BEVERLY — With the Northeastern Conference title on the line last night, the Salem High wrestling team went with their heavy artillery against arch-rival Beverly right out of the gate.
But while Salem's big guns recorded victories to put the visitors up early, it was a hard-earned victory from the hosts' smallest wrestler, Jonah Feingold, that propelled the Panthers to a 30-29 win and their fifth straight NEC crown.
"Both teams had beaten everyone else (in the conference), so it was winner-take-all (last night)," said Beverly head coach Mark Thomas. "They definitely came out after us right off the bat. But the strength of our lineup all year has been the middle, so we knew we would get some (points) back coming around."
Trailing 12-0 after Salem's Andrew Romeo (220 pounds) and freshman Christian Corcino (heavyweight) recorded pins, Feingold and the Witches' Pete Duffy locked horns in the 106-pound weight class in what proved to be the most competitive match of the evening.
Feingold held a slight advantage through most of the third round, but with 20 seconds left Duffy pulled a switch and regained position — and a one-point lead. Without panic, Feingold reciprocated the move and found his way back on top of Duffy, earning two points and an 8-7 victory just before time expired.
From there, Beverly (12-5 overall) outscored Salem 27-17 over the final seven matches for the victory.
Beverly finished its NEC season undefeated at 6-0 while Salem, which was wrestling shorthanded last night because of some injuries to key guys, finished up conference play at 5-1.
After the match, Feingold spoke about giving his team a lift.
"It motivated me a lot and made me think I really needed to do well and win this for my team," explained Feingold. "I was thinking over and over 'There is no way I can lose this for my team; I need to win.'
"I wanted to go in mainly with a double-leg and get him on his back, but I ended up winning it by points. I'll take that."
Tahmid Raji (113 pounds) and Mike Mancini (120) helped stay Salem alive with strong wins, but Joe Kozlowski (126) gave Beverly its first win by pin defeating Tristan Dexter in the second round. Panther teammates T.J. McGovern (138) and Joe McDonald (145) followed with big victories before Kris Stefani (152) picked up six points because the Witches had to forfeit due to injury.
Senior Troy Scott (160) pinned Joey Byors to seal the win for Beverly.
"I was really pleased with his effort to come back and win to seal the match," Thomas said of Scott. "He's a senior and that's a real nice way for him to end his last home match."
Salem (11-8) head coach Adam Schroeder, whose wrestlers were visibly upset having come so close to conference perfection, was impressed with the mettle his boys showed.
"I was very pleased with everyone who wrestled," said Schroeder. "We had four freshmen in our lineup. Beverly is a great team, so to be competitive and lose by one (point) ... I was very impressed with our guys."
For the Witches, Adelin Cueto showed his superb abilities in his 135-pound bout with Mateus DePaula of Beverly. DePaula nearly had Cueto pinned in the first round, but the slippery Salem grappler was able to turn the tables. Just 25 seconds into the second round, he pinned DePaula for Salem's final win of the night.
"That was one of the better matches. (Cueto) is so strong he can put himself in these crazy spots and pull himself out of it, but it gets me nervous," said Schroeder. "He gets so anxious before he wrestles (that) he doesn't think as much. He has to slow down his base and think about what he's doing."