BLACKWOOD – It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Highland sophomore Joe Clark.
Wins have been hard to come by but that hasn’t stopped his effort and in many ways it’s his steadfast resolve that has meant the most for a tartans squad looking to make plenty of noise over the next week in the NJSIAA Group 3 Tournament. Clark more than anyone else has adopted head coach Frank Plefka’s mantra of “give me six or give me six.” In essence, if you can’t get a pin or bonus points make sure you go six full minutes.
“This past weekend even the bench was saying, ‘he doesn’t get pinned,” Plefka said. “That fight he has to stay away from giving up bonus points really comes through for us.
“I’m so happy for him tonight. To get that pin really meant something.”
Not that Clark had to win on Monday in a 52-19 win over Hammonton. Highland (12-8) trailed by nine points midway through the match but seven straight pins, including one by Clark at 120 pounds, led to a clear victory. The third-seeded Tartans advance to wrestle in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals on Wednesday at second-seeded Clearview (21-2) which dispelled Pennsauken 57-15. The Pioneers won the first matchup on January 23 in dominant style with a 54-15 win, but Highland has been steadily improving and has enough strength in the middle to close the gap.
“We have a tough schedule which makes us stronger at this time of year,” Plefka said. “Last weekend I was a little disappointed in out loss to Delsea. They are eighth in South Jersey and we were in it at the end.
“That’s why I’m so happy for (Clark). He just battles and the entire team knows it. It’s something we build on.”
In a match that started at 145, Hammonton (15-8) didn’t get the bonus points it desperately needed and in fact lost some key bouts even as it took at 19-10 lead. At 152, a bout that Hammonton set up after winning the toss, Jurius Clark got a 9-0 major decision over Andrew Mays.
“That really was the biggest bout of the night,” Plefka said. “To get a win over a tough wrestler, I think it was scoreless after the first period and to get a major, that’s huge.”
Then again maybe it proved to be more of a harbinger of disaster for the Blue Devils, who didn’t get out of the second period the rest of the way. That includes Joe Clark, who admittedly isn’t the dominant lower weight like some of his teammates.
“I don’t pin,” Clark said. “I think I have three all year. But I don’t get pinned. I didn’t get pinned in a real match all year. I just go out and fight.
“To be honest I was stunned I got the pin. I really thought (Daniel Mutko) would see me going for his arm. But he didn’t and once I got that headlock in on him, I got the pin.”
The pin created the biggest eruption of the night from the Tartans bench and at least on this night, Clark got six and didn’t have to go six.