Southern Regional Delivers Eight Wrestlers to Boardwalk Hall for State Championships

Feb 28, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Southern Regional’s John Stout works for a pin late in the third period during his NJSIAA Region VIII 170-pound championship bout against Delsea’s Mason Maxwell on Feb. 24.

About a week after Southern Regional wrestler Matt Barnett’s freshman season ended, a life-changing event occurred in his family. The date was Feb. 24, 2015, and an explosion at an unoccupied house in the Cedar Run section of Stafford Township nearly ended his father’s life.

Dean Barnett, working for New Jersey Natural Gas, was one of more than a dozen individuals injured when a gas leak led to the explosion, which sent debris flying everywhere. Dean’s injuries were critical, but he survived, and three years later he was happy to be able to take a few pictures of his son atop another podium.

“That whole thing changed my life,” Matt said after capturing the NJSIAA Region VIII championship at 132 pounds on Saturday. “I was trying to keep that out of my mind as much as possible, but winning today means a little bit more. When that accident happened my freshman year, it was a tough thing to go through. But my dad is here, and if he could fight his way back from that, I knew I was able to fight through any adversity I faced today.”

After he won his first district title a week earlier, Barnett’s road to the region title certainly wasn’t deemed an easy one at the outset of the tourney. But following a 15-4 major decision over Gateway/Woodbury’s Kodi Petroski in the quarterfinals on Friday night, the Southern senior returned to the mat at Egg Harbor Township High School Saturday morning and scored an 8-1 victory over St. Augustine’s George Coleman to earn a spot in the final for a second straight year.

Barnett (19-2) met up with Highland Regional’s Justin Cariss in the championship, and the two battled to a scoreless tie after one period. Barnett started the second period on defense and worked his way up to neutral just 23 seconds into it. He maintained that one-point margin into the third period.

As the third began, Cariss had chosen defense to start, but Barnett conceded the neutral position to make it a 1-1 tie. From there, the two grinded from a standing position, and neither yielded much for a minute and a half. Finally, Barnett got a shot in on Cariss’ right leg, worked him down to the mat and scored the takedown with about 20 seconds to go. Cariss managed to escape with six seconds left, but Barnett held off his last-gasp effort for a takedown.

“It feels good to finally win a region title,” Barnett said. “After I won the district last week, I just wanted to use the momentum from that and keep it going. I was third in the district and region two years ago and second in both last year, so it was my goal to be at the top of the podium for both the district and region this year.”

Barnett was one of three Rams to secure region championships for the first time, as eight Southern wrestlers qualified for the NJSIAA Individual Wrestling Championships in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, slated for March 2-4. Juniors Nick O’Connell and John Stout also captured regional crowns.

O’Connell, who has been struggling through several injuries during the past few weeks, managed to ignore the six staples in the back of his head on Saturday to win the 152-pound title.

“I was wrestling John in practice on Monday, and somehow I split the back of my head,” O’Connell said after defeating Clearview’s David McCullough, 7-2, in the final. “Neither one of us knew what happened, but it was just another thing I had to overcome. I’ve been wrestling pretty bad lately, so I needed these four wins this week.”

Last season, O’Connell won the district title and was able to sit out the preliminary round of the region tourney. This time around, he had no such break after losing in the District 29 championship to Woodstown’s Cody Wolf. He beat Kingsway’s Ryan Crane, 9-2, to reach the quarterfinals, where he ousted Mainland’s Antonio Yeoman, 9-2. O’Connell (25-3) then knocked off Egg Harbor’s Jason Kaenzig, 11-5, in the semifinals.

With Wood bounced in the quarterfinals, McCullough ended up on the other side of O’Connell for the final, and O’Connell quickly showed he was the better wrestler, scoring a pair of takedowns to bring a 4-1 lead into the second period. O’Connell escaped from the defensive position in the second to push his lead to 5-1, then scored another takedown in the third to seal his first region title.

“I lost in the group championship a couple of weeks ago, then I lost in the district championship, so the goal for me was to get back to wrestling well and get to the top of the podium,” he said. “It was a mental thing for me. Losing any match isn’t acceptable, so I had to get the ball rolling for Atlantic City.”

Meanwhile, Stout – who had to work his way back into the lineup after an injury early in the season – managed to grab the top seed after winning the District 29 title, and he won three close bouts on the way to his first regional crown, knocking off Delsea’s Mason Maxwell, 5-3, in the final.

Stout scored an 8-6 win over Pennsville’s Wyatt Wood in the quarterfinals, then earned his spot in the championship with a 5-4 decision over Absegami’s Andrew Marcucci, who was called for two penalty points late in the third period. Stout was down, 3-1, to Maxwell before staging a comeback, scoring a takedown with 39 seconds to go before turning Maxwell to his back for two points with just seconds on the clock.

“It’s cool. It’s kind of a weird feeling,” said Stout, who’s 13-4 heading into Boardwalk Hall. “It’s something I’ve been working for, but it hasn’t sunk in yet for me. I’m glad we were able to get three region championships today.”

Of course, even better is the fact that eight Rams will be making the trip to Boardwalk Hall. It’s the first time in Southern’s history that so many will get a chance to wrestle in the main event. Seniors Owen Kretschmer (120), Dan Gorman (160) and Matt Mackanic (220), junior Sebastian Delligatti (126) and sophomore Robert Woodcock (138) each finished in fourth place during the region tourney for the chance to join Barnett, O’Connell and Stout.

Preliminary- and pre-quarterfinals are slated to begin at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, March 2. Quarterfinals are set for 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 3, with semifinals scheduled for 6 p.m. And on Sunday, the last round of wrestlebacks and medal bouts for third through eighth are set to begin at 10 a.m., with the championship contests slated for 3 p.m.

“We have a pretty solid team all around, so it’s great that we have so many guys going to Atlantic City,” Stout said. “Maybe the best part is that we’ll be able to have full practices this week, instead of just one or two guys practicing for a half-hour, and that may help a lot in getting us prepared for next weekend.”

— David Biggy

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