MHS wrestlers make early noise vs. North Plainfield

Zala, Bott, Babich produce falls

By: Rudy Brandl
   The Manville High wrestling team was hoping to put a little scare into North Plainfield in last Friday night’s home dual meet.
   North Plainfield had embarrassed the Mustangs last winter by celebrating wildly after posting a 77-0 shutout. MHS head coach Brett Stibitz hadn’t forgotten that lopsided result and wanted his boys to come out with a little extra fire in this season’s battle.
   Manville started the match fairly well and even led after a few bouts. However, the visiting Canucks stormed back to win the final eight bouts and spoiled Manville’s Senior Night with a 60-18 victory.
   MHS junior 152-pounder Mike Zala, who leads the team with a 9-4 record, opened by pinning Miguel Mayorga in 4:31. Zala’s sixth fall of the season gave the home team the early lead.
   North Plainfield stopped the momentum with a big six-point swing at 160 pounds. Ib Hussein notched a tough 6-5 victory over Manville senior Jason Lebedz in a nail-biter.
   The visitors moved ahead for the first time, taking a 7-6 lead when 171-pounder Nelson Puentes posted a 9-1 major decision over MHS senior Ed Ferraro. Then the match see-sawed back and forth for a while.
   MHS junior 189-pounder Nate Bott continued his recent streak of solid wrestling with his third pin in the last four bouts. Bott decked David Cao in 1:03 to put the Mustangs back in the lead at 12-7.
   After North Plainfield answered with a pin at 215, Manville heavyweight sensation Greg Babich took his turn in the spotlight. Babich tied Zala for the team lead in falls with his sixth of the year, a 42-second flattening of Richard Pego. Babich improved to 8-3, winning for the eighth time in his last nine bouts.
   As the match progressed to the top of the lineup at 103 pounds, the Mustangs held an 18-13 advantage. They knew they’d be giving up the next 12 points due to forfeits at 103 and 112, but the Mustangs hoped to stay in it for a while after that.
   North Plainfield wound up running the table in the final eight weight classes, adding a technical fall at 119 before closing the match with five consecutive pins, including three in the first period. However, the Mustangs showed again in this match how much they’ve improved since last year.
   "I wanted a little revenge on them after last year," Stibitz said. "We’ve been in most of these matches."
   Stibitz and the Mustangs will be spending most of February on the road, starting with this week’s matches at Middlesex and New Providence. MHS is also slated to travel to Rahway (Feb. 10) and David Brearley (Feb. 11) next week. The only possible remaining home date is a makeup match vs. Newark Central, a team the Mustangs can beat.
   Although the Mustangs entered the week with a 2-9 record, they’ve wrestled better than that. MHS has come close to posting a few more wins, especially in the home setbacks against Governor Livingston and Johnson Regional of Clark.
   "Every match, the intensity is there," Stibitz said. "We’re still making too many mistakes. We let those GL and Clark matches slip through our fingers."
   The Mustangs have added a quad-meet at Montville with Pingry and Millburn on Feb. 21. That full day of wrestling will help the team tune up for the District 18 Championships on the final weekend of the month.