By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – There was a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding the Middle Township High School wrestling team’s match with Lower Cape May Wednesday evening.
Middle honored its seniors prior to the match and the lights were turned off in the gymnasium save for a small spotlight for pre-match introductions, complete with a district tournament-style biography of accomplishments for each Middle wrestler read by the stadium announcer.
Middle then went out and back up all of the pageantry with one of the program’s best-ever performances in a dual match.
The Panthers won all but one of the nine contested matches, posting six of the victories by fall, to record a 51-24 win over Lower Cape May. The victory was Middle’s third in the last four seasons over its biggest rival, after Lower had won 13 straight over Middle from 2002 through 2014.
“This is the best we’ve ever wrestled and I don’t just mean just this season,” Middle coach Matt Wolf said. “This was a special performance for us. We won every match we felt we could win but to win every bout but one – and our kid that didn’t really battled out there – and to win some of them the way we did, I’m just really proud of our guys and especially our five seniors. All five of them were able to win tonight. This is one for us to remember.”
Romeo Rodriguez (126), Carson Haas (145), Gavin Gomez (145), Karl Giulian (160), Kyle Matthews (195) and Austin Cominsky (220) were the Middle wrestlers to win by fall.
After Gary Nagle (182) was awarded a forfeit victory, Matthews got Middle’s first win on the mat with a pin over Lower’s Tony Kapurelos in 3:11.
“I really wanted to get out right away and set a tone for the match and get a good flow going for the team,” Matthews said.
Cominsky then decked Lower’s Cory Brandt with nine seconds to go in the first period.
“This is definitely one of our most exciting matches of the year,” Cominsky said. “Lower Cape May is very passionate about wrestling so that makes it a great match for us. You always have some nervousness before the match but everyone really pulled through.”
Middle’s Max Heaps won the most hotly-contested bout of the match, edging Lower Cape May’s Cameron Leslie, 10-8, in double overtime.
Christian Cortes-Lopez (138) won Middle’s other decision, a 12-7 result at 138 pounds.
Giovanni Berardis (170) also received a forfeit for Middle.
Lower picked up 18 of its 21 points via three forfeits. Heavyweight Josh Antorino earned the Tigers’ only points on them at with a 3-0 decision over Ryan Nagle.
“They just wanted it a lot more,” Lower coach Billy Damania said. “It was their senior night and they had the big introductions and then they just came out flying. … We ran into a bit of a buzz saw tonight. They’re tough.”
Middle improved to 10-3, while Lower Cape May fell to 5-9.
“They’ve done a great job down there because they’ve gotten a lot of kids out and you can see they’re getting better,” Wolf said of Lower Cape May. “We’re going to enjoy this because it’s one year at a time. We’ll have work to do for the future but tonight this is about our seniors and about our team right now and I’m very happy with what they’re doing.”