By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — When the high school wrestling season began, Mikey Castellano wasn’t in the starting lineup for Lower Cape May Regional.
Less than two weeks later, the senior won a critical bout to help the Caper Tigers beat one of their main rivals in a match held under a historical setting.
Castellano’s 7-6 comeback victory at 152 pounds was a key turning point in helping Lower Cape May to a 38-22 victory over Middle Township Friday evening.
The match was held outdoors, with a mat placed on Middle’s tennis facility adjacent to the school’s south entrance. The teams’ benches were on the north and south sides of the mat, with parents seated on the west side. Another couple dozen fans watched the festivities from outside the fence.
Castellano trailed during most of his bout with Middle’s Adrian LaBoy, until scoring a stunning reversal with less than 30 seconds to go. He then rode out his opponent for the remaining time to seal his one-point decision and three team points.
Castellano has worked his way back into the lineup thanks in part to an injury to a teammate.
“Mikey’s a guy who lost his wrestle-off and he’s been battling to get some time,” Lower coach Billy Damiana said. “Now, he got a big win against Buena the other day, a big win against Ocean City last weekend and now a huge win tonight, so he’s starting to get some momentum here. LaBoy’s tough, very tough. He’s got a sweet headlock and he’s good on top but Mikey was able to get the better of him at the end.”
Lower (3-1) never trailed for the remainder of the match after Castellano’s win, winning four of the last six bouts.
The Tigers earned bonus points in the final three bouts, as Marcus Hebron posted a 14-4 major decision at 195 and Shane Whitney and Matt Craig each won by first-period fall at 220 and heavyweight, respectively.
Christian Campanero also won by first-period fall at 160 for Lower.
Lower also got points through a 9-0 major decision by Robbie Elwell at 126, a 13-9 decision by Wesley Tosto at 132 and a forfeit victory by Joe DeLong at 113.
“I thought some of our guys overperformed, some underperformed, and some became victims of the moment as is always the case in this rivalry,” Damiana said. “For the most part, I’m happy with how we showed, especially our big guns.”
Evan Dugan earned Middle’s lone pin, decking previously unbeaten David Thave osto in 2:40. The Panthers (1-3) also gained points through a 14-4 major decision by David Giulian at 182, a 9-6 decision by Mike Adelizzi at 170, an entertaining 3-2 decision by Alick Killian at 145 and a forfeit victory by X’zavier Swinton at 120.
“We thought there were a lot of swing matches and we had to have just about all of them to have a chance to win and we only got half of them,” Middle coach Matt Wolf said.
The outdoor match was held under seasonably warm, windy conditions. The sun was particularly hot in the early stages of the match. The temperature was 80 degrees at the start.
“In the beginning I was miserable. I hated every second of it,” Damiana said with a laugh. “Once the sun went down it was great. I’m not really a summer guy. I’m a winter guy because of wrestling so being hot isn’t my thing. But seriously, this was great. And once it started cooling down I appreciated it even more.”
Wolf put the wheels in motion for the outdoor match shortly after Middle’s match against Oakcrest scheduled for Wednesday was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns within Oakcrest’s program. Wolf said he saw a favorable weather forecast for Friday and quickly began to work with school administration to make the event happen. Due to Thursday’s rain, all of the setup occurred on the day of the match.
Friday marked the first time a high school wrestling match involving a team or teams from Cape May County was held outdoors.
“Regardless of where this match was at, we wanted to win, so we’re disappointed with the outcome,” Wolf said. “Like we told the kids, we’re doing all this stuff and setting up a mat outside to have a unique experience, but we’re also here to win. But I’m proud of the kids because they wrestled hard. Cape May’s just a better team than us right now. I think we wrestled as well as we could have.
“This was a great experience for them. So much has been taken from them this year. It’s a shortened season. They’re only in school two days a week, maybe. So to have a unique experience like this, we were happy to pull it off for them.”
Middle honored its seniors prior to the match. They included Adelizzi, Matt Gariano, Jayden Matthews and Brandon Rosensteel.