Intensity filled the gym in Livingston as the Lancers and West Essex squared off for the second time in a week’s span – this time in the defacto SEC American title match.
More of it happened to be on the Livingston side of the gym.
The Lancers (10-2) jumped out to a 17-0 lead that withered, but huge bouts from the mid weights and a strong showing from the upper weights closed the door on the Knights (9-6) for a 44-18 home win. It’s the program’s fifth division title.
“We took it personal,” Livingston head coach Dan Brill said. “West Essex has had our number in the past and they’re tough and well-coached. They’re an awesome program. We had a close dual with them that we won 33-27 and they won the team title at the county meet. We’re competitors and we wanted that too. We knew that if we wrestled our best, we could do something special. I’m proud of our kids tonight.”
West Essex responded to the 17-0 hole through the first four bouts with an 18-3 technical fall (5:50) win from junior Anthony Barra at 132 and a forfeit victory from senior Mike Pescatore (138). Sophomore Nick Janish was also on his back multiple times in the bout he held to an 8-2 decision against Livingston junior Phenol Morlan at 144, but it wasn’t until the next bout when the Lancers took full control.
Seniors Zachary Vera of Livingston and West Essex’s Ricky Cassidy went the full six in a 6-5 decision that went in Vera’s favor. It gave the Lancers complete momentum and sent the gym into a frenzy.
“Ricky is one of the most game opponents I’ve ever met,” he said. “He almost majored me last year. My bout against him this time was more of a battle with myself than with him. I wanted it more than I did last year and ever before. This is a testament to the hard work we put in the room and our competitiveness on the mat.”
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Brill wasn’t surprised by the result of Vera’s bout. It’s just the type of season his senior is having in the heart of the lineup.
“This year, something has clicked,” he said. “He has always been one of the hardest workers in the room. He’d work at 100 and get 30 out of it. Now, he has started figuring something out. He hasn’t lost since the Pope John match. For Vera to just gut this one out, it just shows what he does in the room every day and he does it with sportsmanship and respect.”
The bout gave Livingston a 23-11 lead, which ballooned with pins from senior Max Lee at 165 and Edward Padilla at 215 to go with a forfeit win from senior Stratos Kantanas (175) and a 4-0 decision victory from senior Vinny Militello (190).
“We just go out there to wrestle and we go hard every time,” Padilla said. “We’re not the best technically, but we definitely have the most heart and we’re the toughest and grittiest. Every time we step out there, we’re there to butt heads and win. This conference is good, but we’re here to dominate.”
What does this match give the Lancers besides the division title. For Brill, it’s a taste of what his bunch is capable of on the more grand stage later on in the winter. For Vera, it’s more of the same.
“We have a special group this year,” Brill said. “They deserve to see the hard work pay off. If we wrestle that tough every match, the sky is the limit for this group.
“I feel like not much is going to change because we know our worth,” Vera added. “Before we won, we had the confidence to win. We’re going to keep pushing forward to be as best as we can.”
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Ryan Patti may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ryanwpatti.