Fight to the Finish: Southern’s Eddie Hummel wins 7 straight to take third, lead 22 consolation medalists
ATLANTIC CITY – Eddie Hummel entered the state tournament in Atlantic City with a singular goal: win a state championship. But after only one bout on Thursday night, Hummel’s dream was shattered. He almost gave up right then and there.
“I was feeling down on myself after I lost and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to try to wrestle back,” Hummel said.
After a bit of convincing Hummel regrouped and decided to give it a go. What followed was a run for the ages.
After losing in the preliminary round as the No. 7 seed at 138 pounds, Hummel went on a prolific tear in the consolation bracket with seven straight wins to finish third at the NJSIAA Championships at Boardwalk Hall. Hummel won by 4-2 decision over Long Branch’s Ryan Zimmerman in the consolation final.
“To lose first round and get back on track, it just shows great character not stopping, not quitting,” said Southern head coach Dan Roy. “He wasn’t feeling great and he had to pick himself back up.”
Ironically, it was a conversation with Long Branch assistant Nick Visicaro that helped Hummel recover. Visciaro, a two-time state champion for Long Branch who wrestled at Rutgers, is also a coach at Triumph Wrestling Club where Hummel trains.
“It actually kind of sucks that it came down to me beating Zimmerman for third because I did privates with Nick Visicaro all summer long,” Hummel said. “(After the loss) he came up to me and said he was proud to be my coach and that kind of helped flip the switch and I just went out there and wrestled.
Winning seven straight bouts is impressive unto itself. Who Hummel beat along the way makes the accomplishment even more incredible. He started his run to third with a 17-10 win over Morris Knolls’ David Turner. He then won by fall over Colts Neck junior Logan Waller, the Shore Conference Tournament champion. In the third round of wrestlebacks, Hummel won 8-3 over Seton Hall Prep’s Connor Decker. That brought up the one opponent he wanted the most: Woodstown’s Hunter Gandy. Hummel was undefeated until Gandy defeated him in the Region 8 final.
Tied 1-1 in sudden victory overtime, Hummel fought off a takedown attempt, got into a scramble and came out the back for a takedown and a 3-1 overtime win over Gandy to clinch a state medal.
“To get that rematch from the region final and win, it felt so good,” Hummel said. “That meant so much to me.”
Hummel then won 6-3 in double overtime over Shore Regional senior Al DeSantis, who would go on to finish seventh. In the consolation semifinals, Hummel beat returning state finalist Jacob Perez-Eli of Paulsboro, 6-4.
“It’s a very deep weight class and he had to go through a lot of good wrestlers and win a lot of barnburners,” Roy said. “He beat all good kids and it’s amazing. That’s up there with being a state champ. I’m very impressed.”
Hummel is familiar with Zimmerman since they both train at Triumph and that knowledge was key in the third-place bout.
“It helped a lot. I knew second period not to go on bottom and I knew to watch for the funk,” Hummel said. “I tried to say out of singles as much as I could and use a little bit of hand fighting; just be fundamentally sound. You can’t make mistakes on him.”
On Thursday night, Hummel almost let a loss end his season. On Saturday afternoon he stood on the podium, head high, knowing he didn’t give in.
“I learned that I’m better than I think I am,” Hummel said. “And that it takes a lot of heart to win.”
Among the Shore Conference’s record total of 31 medal winners were 22 wrestlers who placed between third and eighth. Also finishing third was Hummel’s teammate, senior Robert Woodcock. In the 160-pound consolation final, Woodcock defeated Manalapan senior Matt Benedetti, 6-4. Woodcock had takedowns in the first and second periods to outduel Benedetti.
“It would have been better to win but third is third and it’s on the podium, so I’ll take it,” Woodcock said.
Five of the eight medalists at 182 are from the Shore Conference and St. John Vianney’s Blake Clayton ruled the consolation bracket by beating Brick Memorial senior Joe Colon, 5-0, to finish third. After losing in the quarterfinals he pinned Piscataway’s Nicholas Lodato to clinch a state medal, pinned Point Beach’s Jason Sherlock in the consolation quarterfinals, won by injury default over Wall’s Jake Whitworth in the consolation semifinals and then beat Colon to take third.
“It feels amazing. I worked so hard to be here and I’m glad to see it pay off,” Clayton said.
Last season Clayton reached the third round of wrestlebacks.
“Last year, even though it’s terrible, I was just happy to be here,” Clayton admitted. “This year I knew I was here to make a statement.”
Freehold senior Nico Messina has four district titles and three region titles to his credit. The only thing missing was a state tournament medal and he filled that void on Saturday to end a very long drought for the Colonials.
Messina finished sixth in a loaded 126-pound weight class to become Freehold’s first state medalist since Carlos Fontanez finished second at 130 pounds in 1964.
“All the hard work paid off. All the early mornings and late nights, it was all worth it,” Messina said.
Messina lost 7-6 to Bogota/Ridgefield Park’s Andre Ruiz in the pre-quarterfinals. He then won two straight bouts to clinch a state medal, ultimately winning 12-7 over St. Peter’s Prep’s Sean Rendeiro.
He then won 8-5 over Westfield’s Luke Hoerle to reach the consolation semifinals. He was defeated by two former state champions to finish sixth, Delbarton’s Nico Nardone and then Pope John’s Eddie Ventresca.
“This wasn’t an easy task, losing the second match and wrestling back,” Messina said. “It was a battle. I gave it my all. After that first loss I just wanted it more. It was a do-or-die type of thing.”
He can’t wait until his name goes up on the board as the latest Freehold state medalist.
“It’s going to feel good,” Messina said. “I hope I set a trend with kids getting there name up there for Boro now.”
Another senior in a similar position to Messina was Shore Regional’s Al DeSantis, and he too got it done in his final try to claim a state medal. DeSantis finished 7th at 138 pounds, beating High Point’s Billy Tallmadge in his final high school bout. Tallmadge had beaten him four times in a row.
“I put so much work in during the offseason; I was on a mission and wanted it so bad,” DeSantis said. “I wanted revenge and to prove to everyone I do belong here, that I am one of the best in the state, one of the best in the country. I proved myself and I’m very happy and thankful for it.”
After losing in the quarterfinals to St. Joseph’s Michael Cetta, DeSantis defeated Perth Amboy’s James Rodriguez, 5-3, in the blood round to clinch a state medal. He fell to Southern’s Eddie Hummel in the wrestleback quarterfinals and then got revenge on Tallmadge to close his career in style. DeSantis finished his career as a four-time state qualifier, a three-time district champion, a region champion and now a state medalist. His 156 career wins are the most in Shore Regional history and seventh in Shore Conference history. He also helped Shore win the program’s first state sectional title in 2019.
“I’m so proud and thankful,” DeSantis said. “It’s a great program. I love all the coaches and everyone who supported us. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but Shore.”
The most improbable state medalist from the Shore was Long Branch senior Patrick O’Dwyer. He was the No. 19 seed at 195 pounds and lost his first match of the tournament before winning four straight to clinch a state medal. He finished eighth in the state.
“I just started winning match after match and I was in the (blood round) and I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m placing’,” O’Dwyer said.
Rumson finished with three state medalists for the first time in program history. Sophomore Shay Addison was fifth at 160, junior Jack Kelly was fifth at 170 and junior Max Brignola was eight at 145.
Barnegat senior Griffin Jackstadt became the first state medalist in program history by finishing eighth at heavyweight.
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