By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Dillon Taylor held on to Yusef Yilmaz’s ankle like it was a life preserver and he was drowning at sea. He knew that if he let go, everything he had worked for the past four years would go up in smoke.
Vineland’s Yilmaz was trying desperately to score a takedown in the final seconds of the 152-pound Region 8 championship on Saturday evening. Had he gotten it, those two points would have given him the region title. Instead, Taylor, a Bridgeton resident and St. Augustine Prep senior, held tight — and held on for a 7-6 victory and his first region championship.
“I knew I couldn’t let go of the ankle. If I let go of that, it would have been two, but I had the ankle,” said Taylor, who improved to 32-7 with the win. “I knew I couldn’t let it go. Nothing was going to keep me from winning that title.”
The win was a bit of redemption for Taylor, who lost 5-2 to Clearview Regional’s Stanley Atkinson in last year’s Region 8 145-pound championship bout.
“I’ve waited the past four years for this. It’s something I’ve worked hard for since I was a freshman at the Prep, and it’s just an incredible feeling,” said Taylor, who has committed to the Naval Academy.
The bout against Yilmaz was a topsy-turvy affair that started off the Region 8 championships and got fans on both sides of the gym fired up. Taylor finally took the lead midway through the third period, leaving Yilmaz to go on the offensive in the final 30 seconds. Yilmaz took his shot and got Taylor to the ground, but wasn’t able to get the control needed to score a takedown because Taylor held tight to the ankle.
The victory brought tear to Taylor’s eyes as he hugged Hermits coach Billy Ward after the final horn sounded.
“Coach has always been like a second dad to me. He’s the man,” Taylor said. “Just seeing him being there for me was emotional. I don’t know if it’s hit me yet. It’s an incredible feeling and I’m just trying to hold onto it right now, until I can’t anymore.”
Two pairs of brothers were featured in the Region 8 finals, as Dante and Antonio Mininno of Gateway each took home titles, at 106 and 113 pounds, respectively. Antonio Mininno had a tough time with Woodstown’s Jack Prendergast, squeaking out a 1-0 win. The Kinners of Kingsway, Quinn and Trace, also were in the finals. Quinn scored a major decision over Matt Barnett of Southern Regional at 132, while Trace lost 5-2 to Travis Layton of Woodstown at 138.
Edison Echevarria of Delsea scored his second straight region title as he outlasted Shamun Smith of Williamstown 6-4 in overtime at 120 pounds, and former Cedar Creek star Andrew Solomon, now wrestling for Gateway, scored his first region title by beating Tim Suter of Buena Regional 3-2 at 145. Buena’s Jake Maxwell, a state placewinner two years ago as a sophomore, picked up a region title at 160 with a 3-2 win over Blaine Shade of Timber Creek, and Billy Janzer of Delsea Regional scored Most Outstanding Wrestler honors by pinning Lower Cape May’s Mike Yorio in just 53 seconds.
Host school Egg Harbor Township put 195-pounder Connor Agostino into the finals, but Woodstown’s Chad Watt remained undefeated with a 13-1 major decision victory. Christopher Nielsen of Pinelands outlasted Vince DeGeorge of Delsea to win a region title at 182, while St. Joseph’s Mike Mascioli slipped past Devon Starks of Highland, 3-2, to take the medal at heavyweight.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN