Linden wrestling goes back a bit more than 50 years.
Roselle Park wrestling goes back even further – the mid-1930s – with the Panthers being one of only four programs in the country (and just two in New Jersey, Paulsboro being the other) to accumulate 1,000 wins.
Roselle Park has been the gold standard in Union County for some time now – with Cranford the past several years enjoying similar success.
It is believed that Linden never, ever beat Roselle Park on the mat heading into this season.
The Union County Conference schools began their dual match campaign against each other with Friday night’s crossover competition at Linden’s gym.
After Roselle Park won the first two bouts, Linden managed to reel off seven straight victories – the last five by fall.
All of a sudden the Tigers led by 27 points with five matches to go. Was a first, historic win over Roselle Park about to take place?
Among the strategy of maneuvering wrestlers based on matchups, making weight, etc., Linden took forfeits at 106 and 113, which allowed Roselle Park to score the next 12 points.
The visiting Panthers then produced a win by decision at 120 to pull to within 12 points with just two bouts remaining. Roselle Park still had the opportunity to tie the match and avoid a first-ever loss to Linden.
So in the second-to-last bout of the match at 126 it was Roselle Park sophomore Eddie Hummel going up against Linden senior Jacob Diana. All Diana had to do was avoid getting pinned and Linden would make history.
Hummel was scoring points, building up a lead and was – pretty much – in control.
“We knew Hummel was good,” fourth-year Linden head coach Alvaro Fernandez said. “We told Jacob that he could be a hero for us here.”
Despite all the points going against him, Diana kept fighting and doing whatever it took not to get pinned.
“Hummel put several moves on him and had him on his back, but Jacob did an amazing job of fighting off,” Fernandez said.
When the lead passed 15 points – at 19-2 – Hummel had a five-point victory by technical fall one second shy of the final six-minute mark.
All of a sudden – with still one more bout to go – Linden clinched what is believed to be its first-ever victory over Roselle Park.
“It was an incredible effort by Jacob,” Fernandez said.
An amazing victory in Linden sports history actually came on the heels of a Tiger individual defeat in a wrestling match.
Linden junior Jose Gonzalez defeated Roselle Park’s Julian Colon 9-7 at 132 to give Linden the victory by a final score of 39-29.
“We knew, more or less, that they graduated a lot of wrestlers in the upper weights and that we were returning a lot of our upper weight wrestlers,” Fernandez said. “Getting the five pins in a row there was a best-case scenario, but also we knew that we had to do it in order to have a chance to win the match.”
Roselle Park senior Mark Montgomery, one of the top wrestlers in the state, began the match with a victory by fall at 138. Winning by decision at 145 was teammate Drew Graves to give the Panthers a 9-0 lead.
Montgomery entered District 15 at 34-0 last year and then won the 126 title at Westfield for this third district crown. He won at 113 his freshman year in District 10 at Millburn and again at 113 his sophomore campaign in District 15 at Westfield – the first year the district groupings and sites were changed.
Roselle Park went 24-2 last year, captured North 2, Group 1 for the first time since 2014 and also won the UCC’s Watchung Division championship, including a win over Cranford after narrowly placing second behind the Cougars in last year’s Union County Tournament at Union.
Roselle Park’s Ryan Rooney was the 2018 District 15 Coach of the Year.
“It was a great match for the first day of the season,” said Fernandez, who also wrestled at Linden for head coach Ted Thompson before graduating in 2003. He was also Anthony Reinoso’s assistant coach before taking over as the head coach for the 2015-2016 season. Reinoso continues to be Fernandez’s assistant.
Linden went 13-9 last year.
Linden’s first win Friday night came at 152 when senior Kenneth Rosenbaum defeated Sebastian Rodriguez 5-3.
Linden senior Alex Dorce followed up with a 6-2 overtime triumph over Roselle Park’s Elvin Guerrero. In last year’s Region 4 competition at Union, Guerrero ended Dorce’s season by beating the Linden wrestler to advance.
“Alex lost to him in a close match last year,” Fernandez said. “This one was also close, with Alex taking it. So Alex went from losing his final match of the season to Guerrero last year to beating Guerrero in his first match of the season this year.”
Linden’s five consecutive pins – which will go down as one of the best stretches ever in Linden wrestling – were produced by sophomore Liam Burgos (170), senior Michael Afolabi (182), junior Ibn Hall (195), junior Darrin Williams (220) and junior Daniel Valente (HWT). Williams had the quickest fall, in just 37 seconds.
Linden went 1-1 in matches at South Brunswick Saturday, beating Hillsborough and falling to South Brunswick.
The Tigers will next wrestle at Brearley Wednesday at 5 p.m. in their first UCC-Mountain Division matchup.
Linden will then close the December portion of its schedule by competing in a quad at Bayonne this Saturday, Dec. 22 and then on Saturday, Dec. 29 the Tigers will be included in the Rumble at the Pines Tournament at Lakewood Prep.
FRIDAY NIGHT, DEC. 14, 2018
LINDEN 39, ROSELLE PARK 29 – AT LINDEN
138: Mark Montgomery, RP, pin Michael Shorter, Linden, 1:15.
Roselle Park 6-0.
145: Drew Graves, RP, dec. Aldo Angeles, Linden, 10-4.
Roselle Park 9-0.
152: Kenneth Rosenbaum, Linden, dec. Sebastian Rodriguez, RP, 5-3.
Roselle Park 9-3.
160: Alex Dorce, Linden, dec. Elvin Guerrero, RP, 6-2 (OT).
Roselle Park 9-6.
170: Liam Burgos, Linden, pin Jonathan Estivene, RP, 3:16.
182: Michael Afolabi, Linden, pin Patrick Gergich, RP, 4:59.
195: Ibn Hall, Linden, pin. Gonzalo Meza, RP, 1:42.
220: Darrin Williams, Linden, pin Igor Maciel, RP, :37.
HWT: Daniel Valenti, Linden, pin David Torres, RP, 3:07.
106: Justin Lizo, Roselle Park, won by forfeit.
113: Danny Luc, Roselle Park, won by forfeit.
120: Gabriel Leo, RP, dec. John Ojeda, Linden, 9-3.
126: Eddie Hummel, RP, tech. fall Jacob Diana, Linden, 19-2 (5:59).
Linden 36-29. Tigers clinch match.
132: Jose Gonzalez, Linden, dec. Julian Colon, RP, 9-7.
Linden 39-29 final.
Team records: Linden (1-0), Roselle Park (0-1).