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ATLANTIC CITY — Shawn McCord was riding high and breathing easy heading into the 2014 NJSIAA Individual State Tournament, which is pretty much never the case for a wrestler stepping onto the mats at Boardwalk Hall for the first time.

McCord, however, is among the many wrestlers each year who are simply happy to have qualified for the state tournament. The pressure was heavy in the Region VI Tournament, but when he finished third and became Red Bank Catholic’s first state qualifier since 1983, a weight was off his shoulders. Friday night in Boardwalk Hall he wrestled smart and loose, and the result was something he couldn’t have imagined a few months ago.

McCord defeated Bergen Catholic’s Christian Jenco, 2-1, in the preliminary round, then pinned Parsippany Hills’ Steven Hill in the pre-quarterfinals to reach the quarterfinal round of the state tournament at 220 pounds. Eight wrestlers in New Jersey are still alive for the 220-pound title, and McCord is one of them.

“My main goal was to get here, and in regions I was way more nervous,” McCord said after he decked Hill early in the third period. “Down here I actually feel comfortable and able to wrestle to the best of my ability.”

Jenco is a former state qualifier and a standout for Bergen Catholic, the No. 1 team in the state and a top-10 team in the country. One takedown was all McCord needed.

“My confidence went up 10-fold after that,” McCord said. “I wasn’t really nervous, and I knew I could get the job done. I trained with (CBA’s Mike) Oxley all week, and it helped my explosiveness. I knew that if you can’t get up in states you’re not going to win.”

McCord then took out Hill, the Region III champion, with a fall in 4:13. McCord was leading 5-2 after two periods. Now he gets Wayne Valley’s Justin Walker (35-3) in the quarterfinals, which begins Saturday at noon. A win there would move him into the semifinals and guarantee him no worse than a sixth-place finish. Red Bank Catholic has had just three state medalists in program history. Tom Seitz won the 108-pound state title in 1974 and finished third in 1973. Bill Herchakowski’s seventh/eighth-place finish at 141 pounds in 1979 stands as the Caseys’ last state place-winner.

“I’m just trying to shine in the spotlight,” McCord said. “This is everyone’s goal. Everyone wants to be in the position I’m in now. I just want to keep winning and make it on the podium.”

Whereas McCord comes from a program with very little wrestling tradition, Joe Ghione comes from one of the state's most storied wrestling programs. The Brick Memorial senior advanced to the quarterfinals with a pin in 1:40 over Robbinsville’s Nicholas Bossie and then a 12-6 decision over Bordentown’s Justin McTamney, the latter of whom was sixth in the state last season at 132 pounds. He’ll wrestle St. Peter’s Prep’s Connor Burkert in the quarterfinals.

Ghione’s career has certainly had its ups and downs. He’s a two-time state medalist, a two-time Region VI champion and helped Brick Memorial capture the 2013 Group IV title. He’s also had his share of crushing defeats, and this season battled through a serious elbow injury that nearly derailed his final high school season.

“At one point in the season I thought maybe I should just pack it in,” Ghione said. “I thought I was going to have to get Tommy John surgery and that I would just have to get ready for Lock Haven. Coaches said they’d get me back, and since Shore Conference’s I’ve been doing three-a-days.”

Last season he broke his collarbone in a bout with Delbarton’s Christian Innarella in the pre-quarterfinals. He tried to give it a go in the wrestlebacks but the injury was too severe, and he was eventually pinned by Colts Neck’s Pete Ottaviano.

“I think I have some unfinished business from last year to catch up on,” Ghione said.

Ghione gets Burkert, who was seventh in the state at 132 pounds last season, in the afternoon with a trip to the semifinals on the line.

“If there’s a time to get it right it’s this weekend,” Ghione said. “I have no other time. This is it for me. Right now is the time to finish strong.”

Keansburg’s Tyree Sutton won just the second and third bouts by a Keansburg wrestler in state tournament history when he defeated Parsippany Hills’ Nick D’Uva, 9-3 in the preliminary round, before edging Wayne Valley’s Anthony Landberg, 4-3, to reach the 195-pound quarterfinals. Sutton is Keansburg’s second state qualifier in program history. The first, heavyweight Anthony Cosentino, won his preliminary bout in the 2005 state tournament when he was the Titans’ first state entrant. Now, Sutton is just one victory from becoming the program’s first ever state medalist.

“It feels so great being here,” Sutton said. “I’m 2-0 right now, and I’m looking to win three more and be a state champ.”

