Editor's note: The River Rivals Athlete of the Week will be a new weekly series in which The Daily News sports staff will pick one athlete that excelled in his/her sport during the past week. Coach's nominations will also be accepted for consideration.

Over the last seven days two River Rivals athletes made their marks in their respective sports, one a team oriented sport, the other an individual sport.

Zach Welch of Triton went 3-0 wrestling Saturday at Beverly High School to win the 160 pound Div. 2 North sectionals, while Derek Freeman scored five goals and had an assist in two Newburyport hockey wins as the Clippers clinched a tournament berth Wednesday night.

Welch's coach Shawn McElligott said the path to the championship — which could seed him as high as second or as low as fourth in the Div. 2 states in Reading this afternoon — was filled dynamite contenders.

"In the opening round, Zach beat a kid from Masconomet soundly — 10-0 — which was difficult because the two were quite familiar with each other," said McElligott. "The semis were huge because Zach went up against one of the top 10 ranked wrestlers in the state, Matt Dehney from Dracut. After a scoreless first period, Zach scored a take-down in the second period, which gave him some confidence going forward for an eventual 5-2 victory."

In the finals, Welch faced another familiar opponent — Shain Jowett of Central Catholic — who the Viking had defeated earlier in the year at the Lowell Holiday Tournament. This time the match was much closer.

After trailing the entire match 2-1, Welch (34-3 for the year) pulled a dramatic reversal on Jowett with only 30 seconds remaining scoring two points to eke out the 3-2 win.

"I think this was a real big deal because I believe we have the toughest sectional in the state," explained McElligott. "The Div. 1 North sectional is also pretty tough, but top to bottom from Greater Lawrence to Central to North Andover I think our 12 teams stand out."

Only a sophomore, Freeman had an equally impressive week leading the Clipper machine — which has now won four in a row — with six points in the two games for a total 29 on the season, putting him second in the area only behind teammate Derek McCoy.

In trouble earlier in the season with the amount of penalty minutes he was giving away, Freeman has become a big part of Newburyport's late season success.

"We had a discussion a while ago about how productive he is out on the ice and how difficult it is for our team to take him out of the lineup," said Yameen of the player he says can play any style of game. "When Derek produces the outcome is usually pretty positive for us."

Last Saturday was a great example of Freeman's abilities. In the last five games Newburyport had been 0-3-2, at North Andover and were mixed up in another tight game. The young Clipper came through with two big goals and a late assist to spearhead a big 4-2 victory.

"Derek doesn't score a lot of pretty goals and his goal off the face off was no exception. We put a shot on goal, he crashed the net and put it home," Yameen said of Freeman's eventual game-winner. "When he makes up his mind to get to the net not to many people can stop him, and good things happen when he gets in that area."

Freeman then capped off the week with a spectacular hat trick performance over arch-rival Triton en route to a 9-0 whooping over the Vikings.

"I think people look at him and assume he's a junior or a senior, but Derek is only a sophomore," said Yameen of his emerging star. "He blends in well with the whole team aspect. If it's laying a good check or moving the puck or getting the rebound goal he does what it takes to win."

Please e-mail staff writer John Shimer at jshimer@newburyportnews.com with nominations for future athlete of the week consideration.

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