Molinaro wins 100th match as mat coach

Raiders lose thriller in The Pit

By: Rudy Brandl
   Hillsborough High head wrestling coach Steve Molinaro won his 100th career match during Saturday’s home quad-meet sweep, but that milestone victory isn’t the one he’ll be talking about or pondering over for years to come.
   Molinaro’s last defeat prior to win No. 100, which took place in the rowdy confines of The Pit in Phillipsburg last Thursday night, was a match for the ages. Although the Raiders lost a heart-breaker by a 37-30 score, Molinaro said the match was something very special.
   "It’s probably the highlight of my coaching career," Molinaro said. "It was one of the most exciting moments ever. It was unbelievable. The atmosphere was so hot."
   The Raiders brought their best stuff to The Pit and weren’t intimidated by the perennial kingpins of the Skyland Conference. In fact, many folks believed the Raiders outwrestled the Stateliners on the mat. Each team won seven bouts, but the Raiders should have won at least two more. Two controversial calls saved P’burg from losing sole possession of the Delaware Division banner.
   Hillsborough lost the coin flip and couldn’t avoid P’burg standout Brandon Stillo when the match opened at 125 pounds. Griff Campbell battled hard for the Raiders but was pinned at 5:16, setting the stage for a pivotal bout at 130.
   Nobody knew how critical the 130-pound match would become as the rest of the match unfolded. HHS freshman Frank McLaughlin was dominating favorite A.J. Varga by a 7-2 score when the official called an illegal slam. Varga couldn’t continue, so the Stateliners grabbed six more team points and had a commanding 12-0 lead.
   The nine-point swing ultimately cost Hillsborough the match. Molinaro didn’t take issue with the official’s call but wondered if Varga could have continued wrestling. Varga was back in action two days later when Phillipsburg competed at Paulsboro.
   "Technically, it was a slam, but people were questioning (Varga’s) ability to continue," Molinaro said. "He didn’t hit his head. I don’t know. It was so early in the match, but it would have been nice to have that win."
   Hillsborough started to claw back in the fray, winning four of the next five bouts to cut the deficit to 16-12. Kevin Lynch (135), Mike Detsis (140), John Newman (152) and Pat Jastrzebski (160) all posted decisions with dominant performances, but none could secure pins.
   "Lynch and Destis pulled out big matches, Newman won a pivotal one and Pat did a great job," Molinaro said. "They were all big matches. We didn’t get the toss so we knew we needed to get some big wins."
   The home team built a 28-12 lead with consecutive falls at 171 and 189, but the Raiders countered by bumping up seniors Phil Lavoie (215) and Mark Amerman (Hwt), who responded with first-period pins. P’burg held a 28-24 lead as the match turned back over to 103 pounds with three bouts remaining.
   Controversy No. 2 took place at 103, where HHS sophomore Adam Kull appeared to have forced overtime with a neutral at the buzzer. The official didn’t see it that way and Phillipsburg’s Jon Gregory escaped with a 6-5 decision.
   "It should’ve gone to overtime," Molinaro said. "The kid’s arm was just hanging there and (the official) didn’t give it to him. That was a heart-breaker because Adam had already taken him down twice."
   Kull raced to an early lead and still held a 5-4 edge before Gregory’s reversal with 20 seconds left. Gregory rode out the match, but Molinaro and the HHS fans certainly didn’t think the P’burg sophomore had Kull under control.
   Hillsborough freshman John Mangini ran his record to 23-0 by flattening John Todd at 4:55, making the score 31-30 with only one bout remaining. That left the match in the hands of HHS senior Tye Wagner and Phillipsburg senior Robert Au.
   Wagner took down Au twice and led for the better part of the bout, but Au rallied and held a slim lead late in the third period. This forced Wagner to go for a home run move and he got caught in a match-ending pin with six seconds showing on the clock.
   "Tye had to take a chance on a roll and (Au) slipped a half-Nelson in on him," Molinaro said. "He had to win for us to win. He had to go for it."
   Wagner’s loss capped a frustrating night for the Raiders, who lost for just the second time all season. Both setbacks came on the road and were decided by a series of controversial calls that went against the team.
   The Raider wrestlers responded with a sweep of Roxbury, Emerson and Pascack Valley on Saturday, averaging 49 points in the three victories to improve their season record to 14-2. But it was last Thursday’s performance in The Pit that made Molinaro realize his team has officially arrived on the state scene. The Raiders proved once again they’re worthy of being ranked among the state’s top teams.
   "The kids really wrestled well," Molinaro said. "I’m proud of them."