Accustomed to sitting back and comfortably watching the frantic round that is the NJSIAA region pre-quarterfinals, Thursday’s experience was certainly something different for Lacey’s Hunter Gutierrez.

“It’s a little bit different but you just have to inhale adversity and exhale gratitude,” Gutierrez said. “I lost in the district final so that’s the hand you’re dealt and you have to make the most of it.”

Gutierrez fell short in his bid to win a fourth district title last weekend, meaning that for the first time in his career he did not have a bye into the region quarterfinals. Instead, he had to make his way through the win-or-go-home round of 16. There wasn’t much drama, however, as the Lions senior needed just 1:43 to stack up Cherry Hill West’s Kyle Edwards for the fall during the Region 7 pre-quarterfinals on Thursday evening at Toms River East.

“I wasn’t really thinking about that too much,” Gutierrez said. “My goal is to win it, so if you’re going to win you have to win in the first round, regardless. It doesn’t matter who it’s against, you have to treat everybody the same and wrestle your hardest.”

What Gutierrez was thinking about well into the week was what went down in the District 26 132-pound final. He was leading Cherokee’s Cooper Pontelandolfo, 2-0, in the third period but gave up three near-fall points in the final 30 seconds and suffered a 3-2 defeat.

“It sat with me a lot; it was a hard loss,” Gutierrez said. “In my mind, I wrestled good for five minutes and 30 seconds. In the last 30 seconds maybe I relaxed a little too much when I shouldn’t have, but all credit to him. I’m definitely looking forward to righting that wrong, hopefully in the finals.”

Gutierrez has a chance to redeem himself in a big way as part of a loaded 132-pound weight class in Region 7. Pontelandolfo is the No. 1 seed while Gutierrez, a two-time region champ and a state medalist in 2017, is the No. 2 seed. Collingswood’s Andrew Clark, who finished eighth in the state at 126 pounds last season, is the No. 3 seed. The No. 4 seed is Camden Catholic’s Cody Walsh, who was one win away from a state medal at 120 pounds last season.

“I think it’s awesome, I thrive off this,” Gutierrez said. “I think Region 7 is the hardest in the state by far and I think 132 is the hardest bracket in the hardest region. “You have to be excited for that. Everyone here is tough. Any one of these kids could be wrestling Saturday afternoon in [Atlantic City] so why not wrestle them now.”

Toms River South’s Riley Cheong is a returning state qualifier with a 25-6 record. Four of those losses have come by two points or less, including two overtime defeats. His largest loss was by four points and the other was a medical forfeit. Given that, you can imagine his surprise when the Region 7 145-pound bracket was seeded and he saw the number 11 next to his name.

“It definitely gave me a little fire,” Cheong said. “I have a point to prove.”

Cheong is really the No. 9 seed but because of the nature of the bracket – the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds are district champions and had byes into the quarterfinals – he slid to 11th for a matchup with Haddon Township’s Chad Bell and came away with 5-1 decision to advance to the quarterfinals.

“I think in the beginning of the season I wasn’t in great shape, but I am now,” Cheong said. “I just have to get my head straight and wrestle smart and wrestle tough.”

Cheong will face Maple Shade’s C.J. Thompson in the quarterfinals.

Cheong was one of eight wrestlers seeded 10th or lower to win their pre-quarterfinal matches in Region 7. Toms River North’s Matt Spalletta used takedowns in the closing seconds of the first and second periods to defeat Eastern’s Jacob Brocious, 8-6, at 152 pounds.

Cheong and Spalletta were the only two Shore Conference wrestlers to pull significant upsets. Shawnee’s Jake Hastings, the No. 10 seed, won by 10-2 major decision over Toms River South’s Justin Murray at 106 pounds. At 132, Paul VI’s Nick Arena, seeded No. 12, defeated Toms River East’s Alexander Gorlin, 11-4, and 10th-seeded A.J. Parent of Gloucester City won 5-2 over Moorestown’s Ronald McCoy.

At 182 pounds, Camden Catholic’s Austin Raynor advanced as a 12 seed with a 3-1 win over Rancocas Valley’s Nicholas Maffetone. Two double-digit seeds advanced at 220 pounds as No. 12 Justin Gould from Pennsauken won 5-2 over Gloucester City’s Derron Cooney and Cherry Hill West’s Jose Rivera won 6-2 over Rancocas Valley’s Anthony Hernandez.

The Region 7 Tournament shifts to RWJBarnabas Health Arena at Toms River North for Friday’s quarterfinal round, which begins at 5 p.m. The semifinals and wrestlebacks will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday.


In Region 5 

St. John Vianney’s Jaden Duncan advanced as the No. 13 seed at 220 pounds by pinning Rumson-Fair Haven’s Von Factor in 3:03. Duncan was the lowest seed to advance in Region 5. Teammate Seth Rotondella, the No. 11 seed at 126 pounds, won by fall over Holmdel’s Jaden Gallo in 4:33 to advance to the quarterfinals.

Two days after his father suddenly passed away, St. John Vianney freshman Nico Diaz took to the mat and won by fall over South Brunswick’s Jackson Ratcliffe in the 106-pound pre-quarterfinals. Diaz is the No. 6 seed.

At 182 pounds, Manalapan’s Gavin Claro, the 11 seed, won by 12-1 major decision over Hunterdon Central’s Kyle Barrett. Red Bank’s Phil Stolfa edged Middletown South’s Robert Generelli, 4-3, to reach the 120-pound quarterfinals as the No. 10 seed.


In Region 6 

Four Shore Conference wrestlers seeded 10th or lower advanced, led by Jackson Liberty’s Romeo Willis-Parreott at 113 pounds. Seeded 11th, Parreott won by 15-2 major decision over Wall’s Tyler Ferris.

Long Branch’s Steven Pabone and La’Qym Morris and Wall’s Mike Bruno all advanced as No. 10 seeds. Bruno won by fall in 42 seconds over Christian Brothers Academy’s Max Bean, Pabone defeated Robbinsville’s Ryan Kanner, 8-1, and Morris won by fall over Burlington Township’s TreVonne Black in 1:31.

Middletown North leads the Shore Conference schools with seven wrestlers in the quarterfinals. Raritan and Wall have six wrestlers remaining while Colts Neck, Point Boro and Point Beach have five wrestlers each.


In Region 8 

Southern went 4-1 in the pre-quarterfinals and will have 10 wrestlers competing in the quarterfinals.

Barnegat’s Charlie Cotton won by fall at 195 pounds to advance and join district champion Griffin Jackstadt (285) in the quarterfinals.

Travis Brown (132) and Gavin Stewart (160) both suffered defeats for Pinelands, leaving district champ Evan Burton (182) as the only Wildcats wrestler remaining.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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