HAMMONTON — Graduating 11 seniors from last year’s squad meant there were a lot of open spots in Hammonton’s 2021 starting lineup. A couple of seniors have taken advantage of that opportunity and they both came up big during the Blue Devils’ 57-24 dual match victory over Oakcrest on Thursday night in the blueberry capital of the world.

Brock Weissman — a star on Hammonton’s football team the past couple of seasons — is wrestling this year for the first time in his career and he scored a third-period pin of Mason Horsey at 195 pounds to give Hammonton a 36-24 lead, and two bouts later Brandon Velez outlasted Oakcrest’s Francisco Velazquez, 2-1, in double overtime in one of the best victories of his career.

Hammonton improved to 2-4 on the season while this was just the second match of the year for the Falcons, who had to quarantine for two weeks after a season-opening loss to Ocean City.

“You really have to work hard this season, but it’s been tough. A lot of schools, like Oakcrest, they just got back from two weeks of quarantine. So you really just have to get after it and work hard every day,” Weissman said. “This year means a lot to me. I wanted to try something new and it’s been working out for me. It’s nice to try new things. I used to wrestle back in middle school and I’m just getting back to it this year.”

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Horsey actually had the upper hand heading into the third period after a couple of topsy turvy periods. He led 7-5, but with 1:20 left in the bout, after escaping to start the period, Weissman got the takedown, and 10 seconds later had himself a pin.

“You have to find a way to win,” Weissman said. “He’s my buddy and he’s pretty cool, but we were going at it. You just have to find away to win no matter what, and just compete. Six minutes on a wrestling mat feels like a whole football game. It’s crazy, it’s a whole different atmosphere.”

“He wrestled before high school but he focused on football during high school. We would have loved to have had him all four years. He’s a really good athlete and a strong kid, but you make the most of the opportunity you’re given and that’s what we’re doing,” Hammonton coach David Mauriello said of Weissman. “We graduated 11 kids last year and most of them were in the varsity lineup for two or three years, so this year was a tough sell. We have a bunch of young kids but thankfully the seniors have done a really good job of showing maturity, handling a difficult practice, which wrestling always is — and that’s been helpful to the young guys. They need to see that and go, ‘oh, that’s what I need to do in order to compete.'”

Juan Urbina followed up Weissman’s pin with one of his own at 220 pounds, setting up Velez’s thrilling match against Velazquez. There was no score through the first period before Velez scored an escape in the second to take a 1-0 lead. Velazquez returned the favor in the third, setting up overtime. In the first one-minute overtime period neither wrestler scored, sending it to double overtime, where each wrestler has a chance to score from the bottom position. Velez scored an escape with about four seconds remaining, then was somehow able to ride out Velazquez for the entire 30 seconds of the second additional period. Velazquez nearly escaped in the waning seconds, but Velez was able to hang on as both wrestlers went out of bounds at the horn.

“I just had to push through, not get under him, stay on my feet and keep moving. I didn’t want to get stuck in one position so he could take over. I had to stay strong. I just came in with a plan not to get under him, stay on top, keep pressure on his head and if the opportunity was there, take it,” Velez said. “It was all mental at that point. I just had to push through, stay strong and think to myself that he’s more tired than I am. In the end, it was tough to hold him down. I just had to keep switching side-to-side; if he tried to sit out on one side, hop over to that side, and just keep pressure on him. I knew the time was short and I just had to hold on.”

“Brandon had a good match,” Weissman said. “He’s 222 pounds and he’s wrestling a kid who is, what, 250? He went overtime, and hard work pays off in the end.”

“He’ll be eligible to wrestle 220 tomorrow night, so that will be good for him. He’s wrestled some varsity for us periodically throughout his career, he shows up every day and works hard, so that was a good win. He went out there with a really good plan tonight and because of that he was successful. He didn’t try to do too much,” Mauriello said of Velez. “He came out as a sophomore, had never wrestled before, and he took to it and really loves it now. For a kid like that who took to it and works really hard, you want to see them have success. He won a huge match for us last year in the final dual meet of the season against Eastern. His match went into overtime and he won to give us a 39-36 win. He’s put in the time.”

Hammonton got a pin from Vincenzo Cirillo at 120 pounds to start the match before Oakcrest jumped out to a 24-6 lead thanks to forfeit wins by Hunter Horsey and David Flippen sandwiched between pins by Hogan Horsey and Jurdain Hendricks. The rest of the night belonged to the Blue Devils, who got wins from Michael Benedetto at 152 and Frank Italiano at 113, as well as forfeit victories by Kevin Watson, Matthew Grasso, Keaton Matta and Justin Hood.

For the Blue Devils, Senior Night may not have been what it normally is, but it couldn’t have played out any better.

“It’s been fun and I get to end my high school career with something instead of nothing, which is good for anybody,” Weissman said.

“This was great,” Mauriello said. “We have guys who are seniors but who haven’t been on the varsity mat a whole lot during their careers, and they stepped up and gave us really good efforts tonight, which was critical.”

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