UNION — In what was easily the most hotly contested bout of the evening, Colonia High School senior Pete Melendez narrowly edged Justin Contreras of Morristown 9-8 at 152 pounds in the 1st round of the Region 3 Tournament at Union High School.
Melendez and Contreras, the six and 11 seeds respectively, energized the crowd that was mostly quiet throughout the first seven weight classes, going toe-to-toe for the full three rounds. Their bout came down to the final seconds, and when he had been declared the winner, Melendez fell flat on his back and sprawled out like a star, one he definitely is.
“I knew in the first 30 seconds of the first period that I was getting myself into a dog fight,” Melendez said. “I really just had to keep my head in it and that’s what got me through the match. I had a drive to win and I just wanted it so much more than he did.”
But he knows that he still has work to do in Friday’s Quarterfinals, where Melendez will meet 3rd-seeded Anthony Bassolino of Highland Park.
“I need to train hard to come out as the Regional Champion,” Melendez said.
Just moments after Melendez’s epic bout, fourth-seeded Justin Becker of Rahway took care of his business, besting 13th-seeded Diego Rivera of Plainfield by a 13-6 decision.
“My technique was the difference; I’ve been wrestling a long time and I just know a lot of things that nobody else knows,” Becker said.
He’ll move on to battle fifth-seeded Inan Sikel of South Plainfield in Friday’s Quarterfinals, and Becker is going to draw on his experiences of being in the Regional Tournament all four years of his high school career.
“I have been here all four years and I’m used to it all,” he said. “I know how to perform on this stage. You can’t let it scare you being out here, so I just go out there and show him what I’m made of.”
Maybe the surprise of the night came at 170 pounds, where Jordan Handwerger of South Plainfield was pinned in 3:38 by Vincent Mattia of Whippany Park. South Plainfield, which advanced all 14 of their wrestlers to the Regional Tournament, is one of the top teams in the entire state.
But when the quarterfinals begin on Friday evening, they’ll only have 13 of their wrestlers still alive. Even though they’re now down a teammate, the Tigers will remain focused and determined, according to Tory Russell.
“Seeing a teammate lose picks us up even more and makes us stronger,” Russell said after winning his 220-pound bout against David Tobe of Elizabeth. “We have to fight hard and we just need to stay strong and focused.”
Russell dominated Tobe, winning 12-2, but said the final score wasn’t indicative of how tough of a bout it really was.
“It was a tough match, and I had to really fight through it,” Russell said.
He’ll take on 5th-seeded Steven Hill of Parsippany Hills on Friday, with just two more victories standing between he and a Regional title.