The West Essex wrestling team had a firm grip on the match with a 25-6 lead, but coach Mike Markey saw some unwelcome signs that his team was underperforming. The pause halfway through the match in order to clean the mats came as a welcome stoppage and an opportunity for West Essex to refocus.

West Essex (7-1) came out of the cleaning break with four straight victories, including three pins, helping steer home a 53-18 win over Bloomfield (4-4) on Wednesday in Bloomfield.

“I think the break gave us some composure,” Markey said. “I think early in the match we saw our guys struggle in positions that we work on every day. And we want to make sure we capitalize on those positions because we spend so much time on them. So I think there might have been a few frustrations through the first seven (bouts) that we had. (We) took a deep breath, we were still in control of the match and got our middleweights going.”

Mike Maglione (152 pounds), the first Knight to take the mat after the cleaning break, picked up a fall in 1:44. Anthony Lombardi followed with a pin in 1:23. Matt Zaccaria gained an 11-0 major decision victory. Down 3-2 in his bout, Nicholas Lagreca heeded his coaches’ shouted instructions and used an optional start move at the start of the second period, picking up a pin just the way Lagreca had practiced with the team.

“It was an opportunity for him to come out front and perform a neutral move while the guy was on his knees,” Markey said. “Basically, it’s an opportunity for us to get our guy where he’s strong while the opponent’s in the defensive position.”

Lagreca topped off a run of six consecutive bouts won by the Knights, starting with Ricky Cassidy’s 12-3 major decision at 138 pounds. Ethan Kerlin kicked off the match with a lightning-fast, 11-second pin at 106 pounds, Mike Pescatore secured a fall at 126 and Joey Macrino battled for a 4-2 decision in sudden victory at 113.

West Essex and Bloomfield twice took bouts to the sudden victory period Wednesday and split the winners, with 132-pounder Ernesto McRae rebounding from his only loss of the year a night earlier to gain a 6-4 decision.

“Ernesto’s a hard worker,” Bloomfield coach Ryan Smircich. “Ernesto put on 15 pounds of muscle. Some kids got a lot stronger and better with COVID and bought some gym equipment, and some kids moved up three weight classes with chub. Ernesto McRae is maturing; he’s doing great in the classroom, he’s going to be a peer leader here next year and he’s turning out to be a kid who’s earning a spot on the team. And he’s enjoying competing. Obviously he had a tough night last night, but Ernesto’s been a nice surprise…this year once I got to see all the muscle he put on.”

Gerald VanBaelen (120 pounds) won a 9-2 decision early and the Bengals finished strong with pins from Zachary Andruchowitz at 195 pounds and Dillon Jennings at 220. Bloomfield tried to use the rest of the night to develop its young wrestlers against a West Essex team stocked by a youth recreation program Smircich said he is trying to emulate in Bloomfield.

“It’s difficult to compete because what you’re looking at is a lot of the times it’s lifetime wrestlers (for West Essex) and (for us) it’s kids I’m grabbing out of a hallway in the ninth grade,” Smircich said.

But enduring lopsided varsity defeats can benefit a team in the long run, especially when the opponent brings a deep junior varsity squad with them to town.

“I got 10 JV matches today by West Essex coming here today,” Smircich said. “There’s not many teams that can give me that…. When it comes to the league, it’s good to have the Livingston on your schedule, the West Essex, who — they’re ahead of us.”

Markey also expressed appreciation for the chance to wrestle with the Bengals.

“These Bloomfield guys and Smircich do such a good job with his team, they’re always so tough,” Markey said. “So number one, we love wrestling here, and number two, we love wrestling them because we know they’re going to give us a good matchup pretty much every single weight. I’m just happy that our guys can keep the pace high and wrestle as a team the way they’ve been doing all year.”

West Essex next wrestles at Passaic Tech on Saturday. Bloomfield travels to Nutley on the same day.

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