Barnegat, Pinelands, Southern Wrestling Teams Crown Eight District Champions

By DAVID BIGGY | Feb 20, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands Regional’s Evan Burton celebrates after winning the 182-pound title during the NJSIAA District 29 tournament on Feb. 16.

As he walked onto the wrestling mat for his championship bout inside Southern Regional High School’s gymnasium on Feb. 16, Griffin Jackstadt was as surprised as anybody.

“After I won my semifinal match, it hit me hard,” said the junior heavyweight from Barnegat. “I said to myself, ‘Holy crap. I can do this.’ I realized I could go out there and win a championship, that it was possible.”

Facing fourth-seeded Elijah Wilson of Highland Regional in the 285-pound final, the second-seeded Jackstadt scored a second-period takedown and a third-period escape point to win, 3-2, capturing the NJSIAA District 29 title – the first for a Barnegat wrestler since 2014 and fourth in program history.

But Jackstadt’s road to district champ – which included wins over Pitman’s Joe Theisen in the quarterfinals and Buena’s Amir Walker in the semifinals – is more impressive considering he was a backup wrestler who compiled a 5-4 record a year ago, and at the beginning of this season was staring at the possibility of wrestling a mostly junior-varsity schedule until he showed dramatic improvement during the opening weeks of the season.

Now, at 25-3, he and teammate Charlie Cotton, who placed third at 195 pounds,were the only Barnegat representatives heading for the Region VIII tournament in Egg Harbor Township later this week.

“I basically started the season as a JV wrestler and had to wrestle-off to win the heavyweight spot,” Jackstadt said. “It really motivated me to work harder. I just rose up and kept getting better. Now I’m a district champion and I couldn’t be happier. It would be cool to place in the region tournament and go to Atlantic City.”

Another guy who wrestled mostly in a backup role last year – and took a beating while doing it, finishing 3-14 – was Southern’s Haven Tatarek. On Saturday, the senior not only started the district tourney as the top seed at 160 pounds, he, too, won a close decision to secure his first title.

“It feels great,” said Tatarek, after he scored a takedown with 55 seconds left and held down second-seeded Chris Doughty of Buena to win, 6-4. “I put a lot of time in during the offseason to get better. Where I came from to now is just the result of a lot of hard work.”

Tatarek gave up a takedown midway through the first period and trailed 3-0 after Doughty started the second period on defense and escaped. With about 30 seconds left in the second, Tatarek (23-9) scored a takedown to trim the deficit to a point, then took the lead, 4-3, with another takedown early in the third. Doughty worked his way to neutral to tie the bout with just over a minute left, but Tatarek took him down 12 seconds later to seal the victory – one of six Rams to win district crowns.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “The whole week was great. Winning the group championship as a team on Sunday and then winning a district title today. As a senior there’s really not much that can be better as I wrap up my career.”

For Pinelands Regional senior Evan Burton, the 182-pounder would like nothing more than to culminate his career inside Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall on March 2. He took the first step by winning the district title with a 6-1 decision over Highland’s Jason Evans.

“This is really exciting,” said Burton (24-10), who swiped the Wildcats’ 43rd district title in program history. “It was an honor to be out here, with my family, friends and teammates in the gym to cheer me on. I had a hell of a time competing today, and this will be a great memory for a long time.”

After knocking off Southern’s Thomas Barnett and Buena’s Sammy Drogo, the top-seeded Burton trailed Evans, 1-0, after the Highland senior escaped midway through the second period. The lead didn’t last long, as Burton shot in for a takedown a few seconds later and held down Evans the rest of the way. Burton scored on an escaped to make it 3-1, then scored a takedown and was awarded a stall point later in the third.

“Going in as the top seed, I had some confidence I could win the title, but I didn’t want to be too confident,” said Burton, who also played football this past fall and plays rugby in the spring. “The goal now is to get to Atlantic City, but most of all to always have fun no matter what happens.”

Southern junior J.T. Cornelius had been having a lot of fun prior to the district tourney – scoring a pair of crucial pins against Howell and Hunterdon Central the previous week as the Rams captured the South Jersey sectional and Group V titles. And as the top seed at 220 pounds for the district tournament, he continued the fun times.

After bulldozing Highland’s Josh Ortiz in the semifinals, Cornelius grappled to a scoreless tie in the first period against Holy Spirit’s Kurt Driscoll. Following an escape to start the second period, Cornelius scored a takedown with 20 seconds left in the period to carry a 3-0 lead into the third. Driscoll escaped from his defensive position about 20 seconds into the third, but Cornelius (34-3) dragged him down to the mat and worked him to his back for a near-fall to win, 7-1.

“Everything that’s happened this week has been really overwhelming,” he said. “I really had no plan coming into the tournament. I just wanted to wrestle as hard as I could and do whatever it took to win. Now, like everybody else, I want to place in the region tournament and go to Atlantic City.”

Joining Tatarek and Cornelius on the road through Egg Harbor are repeat district champs and seniors Nick O’Connell, Nick Pepe and John Stout, as well as junior first-time champ Robert Woodcock.

Woodcock took a 7-4 lead early in the third period against Holy Spirit’s Ken Sherman and held on for an 8-7 victory at 138 pounds, before Pepe cruised to a 7-3 victory over Highland’s Jurius Clark at 145 pounds, and O’Connell went on a scoring barrage during the second and third periods to scorch Highland’s Brett Buckingham, 19-5, at 152 pounds.

Of course, wrestling for the last time in his home gym and his dad calmly watching from the corner of the mat, Stout easily took care of Buena’s Jaden Roberts in a 6-1 decision at 170 pounds.

“I wasn’t really focused on that part too much when the final started, but now it feels kind of weird that it’s all reached this point,” Stout said. “I remember when I was still in the rec program and I was out here five or six years ago helping roll up the mats with the JV guys. Those varsity guys were my heroes back then. Now I’m a senior and this was my last match here in this gym, and younger kids are looking up to me. It’s gone by really fast.”

Coach John Stout, who has been savoring many of the moments he and his son have shared this season, simply wanted his boy to finish the job and get that second-straight district title as he, too, strives to go deep in Atlantic City following the region tourney, which the younger Stout won last year.

“He’s been wrestling so well, I just didn’t want him to get lulled to sleep in the third period and possibly get caught with something crazy,” the coach said. “At this point, I just want to see him keep doing what he’s doing. He’s got 37 wins and he’s been doing great the whole season, so I want to see him finish strong and get on that podium in A.C. That would be the ideal way to finish all this.”

The rest of the locals who qualified for the Region VIII tourney include Southern’s Jayson Scerbo, who took second at 113, Matt Brielmeier, who grabbed second at 120, Sebastian Delligatti, who was third at 126, Nik Lawson, who was third at 132, and Ben LoParo, who snared second at 195, as well as Pinelands’ Travis Brown, who finished second at 132, and Gavin Stewart, who snagged third at 160.

Additionally, as a team Southern captured its ninth consecutive district title with 234 points – the Rams’ third straight since being moved to District 29.

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