He will face Emerson/Park Ridge’s Robbie Maggiulli in the quarterfinals. Maggiulli is the Region II champion and is 32-0 this season.

“Anyone can be beat,” Sutton said. “I didn’t win districts or regions, but I feel like I can win it all. I wasn’t predicted to make it this far, but I’m going to prove people wrong.”

Friday’s opening two rounds started off great for the Shore Conference, as area wrestlers went 21-7 in the preliminary round that pits the second- and third-place region finishers against one another. The pre-quarterfinal round saw the Shore go under. 500 with just 15 wrestlers still alive for a state championship.

Joining Sutton in the 195 quarterfinals is Oxley, who pinned Lower Cape May’s Corey Damiana with a cross-face cradle 17 seconds into the second period. Damiana entered the bout with a 37-1 record. Oxley will wrestle Brearley/Dayton’s Jeff Velez (35-4) in the quarterfinals.

“I know every match is going to be tight, but I’ve been preparing all season for this so I know I have it in me,” Oxley said. “I’ve been working all year for this tournament, so I’m going to let it fly and show everyone what I got.”

Point Boro senior Ryan Budzek received one of the toughest draws in the entire tournament at 126 pounds, but started off on the right foot with a 1-0 decision over DePaul’s Matt Noble. He wrestles Monroe’s Sal Profaci, who outlasted Innarella 3-2, in the quarterfinals.

CBA sophomore Sebastian Rivera pinned Manville’s Brian Kuhlman before defeating Haddon Township’s Chris Wolf, 5-2, to reach the quarterfinals at 106 pounds. He faces Delbarton’s Ty Agaisse in the quarterfinals. Agaisse, who was seventh last season and is currently the No. 4 ranked 106-pounder in the nation, pinned Jackson Memorial’s Fred Terranova in the pre-quarterfinals.

Toms River South sophomore Owen McClave scored an 8-0 major decision over Voorhees’ Kyle DiNapoli at 113 pounds to move into the quarterfinals against Clearview sophomore Zack Firestone (36-1).

Jackson Liberty junior Mike Russo won by 12-2 major decision over Nutley’s Joseph Ferinde at 120 pounds. Russo (36-0), who was fourth in the state at 106 last season, wrestles Jefferson senior Bryan Damon (37-2) in the quarters. Damon was fifth at 113 last season.

Rumson-Fair Haven junior Marcus Iwama defeated Paramus’s Alex Sebahie 11-4 at 132 pounds to move into the quarterfinals and one win from a top-six finish. Iwama wrestles Paulsboro’s Juan Rivera (36-4) next as he tries to become just the third state medalist in program history.

At 145, Southern’s Zach Wilhelm pinned North Bergen’s Manny Dominguez in 3:11 to reach the quarterfinals where he will face Clearview senior John Van Brill (36-0).

Both Wall’s Brett Donner and Howell’s Joey Schultz reached the quarterfinals at 160 pounds. Donner majored Morris Knolls’ Dean Drugac, 14-3, to set up a rematch with Riverside’s Christian Stackhouse. Stackhouse (39-0) handed Donner his only loss of the season on a controversial overtime call in the Mustang Classic finals. Schultz topped DePaul’s Nick Carey, 11-4, in his opening bout, then majored Region VIII champ James Ingersol from Egg Harbor, 12-4. Schultz gets undefeated John Faugno (37-0) of Glen Ridge in the quarterfinals.

Southern senior Gerardo Jorge used a takedown in double overtime to defeat Holy Cross’s Kenny Long, 4-3 at 170 pounds. Earlier in the night, Jorge won a 4-3 double overtime decision from Becton/Wallington’s Nathan Bueno. Jorge has Don Bosco Prep’s Luke Farinaro in the quarterfinals. Farinaro was fifth in the state at 170 last season and is 30-5 this year.

Brick Memorial senior Nick Costa recorded his 100th career victory in the 182-pound pre-quarterfinals by defeating Ridge’s Cort Hotz, 6-3. Costa, who placed seventh at 182 last season, faces Ocean City’s Cooper Gallagher (37-1) in the quarterfinals. Costa will be joined by teammate Tyler Poling, who topped West Morris Central’s Jesse Windt, 3-0, at 220 pounds. Poling faces Hopewell Valley’s Mike Markulec in the quarters.

Action resumes Saturday at 10 a.m. with the first round of wrestlebacks on eight mats followed by the quarterfinals on four mats at noon.