Pompton locks up league title in front of packed house

AJ Devries, a four year-starter, clinched Pompton Lakes 43-36 win over Hawthorne with a third-period pin at 145 pounds.

POMPTON LAKES – It was the spot he had waited four years to be in. A packed house going crazy for both teams, a league title on the line for the final match and all eyes focused on him.  Despite the raucous crowd noise as Pompton Lakes' senior AJ Devries took the mat, he could barely hear his own coaches let alone the crowd cheering on his every move. His singular focus was wrestling his match while tuning out everything else around him.

Hanging onto a one-point lead going into the last bout of the night, Devries put on a clinic to ensure the Cardinals' title-winning legacy was still intact.

He scored a third-period pin at 145 pounds to lock up a fourth straight NJIC-Division 3 title for Pompton Lakes with a wild 43-36 triumph over Hawthorne on Wednesday night in Pompton Lakes.

“This was a great wrestling match and it's always a battle against Hawthorne,” said Pompton Lakes' head coach Scott Mahoney. “We lost the flip but we got some huge wins at 120 and 126 and some matches where we got bonus points right at the end. It was a classic chess match and we really fed off the crowd tonight.”

Hawthorne let the Cardinals know early that this was going to be a dogfight throughout. Josh Iznoga and Declan Smith scored second-period pins at 152 and 160 pounds, respectively, as the Bears quickly grabbed a 12-point lead.

The Cardinals got to within two points on a quick pin from Brandon Gilligan to set up a heavyweight showdown between Louis Schofield and Hawthorne's Johnny Zorilla. Schofield took a commanding lead. but Zorilla chipped away when Schofield gave away points for a clasp and a full nelson. When Zorilla took down Schofield inside the final minute of the third period, the score was knotted at 8. There was never any panic in Schofield though as he escaped with 25 seconds left, quickly notched a takedown and was able to turn Zorilla for a pin and three important bonus points with just seven seconds left in the bout.

Brandon Massey pinned at 106 pounds to give Hawthorne its final lead of the night.

“We worked too hard all season for this so I had to stay tough and keep wrestling,” said Schofield. “When the score was tied late I was just thinking of getting out for a point to take the lead. But I saw an opportunity and I just went for it. It feels great to add another year up to the banner on the wall.”

The match flipped over to the lighter weights with 106-pounder Brandon Massey's pin in 3:15 giving Hawthorne its final lead of the night, 24-22.

In a match filled with exciting bouts the donnybrook at 113 pounds did not disappoint. Hawthorne's Hudson Testa came out flying and nearly pinned Miftar Istrefi in the first minute. Istrefi was able to survive before mounting his own attack. With the score tied and the final seconds winding down in the second period Istrefi notched a pin to give the Cardinals more unlikely bonus points and some breathing room.

The lead was stretched out on a third-period pin by Ryan Almeida and a takedown in the final seconds by Connor Krewer, a six-point swing in the match, for a 10-9 decision at 126 pounds and a 37-24 lead for Pompton Lakes.

It turns out the Cardinals would need every one of those extra points as Hawthorne answered right back with pins from Liam McAllister and Ashton Navarrete to slice the lead to a single point heading into the final bout of the night between Devries and the Bears' Joe Aliano. The noise was deafening inside the Pompton Lakes High School gymnasium but Devries could only hear the voice inside his head mentally going over the gameplan.

Connor Krewer's 10-9 victory at 126 was a six-point swing in the favor of Pompton Lakes, which won a fourth straight league title.

Less than a minute in Devries executed a double-leg takedown and scored two back points to race out to a 4-0 lead. Aliano nearly caught Devries in a headlock late in the period but the poised senior calmly escaped danger. It was the wake-up call he needed as he dominated the second period before winning via fall in 4:43 to send the Cardinal faithful home happy as a fourth straight NJIC-Division 3 outright championship.

“I had to block out all the noise and everything that was going on around me,” said Devries, a four-year starter. “It was important to stay focused on the task in front of me and get an early takedown. I wanted to stay aggressive but I also had to wrestle smart and not try to do too much. The coaches have worked us all season and we were amped up for this match.”

Pompton Lakes (7-5) will now turn to the remainder of its dual meet schedule to try and secure a spot in the North 1, Group 1 state sectional tournament.

“This is a big win for us and it can definitely lead us to more success down the road,” added Mahoney. “We're still a pretty young team and we're learning on the fly here, but we came through in a fun atmosphere tonight. We came to wrestle tonight and we're going to have to keep bringing that same kind of energy every day from now on.”