By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Romeo Rodriguez never wrestled before attending Middle Township High School.
But he’ll graduate from there as one of the program’s all-time greats.
Rodriguez further cemented the legacy of his remarkable rise as an athlete by winning the 100th match of his career in Middle’s 58-15 victory over Red Bank Regional Friday evening.
Rodriguez did his best to try to secure the milestone victory with a pin but had to settle for an 18-3 technical fall over Tucker Cochrane at 132 pounds. Rodriguez usually wrestles at 126.
The victory came on Middle’s Senior Night. Rodriguez, Carson Haas, Kyle Matthews and Dawson Tallant were each honored.
“It was exciting. We started doing the math a couple weeks ago and we thought Romeo could have a chance to get (his 100th win) tonight,” Middle coach Matt Wolf said. “There was a pep rally in school today for all winter sports so obviously we made a big deal about it. But you worry about overhyping it and you’re a little worried you’re overconfident. But we just wanted him to get out and wrestle like he can and have fun and he’s been doing that all year.”
Rodriguez improved to 29-1 on the season with the victory. The 2018 District 30 champion went 38-4 as a junior and 22-15 as a sophomore after beginning his career with a rather pedestrian 11-13 season as a freshman.
“We’ve had a lot of guys who’ve done a lot of improving but he’s the epitome of that,” Wolf said. “To go 11-13 as a freshman to where he is now, it’s definitely an example of when talent meets hard work. He hasn’t missed a practice in four years. To win that many matches is amazing when you consider he didn’t wrestle before coming out in high school.”
Middle’s three other seniors also won against Red Bank. Haas need just 22 seconds to win by fall at 152 pounds, Matthews posted a 14-5 victory at 195 pounds and Tallant scored a 7-2 decision at heavyweight.
Parker Smart (106), Cole Miller (138), Matt Gariano (145), Karl Giulian (182) and Marcus Hebron (220) also each won by pin and David Giulian (160) won by major decision for Middle, which improved to 12-2 in dual matches.
It was an impressive team effort against a Red Bank team that had entered the match at 12-7.
“This was the best we’ve wrestled all season,” Wolf said. “We’ve been going two-a-days all week. The kids have been coming in at 6 in the morning and then we’ve been going again after school. We had an optional 6 a.m. practice the other day and every kid showed up.
“They’re really working and it showed tonight. That’s a good team that came down here. We’re excited. We’re two weeks out from districts so hopefully we can keep it rolling going into that.”