CBA’s Sebastian Rivera, Toms River East’s A.J. Meyers Reach Wrestling State Finals
ATLANTIC CITY -- As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Christian Brothers Academy senior Sebastian Rivera looked to his coaches with a smile, then rose to his feet before letting out a primal scream.
Each year Rivera has moved one step closer to realizing his dream, and now he's one win away from reaching the top of the high school wrestling mountain.
Rivera defeated St. Joseph (Montvale) senior Jonathan Tropea, 6-3, on Saturday evening inside Boardwalk Hall to reach the 113-pound NJSIAA state final. Rivera rallied to tie the bout with a takedown on the edge of the mat in the second period, then sealed his first trip to a state final with a third-period takedown.
One year after feeling the sting of disappointment when he lost in the 113-pound state semifinals, Rivera will get to wrestle on the center mat for a New Jersey state championship.
"I've put so much time into this sport and it's paying off," Rivera said. "It didn't work out the way I wanted to in the first period, but I definitely thought I had the poise to come out with the win."
Tropea struck first with an early takedown, and Rivera was doing everything he could to get back to his feet. Tropea stuck with him until Rivera was able to get out and pancake Tropea to his back. The throw came after time had expired in the first period, but Rivera had his one point escape, and had sent a message.
"He knew I was coming, and when he took that first injury time I knew he was breaking," Rivera said. "You see him throughout these matches take injury time, and I was hoping he wasn't going to take it because that's when he catches his wind back. But after that throw; we've been working on that pancake because he takes that straight double."
Tropea started the second period on defense and escaped to take a 3-1 lead. Rivera stayed on the offensive, and after grabbing a hold of Tropea's left leg near the edge of the circle, he worked to pull him in and eventually secure the takedown to tie the bout 3-3. Rivera rode Tropea out the rest of the second period.
"I knew I wasn't going to let him out of bounds before I got that two," Rivera said.
In the third, Rivera chose defense and was released by Tropea before the period began. Up 4-3, Rivera didn't sit back, instead pushing the pace even without a stalling warning against him. He had no thoughts of playing it defensive.
"That's where you get in trouble," Rivera said. "You see all these great wrestlers go down because they're stalling. You have to keep wrestling. I was looking for another takedown. I knew that match wasn't over."
Rivera's persistence paid off with a takedown late in the period for a 6-3 lead which he never relinquished, becoming CBA's first state finalist since James Beshada in 2007.
During Saturday morning's quarterfinals, Rivera was dominant in pinning Highland's Lucas Siegfried in 3:38 after building a 16-1 lead. In the state final he will face Delbarton sophomore Pat Glory, who won by 8-0 major decision over North Bergen's Dan Ortega in the other semifinal. Glory was the state runner-up at 106 pounds last season. Rivera defeated Glory, 9-7, to win the Super 32 title in October. If he can do so again he will become CBA's second state champion and first since Pete Black in 1969.
With blood still dripping from his nose, Rivera sprinted off the mat and into the stands to great his family. He shared a moment with his father, Steve, who also happens to be his trainer, and was a state champion for Manalapan in 1987.
"To see him with tears in his eyes, it was the best feeling," Rivera said. "All the work we put in, for it to end like this in the last chapter. But I have one more match to go, and I'm coming for that state title."
Joining Rivera in representing the Shore Conference in the state finals is Toms River East junior A.J. Meyers, who reached the 152-pound championship bout by virtue of a 3-2 victory over Holy Cross's Avery DiNardi. A takedown in the opening seconds of the bout was all Meyers needed to become the Raiders' first state finalist since Vinnie DelleFave won the 119-pound state title in 2009.
"It feels good," Meyers said. "My goal was to make it to the final this year, but now that I'm here I might as well give Glasgow a run for his money."
Bound Brook junior Stephan Glasgow, the top seed in the top bracket at 152 pounds, defeated Don Bosco Prep's Dominick Mandarino, 10-4, in the other semifinal bout. Glasgow was second in the state at 145 pounds last season, losing 1-0 to Brick Memorial's Alec Donovan.
Meyers' takedown put him up 2-0, but he was warned for stalling before the period came to a close. He rode out DiNardi for the rest of the first period and then held him down for the entire second period. He did, however, get hit with another stalling call to give DiNardi a point heading to the third period. He wasn't just going to cut DiNardi loose, however.
"I've done that (riding) all year so I'm pretty comfortable with it," Meyers said. "I just needed to change something to make the refs happy."
Unheralded entering the tournament despite having just one loss on his record, Meyers defeated Queen of Peace's Garrett Beam, 7-4, in the quarterfinals before taking down DiNardi to reach the final. Meyers demeanor post-match is a lot like his style on the mat. He's calm and calculating, and that attitude has served him well during his second trip to the state tournament.
"That's just my mentality of wrestling," Meyers said. "I want to control the matches, and I feel if I go my pace I can control them."
Even though he reached the second round of wrestlebacks as a sophomore and entered as a region champion with a 33-1 record, he didn't get the greatest seed. He was placed as the No. 5 seed in the bottom bracket.
"I came in as the 10th or 11 seed (overall) and now I'm in the finals, so I definitely surprised some people down here," Meyers said. "I looked at myself as a top-eight guy."
Meyers knows Glasgow was the favorite entering the tournament and will be favored in the final, but he's also confident he can keep his run going.
"I say if I wrestle one of my best matches I have a good shot at winning," Meyers said.
The Shore Conference went 2-4 in the semifinals and will have a total of 12 wrestlers earn state medals.
Toms River South's Owen McClave fell to Phillipsburg's Brandon Paetzell, 2-1 in double overtime, in the 132-pound semifinals. Point Beach's John Finnerty had his cinderella championship run come to an end when he was pinned by undefeated Hasbrouck Heights sophomore Michael O'Malley in the 145-pound semifinals. Finnerty was just the second state semifinalist in Point Beach history, joining 1998 state champ Jake Cairns.
At 182 pounds, Middletown North's Anthony Vetrano was the Lions first state semifinalist since 1974, but lost to top-seeded Brandon Kui of DePaul, 10-4. Wall's Matt McKenzie was edged by undefeated Morris Knolls senior Dean Drugac, 4-3 in ultimate tiebreaker, in the 195-pound semifinals.
St. John Vianney junior Luke Ecklof will wrestle Gateway's Dante Mininno for seventh place at 106 pounds. Toms River South's Cole Corrigan goes for seventh at 138 pounds against Pascack Hills' Benjamin Brisman. CBA's Jack LaCorte squares off against Pennsville's Frank Wyshinski for seventh place at 195 pounds, and Howell's Eric Keosseian takes on South Plainfield's Zach DelVecchio for seventh place at 220 pounds.
Brick Memorial's Gianni Ghione at 120, McClave at 132, Finnerty at 145, Wall's Brett Donner at 170, Vetrano at 182 and McKenzie at 195 can all finish as high as third but now lower than sixth.
Action resumes Sunday morning at 10 a.m. with the fourth round of wrestlebacks, followed by the medal matches. The state finals are scheduled for 3 p.m.
Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.