The grapplers who were named the Outstanding Wrestlers of this year’s Union County Tournament at Union turned out to be the only county kids who will be wrestling for state championships Sunday at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
Cranford junior Gavin Murray reached the 138 pound final, while Brearley senior Joe Balboni made it to the 182 title match.
Murray won his first UCT title this year and was named the OW for the lower weights at the UCT. Balboni won his third UCT crown and was named the OW for the upper weights at the UCT.
Both stellar grapplers are seeking their first state championship.
Cranford’s last state champion was senior Pat Hogan at 171 in 2006, while Brearley’s last state champion was senior Jesse Boyden at 215 in 2008.
After Boyden won, the only state champion from a Union County high school since then was Westfield senior Christian Barber capturing the 152 crown in 2011.
Brenden Calas of Clark, who wrestled for Seton Hall Prep, won the 103 title as a sophomore in 2011 and the 113 crown as a junior in 2012. Calas placed second at 120 as a senior in 2013.
On Sunday it will be Murray (40-0) vs. top-seeded Ronnie Gentile (40-1) of Paulsboro in the 138 final.
Murray pinned Joe Trovato of Paramus in 5:08 in the 138 quarterfinals and then defeated Connor Burkert 9-5 in the semifinals.
In the 182 final it will be Balboni (40-1) vs. Johnny Sebastian (32-2) of Bergen Catholic. Balboni’s only loss was to Sebastian earlier this season.
Sebastian won a 14-7 decision over Roselle Park senior Phil Woods in the 182 semifinals. Woods finished 32-2, with his only other loss coming to Balboni in last weekend’s Region 3 finals at Union. Woods did not compete in the UCT because of an injury.
Balboni won major decisions over Christopher Morgan of West Orange (15-3) in the quarterfinals and vs. Nicholas Costa of Brick Memorial 16-7 in the semifinals.
Brearley junior Jeff Velez was the only other Union County grappler to reach the quarterfinals, where he was blanked by Michael Oxley of Christian Brothers Academy 5-0.
For the second straight season, 14 wrestlers from Union County high schools advanced to the NJSIAA Tournament out of Region 3.