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South Jersey's Correnti, La Fragola take second in state wrestling

One way to measure the value of a state championship is by the cheers that rain down on the winners who raise their arms in the middle of the mat.

One way to measure the value of a state championship is by the cheers that rain down on the winners who raise their arms in the middle of the mat.

Another is by the tears that flow down the cheeks of the wrestlers who often race off the arena floor soon after that final buzzer.

Second place in the state sounds pretty sweet until you come so close to first place that you can see yourself on the top step of that podium, waving to family and friends.

"I thought I had it," Holy Cross junior Matt Correnti said about a half hour after his season ended with a heartbreaking, 5-3 overtime loss to Keansburg's Tyree Sutton in the 195-pound state final.

A bout earlier, St. Joseph senior C.J. La Fragola suffered his own disappointment, dropping a 5-1 decision to Bergen Catholic's Kevin Mulligan at 182 pounds.

"No regrets," said La Fragola, who wore his battle scars on the outside - two cuts under his right eye and another one above it, courtesy of a hard weekend of wrestling at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Correnti's wounds were deeper and less visible. He was so upset after his bout that he raced off the mat, past dozens of officials, fellow wrestlers and spectators on the arena floor.

Minutes later, he was facedown on the concrete in a secluded corner of famous old building.

"This was his ultimate goal," Holy Cross coach Adam Cooney said of Correnti's quest for a state title.

Correnti's agony only underscored the hard truth of these sports at the championship level: These kids don't get this far on talent alone.

They advance because of their competitive spirit, their dedication, their hearts - and that's why they are so susceptible to such overwhelming sorrow.

La Fragola entered his championship bout with a 43-1 record. His lone loss came when he bumped up a weight class and faced Correnti in a Holy Cross-St. Joseph match late in the regular season.

La Fragola led by 1-0 after an escape early in the second period. But the 6-foot-3 Mulligan's length was a factor as the Bergen Catholic wrestler was able to register two takedowns on counters to La Fragola's shots.

"He's a tough kid," said La Fragola, who plans to wrestle at Brown University. "I knew it was my last match of high school and I was going to give it all I had. I wanted No. 1 but I earned No. 2 in the state."

Correnti was 43-0 when he took the mat and was regarded as the favorite in his weight class. He had been dominant since winning the Beast of the East, a national tournament in Delaware, in December.

Correnti appeared to have the match under control with a 3-1 lead as the clock ticked off the final 10 seconds of regulation.

But Sutton registered a takedown with four seconds left in regulation to force overtime, then scored another one in the extra period to win the bout.

"The kid did a good job," Holy Cross coach Adam Cooney said of Sutton.

Correnti gathered his emotions and talked with reporters on the stage behind the portable stands on the West end of the arena. He knew that Cooney, a Holy Cross graduate, had finished second in the state in 2001 - and came back to win a state title as a senior in 2002.

He said he would use the memory of Sunday's disappointment as motivation.

"I never want to feel this way again," Correnti said.