By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Carter Pack lives just a few miles away from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City — the Valhalla of high school wrestling in New Jersey. He’s been to the NJSIAA state championships as a fan, but now the freshman from Linwood will be heading to the famed arena this coming weekend donning the blue-and-gold singlet of Holy Spirit.
And Pack earned his first trip to states in emphatic fashion, beating top-seeded Jason Meola of Kingsway, 7-3, in the 106-pound final after nearly pinning him in the first period.
“I thought I had him. I got a low-leg cradle on him, I tried to keep my feet in, I got him to his back and I thought it was a pin so I went crazy, but the refs called it back,” Pack explained. “I was a little frustrated, but you always have to keep wrestling through any situation, and that’s what I did. I never wrestled him before but he’s a great wrestler. I’m sure I’ll wrestle him again sometime.”
Pack locked up Meola in a cradle near the out-of-bounds line and it looked like he had him pinned, but the officials blew the whistle, calling the wrestlers back to the center of the mat. Pack still got back points and had jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but had to refocus after initially celebrating what he thought was a win.
Meola shaved the lead to 5-2 with a takedown in the second period, but in the third Pack scored another takedown to take a 7-2 lead, and that was all she wrote.
“Freshman year, this was always my goal — win districts and regions, and get to states, the highest level you can get,” Pack said. “I’m only going to get better from here, so this is a great opportunity to win this my freshman year. You always have to stay confident. Personally, I felt like I was the best one in the bracket but you just have to wrestle through any situation and get it done.”
Pack will have some company at Boardwalk Hall, as senior 144-pounder K.J. Sherman will be making the trip along with 113-pounder Max Elton, who finished third. Sherman took second at his weight after falling to returning state champion Ty Whalen of Clearview. Bryce Manera (120) is also headed to states after finishing fourth, falling 12-5 to EHT’s Sean Dever in the consolation round.
“This gives me a ton of confidence,” Pack said. “I can’t wait, I’ve been wanting to go to Boardwalk Hall my whole life. It’s like, quadruple the size of regions, so it should be fun. I just want to have a good mindset and a good pre-match routine, just sticking to what I do. K.J. has been an amazing mentor, he tells me stuff in the room that helps me out. He’s a great wrestler and a great kid.”
HERMIT PRIDE: St. Augustine Prep will have a strong contingent of wrestlers heading to states, led by Jake Slotnick, who won a Region 8 title at 150 pounds with a thrilling 3-2 win over top-seeded Josh Palmucci of Kingsway. Kaden Naame took second at 113 pounds, as did D’Amani Almodovar at 126 pounds. Richie Grungo took third, fighting his way back after losing to Spirit’s Sherman in the semifinals at 144 pounds, and Dennis Virelli scored a second-place finish at 165. Trey McLeer — the quarterback of St. Augustine Prep’s football team — scored a third-place finish at 175 pounds, as did Alex Marshall at 190.
WHALE OF A MATCH: Maybe the best match of the day came in the 175-pound final, as top-seeded George Rhodes of Absegami, the District 32 champion, took on second-seeded Jared Schoppe of Delsea Regional, the District 31 champ.
The bout was tied, 1-1, after three periods, as each wrestler managed an escape. Schoppe took a 2-1 lead in the first overtime period after winning the flip, which would come up huge later on. Rhodes answered in the second overtime, escaping with just six seconds left to force an ultimate tiebreaker overtime period. By scoring first in overtime, Schoppe got the choice and chose the defensive position, and an exhausted Rhodes simply couldn’t hold him down for the entire 30-second period. Schoppe escaped with 19 seconds left to win the bout, 3-2, and take the Region 8 championship.
MINUTEMEN, BIG MEN: Washingtown Township was solid in the upper weights, as Dominic Petracci — who came into the tournament sporting a 33-3 record — won the 215-pound championship with a 6-0 win over Delsea’s Luke Maxwell, who knocked off top-seeded Marcus Hebron of Lower Cape May in the quarterfinals.
At heavyweight, football offensive lineman John Stone earned a second-place finish, falling 3-1 to Delsea’s Rocco Bennett in the championship bout after slipping past Gateway-Woodbury’s Ike Shoulders, 4-3, in an ultimate tiebreaker in the semifinals.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Oakcrest will have twin brothers Hogan and Hunter Horsey making the trip to Boardwalk hall, as Hogan rallied from a loss in the semifinals to beat Pinelands’ Mason Livio, 7-0, in the third-place bout at 126 pounds. Hunter earned his way into the finals, but lost a heartbreaker, 3-2, to Delsea’s Jamar Dixon at 132 pounds.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays