WEST ORANGE, NJ – Seton Hall Prep, with scoring from 13 of its 14 wrestlers, captured its fourth consecutive Essex County Tournament team wrestling title and seventh in the 44 years of the event. The ECT was held at Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange, Jan. 17-18.
SHP head coach Jack Decker, in his 10th year at the helm, commented, “This was a total team effort. Thirteen of 14 weight classes scored points. Early-round bonus points really helped us win this tournament. AJ Hinton was the difference in the tournament and has come a long way this season. He actually told us the day before the tournament that he was going to finish in the top three and he did just that.”
Hinton, a 160-pound junior, was seeded 14th coming into the tournament. He upset the third seed, Thomas Hales of Newark Academy 4-0, in the first round and pinned the sixth seed, Iain Shaw of Glen Ridge, in the quarterfinals in 2:59.
Seton Hall had eight wrestlers reach the championship round, with three winning titles and five finishing in second place. They also had two finishing in third; one in fourth; and two in sixth.
Larry Melchionda, a 120-pound junior, who captured his second county title with a 3-2 decision over Antonio Cuffari of Cedar Grove, said after his match. “It feels great. I am happy that I accomplished this goal that I wanted all season.”
Jack Wilt, a 152-pound junior, who captured his first title with a 7-2 victory over Salvatore Mainiero, of Nutley, added, “It feels real good to win the title. Winning the team title is a reflection of everyone’s hard work in the room every day.”
Michael Massa, a 170-pound junior, who won his first title, said, “It feels great to win the title. It is great to perform so well as a team. It is more memorable to win the team title with your friends that you practice with every day in the room.”
After receiving the championship team trophy, Hinton said, “I knew what I was capable of and I wrestled as hard as I know how. This is a tremendous group of guys to work in the room with every day and the opportunity to win another team championship was enough motivation for me.”
Decker, whose teams have won five of the past six county titles, closed out the night by saying, “We will now continue to prepare for the end of the regular season and the upcoming post-season.”
Essex County Tournament
SHP top-six results
106-pound weight class: Third place: Merlin Senat, Orange, pinned Joseph Sciarrone, SHP, 0:32.
113: Third place: Gabriel Jimenez, SHP, decisioned Gerald Van Balen, Bloomfield, 4-0.
120: First place: Larry Melchionda, SHP, decisioned Antonio Cuffari, Cedar Grove, 3-2.
126: First place: James Benjamin, West Orange, decisioned Conner Decker, SHP 2-0.
132: Fifth place: Paul Flores, Bloomfield, decisioned Dean Musialowicz, SHP, 12-8.
138: First place: Darren Jones, Caldwell, decisioned Cole Carroll, SHP, 3-2.
145: Fifth place: Peter Haverick, Nutley, decisioned Aidan Cunningham, SHP, 6-2.
152: First place: Jack Wilt, SHP, decisioned Salvatore Mainiero, Nutley, 7-2.
160: Third place: AJ Hinton, SHP, pinned Hakim Fennell, Belleville, 3:58.
170: First place: Michael Massa, SHP, decisioned Nick Riggio, Verona, 4-3.
182: First place: Luke Dignazio, West Essex, decisioned Zach Merlino, SHP, 5-3.
195: First place: Austin Paris, Livingston, pinned Drew Mitzak, SHP, 3:17.
285: First place: Bardhyl Gashi, West Essex, decisioned Niko Diakides, SHP, 4-2, ultimate tiebreaker.
Photos by Rich Morris, courtesy of Seton Hall Prep
Seton Hall Prep at Essex County Tournament