St. Joseph's David Iuliucci continues wrestling resurrection at Region 8

David Iuliucci, left, of St. Joseph- Hammontown and Asa Walton of Delsea wrestle in the 106 pound weight class in the NJSIAA Region 8 quarterfinals at Egg Harbor Twp. on Feb.23, 2018. Iuliucci won by a pin.

There’s life after the death of a wrestling career.

In David Iuliucci’s case, lots of life.

Iuliucci, a senior at St. Joseph High School, continued his remarkable resurrection on Friday night, scoring his second consecutive pin in a 106-pound bout in Region 8 competition at Absegami.

This time, Iuliucci rallied from a 7-0 deficit to deck top-seeded Asa Walton of Delsea and advance to Saturday morning semifinals.

With one more win – either in the semifinals or in the wrestle-backs – Iuliucci will punch his ticket to the state championships next weekend in Atlantic City.

Which would be akin to a miracle, since Iuliucci walked off the mat at the District 32 tournament last Saturday at Williamstown convinced that his career was over.

“Somebody,” St. Joseph coach Joe Melchiore said, “is looking out for him.”

In other action before a near-capacity crowd in Absegami’s cavernous gymnasium, defending state champions Antonio Mininno of Gateway, Quinn Kinner of Kingsway and Billy Janzer of Delsea advanced to the regional semifinals with impressive victories.

Mininno won by technical fall at 120 pounds, while Kinner won by first-period pin at 138 pounds and Janzer won by first-period pin at 182 pounds.

But the biggest buzz was created by one of the first bouts of the night, when Iuliucci overcame that seven-point deficit against the top seed in his weight class.

Iuliucci used a takedown and headlock to register a near fall, tying the score at 7-7 early in the third period.

After Walton escaped for an 8-7 lead, Iuliucci scored another takedown, and converted his advantage into a pin at the 5-minute, 36-second mark.

“I was confident,” Iuliucci said. “I didn’t think I was going to be down 7-0. I thought it was going to be all me the whole match, but it didn’t turn out like that.

“I put in so much work after districts, I was confident I could make a run in this thing.”

Since only the top three finishers in each district advance to regions, Iuliucci figured he had wrestled for the Wildcats for the last time after placing fourth at District 32.

He also figured his days of cutting weight were over, too.

“I gained 10 pounds,” said Iuliucci, who lives in Winslow Township.

The next day, his cellphone rang. It was Melchiore.

“The Clayton coach called me and said his kid had a concussion and he wasn’t going to be able to wrestle,” Melchiore said. “He said, ‘Tell your kid he’s in.’”

The only problem: Iuliucci weighed 118 pounds, 10 over the 108-pound allowance for the 106-pound class.

“I said, ‘Get your sweatpants on and start running,’” Melchiore said. “He thought I was joking with him.”

It might have been the first time in Iuliucci’s career that he welcomed the challenge of dropping weight.

“I always hate it,” Iuliucci said. “This time, I was kind of happy.’”

Melchiore, one of the greatest wrestlers in New Jersey history with three state titles in his career at Highland in the early 1980s, took Iuliucci to Camden Catholic to work out early in the week with some of the Irish athletes as well as some grapplers from other schools.

“He got to work with other kids, got some confidence,” Melchiore said.

Iuliucci said he benefited as a senior from working with Melchiore, who is in his first season as the Wildcats’ coach.

“I never seen someone who everything he tells me about a match, he’s right,” Iuliucci said of Melchiore.

Of wrestling with the legendary Melchiore in the Wildcats’ practice room, Iuliucci said, “He beats the heck out of me all the time.”

As the No. 9 seed, Iuliucci pinned No. 8 seed Blake Basich of Washington Township in 33 seconds in Wednesday night’s preliminaries.

He continued his run by pinning Walton, the District 31 champion. Iuliucci will meet Buena’s Cael Aretz in Saturday morning’s semifinals.

Iuliucci’s pin brought a roar from the crowd, with St. Joseph fans leaping to their feet in celebration.

The muscular wrestler with the bleach-blond hair might have been the least-surprised person in the building.

“I knew I could do it,” IuIiucci said. “I knew could be here. But I could definitely hear how surprised everybody else was.”

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