By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — The last time the Lower Cape May Regional High School wrestling program won a state playoff match, none of the athletes currently in the program had yet to be born.
In fact, one or two of the parents of the athletes currently in the program might not yet have been born, either.
The Caper Tigers put that long drought to rest Monday. They posted a 39-27 victory over Oakcrest in front of a capacity crowd that roared with every takedown and exploded at the close of every bout that went Lower Cape May’s way.
The playoff win was the program’s first since 1983.
“This is all about the kids,” Lower coach Billy Damiana said. “They’ve put a lot of work in. The kids deserve this. They’re in the weight room early in the morning, they’re coming in in the summertime. What they’ve done since I came here and what the community has done around this program, it’s done wonders. I demand a lot from the kids and they give me a lot and that’s all I can ask for.”
David Tosto clinched the victory for Lower Cape May. Trailing for much of his 132-pound bout, Tosto rallied with a takedown and back points at the start of the third period to take the lead and secured an 8-6 decision over D.J. Flippen to give the Caper Tigers an insurmountable 15-point lead with two bouts remaining.
After Oakcrest’s Josh Mensah scored a 12-7 decision at 152 pounds to open the match, Lower Cape May reeled off six straight victories, five of them by fall.
Brayden Castillo (160), Jonas Lumbruno (170), Connor Eckel (182) and Marcus Hebron (220) each recorded first-period pins. And Matt Craig (Hwt.), despite battling illness that prevented him from practicing for a few days, earned a third-period pin. Craig’s father, David, was a member of and eventual district champion for Lower Cape May’s 1983 team.
Sean Connelly also was victorious during Lower’s six-bout run, scoring a 3-1 overtime decision at 195.
“Winning from 160 through heavyweight and coming through with all those pins was huge,” Damiana said. “Sean Connelly got us a tough win in there. And I can’t say enough about what Matt Craig did for us. He’s been extremely sick. For him to show up tonight and go as hard as he could showed a lot of guts.”
Cameron Leslie closed the action with a 10-7 decision at 145 pounds.
Lower also got solid efforts in losses. Devon Bohn (120) and Mikey Castellano (126) each fought hard against top-notch opponents in respective 7-1 losses, making sure not to give up bonus points to the Falcons.
Lower Cape May (22-3) will travel to second-seeded Haddonfield in the next round on Wednesday. Haddonfield was a 52-23 winner over No. 7 Barnegat.
Lower’s 23 victories are a program record. The previous record of 20 was set during Lower’s South Jersey championship season in 1982.