two-time district champion — so I was just trying to stick to my game plan,” Castillo said. “I like being the underdog. I just tried to stay calm. I was the second seed so nobody really expected me to win. He was taking shots with his hip down, so I figured if I pulled his arm to a shrug-down, my coaches have been working with me with the ‘Bo Nickal’ move and it just worked. Coach has trained me since I was a little kid, and this makes me feel like all the hard work he put me through was worth it. It’s amazing.”
Oakcrest also had a fine showing, as David Flippen started the championship round off by pinning Lower Cape May’s Wesley Tosto and senior Frank Gabriel followed that up by pinning Delsea’s Travis Griffith to win his first district title. Hogan Horsey scored a pin over Delsea’s Alexander Zimmerman at 106 pounds while Hunter (113) and Hayden (120) Horsey also both advanced with second-place finishes.
“(Flippen), that’s my brother and my partner. He came out here and beat all three kids. He did an amazing job,” Gabriel said. “Sending five on to regions is big for us. Even though we lost our two studs, Keevon (Berry) and Cal-El (Corbitt) from last year, it was good to send five to regions this year.
“Our lower weights really came out strong and that’s usually what happens. Our ‘Fab Five’ is what we call ourselves, from 106 to 132. Hogan’s standing spladle in the finals was big and really got us going crazy,” he added. “This is my last year, my last ride. This was a big thing for me, my dad’s name has been on the district banner and I’ve been looking at that for the last four years of my life, and I haven’t gotten up there. It was motivation every single day to look at that banner and see my dad’s name up there. That motivation drives me because I wanted to be up there with my dad.”
Gabriel, who recently picked up career win No. 100, said he is much more focused this year.
“This year, I just put a lot more work in with my technique and my endurance is a lot better. I’ve been running every day, doing everything right, especially my nutrition. Last year, I was kind of lackadaisical, a little sweets here, a little ice cream there, but this year I’ve been on top of my game,” Gabriel said.
Now, the really tough work begins, as the top three finishers in each weight class advance to regions, the final stepping stone to the ultimate goal — the NJSIAA Championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
“I just have to keep pushing myself to work harder. It’s a district championship and not a region or state championship, so I have to keep pushing,” Castillo said.
Added Gabriel, “Honestly, the only obstacle is myself and my mentality. Last year, I don’t know what happened at districts, I just lost my head, but I came out strong at regions. That’s the biggest thing for me, my own head, but I feel like nobody can stop me now.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
District 30 Results
106: Hogan Horsey (So/Oak) p. Alexander Zimmerman (Fr/Del), 2:55
113: Sean Dever (Fr/EHT) d. Hunter Horsey (So/Oak) 6-0
120: Ethan Wilson (So/Wash Twp.) d. Hayden Horsey (Sr/Oak) 8-7
126: David Flippen (Jr/Oak) p. Wesley Tosto (Jr/LCM) 4:58
132: Frank Gabriel (Sr/Oak) p. Travis Griffith (Sr/Del) 1:45
138: Hunter Gandy (Jr/Woodstown, Most Outstanding Wrestler) tf. Marius Fennal (So/Del) 3:30 (16-1)
145: Tim Spatola (Sr/Del) p. Nick Flamma (Sr/Wash Twp.) 6:21 (OT)
152: Jared Schoppe (Fr/Del) p. Christian Campanaro (Jr/LCM) 3:10
160: Braydon Castillo (So/LCM) d. Asa Walton (Jr/Del) SV-1 (6-4)
170: Mike LaRosa (Sr/Wash Twp.) p. Justin Dougherty (Sr/Del) 5:03
182: Connor Batten (Jr/Woodstown) p. Pierce Lightfoot (Jr/Del) 5:13
195: Marcus Hebron (So/LCM) p. Emeril Mitchell (So/Winslow) 1:39
220: Jamason Taylor (Sr/Woodstown) d. Matthew Kratzer (Jr/Del) 9-5
285: Jack Dunn (Sr/Wash Twp.) d. Feliz Figueroa (Sr/Penns Grove) 5:59