By BRIAN CUNNIFF
You could make a rather powerful argument that Saturday was the best day in the history of the Middle Township High School wrestling program.
Seven Middle wrestlers — out of nine who entered — placed among the top three in their respective weight classes at the District 30 Tournament at Clearview Regional High School to advance to this week’s Region 8 Tournament.
Middle has never sent that many wrestlers through to regions. Not even close.
“For us to have seven kids go through, when we only entered nine kids, it was a really, really good day for us,” Middle coach Matt Wolf said.
Three of those wrestlers won championships, another first-time accomplishment for the program. And two of the champions set individual records as well.
Seniors Gary Nagle (170) and Austin Cominsky (195) and junior Romeo Rodriguez (126) emerged as champions. Sophomore Karl Giulian earned second place, losing in the 160-pound title bout. And Carson Haas (145), Giovanni Berardis (182) and Kyle Matthews (220) each took third by winning their respective consolation final bouts.
SECOND-PERIOD RALLY BOOSTS RODRIGUEZ
Romeo Rodriguez was way behind on points in Saturday’s District 30 championship bout at 126 pounds. Trailing by six points in the second period, he reversed Christian Smith of Egg Harbor Township and got him to his back. The referee quickly blew his whistle as he slammed the mat with his right hand, giving Rodriguez a stunning victory and his first district title.
“It was an amazing moment for me,” Rodriguez said. “I was losing by a lot in the beginning of the match and I was started to think I couldn’t do it. “But as soon as I came out and pinned him it was like the best moment of my life.”
The victory improved Rodriguez to 38-2 for the season, setting a new program record for victories in a season. The previous record of 37 was held by Nagle, who also has 37 this season.
“It’s great because I’ve put in so much work this whole year to get where I’m at,” Rodriguez said. “To beat Gary’s record is just a huge accomplishment for me.”
Rodriguez is seeded sixth in the weight class for the Region 8 Tournament. He’s wrestle No. 3 Finnegan McFadden in a quarterfinal match Friday.
MILESTONE WIN FOR NAGLE
It would be almost impossible for Gary Nagle to have had more riding on the outcome of Saturday’s District 30 title bout at 170 pounds.
Nagle went out and performed at his best under all that pressure.
Nagle secured his second straight district championship and became the first Middle Township wrestler to win 100 career matches when he scored a 9-2 decision over Mark Mansour of Egg Harbor Township. Nagle scored the final seven points of the match.
“I just prepared the same way as I would for any other match,” Nagle said. “One thing that was really cool was seeing Romeo Rodriguez. That was the first match of the finals and I was watching that while I was warming up. The way that went back and forth and then he got his kid to his back and the way the gym lit up, that got my heart racing. I got really excited seeing my teammate wrestle like that.”
Nagle upped his season record to 37-3 and his career mark to 100-31 with the result.
“It’s definitely a really cool thing,” Nagle said of reaching 100 career wins. “It kind of gives me a little bit of recognition and my teammates, too. We all put the work in and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my team. We have such a great intensity in our practice room.”
Nagle will now attempt for an improved showing at the Region 8 Tournament, where he lost both of his matches last season. The goal is to do well enough to be among the top four in the weight class, which would qualify him for the state tournament. He opens regions as the No. 6 seed in his weight class and will go against No. 3 Mason Maxwell of Delsea in Friday’s quarterfinal round.
“I think I’m going to be very competitive at the tournament,” Nagle said. “I’ve wrestled with some of the kids that are going to be there. I definitely think I have a good chance. I’m excited for it.”
REDEMPTION FOR COMINSKY
Austin Cominsky lost in the District 30 title bout as a junior last year. So it was championship or bust for the 195-pound senior last weekend.
“I was definitely extremely focused,” Cominsky said. “I wasn’t going to take no for an answer after coming up short last year. I definitely felt like I needed this.”
Cominsky, the top seed in the weight class, certainly wrestled with razor-sharp precision. After a win by fall in the semifinal, Cominsky took Noah Little of Gateway/Woodbury to his back almost immediately in the title bout and pinned his opponent in just 48 seconds.
“I took a single leg, took him down, got an arm bar, ran the arm bar around his head and held him on his back and that was it,” Cominsky said. “It was exhilarating. I’d never won a district championship before so I had a lot of adrenaline pumping through me.”
As a district champion, Cominsky has earned a bye to Friday evening’s portion of the Region 8 Tournament at Egg Harbor Township. He’ll face the winner of a Wednesday preliminary match in the quarterfinal round. The top four place winners in each weight class at region tournaments advance to the state championships in Atlantic City next week.
“I am very excited for regions,” Cominsky said. “I’m just going to do my best. I really hope to go to states this year. I’m seeded fourth so I guess I’m expected to place. But I have to go out and make it happen.”
Cominsky is 35-5 on the season. He has 96 career victories.