Southern Regional Wrestlers Capture State Sectional Crown, Fall in Group Final

Feb 14, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy The Southern Regional wrestling team gathers around the championship trophy after defeating Kingsway, 33-29, in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V final on Feb. 9.

When a lead is eight points or less in the NJSIAA wrestling tournament, it’s not considered safe unless a team still has a hammer or two left in the tool box. So with his team up by seven heading into the final two bouts of the South Jersey Group V championship on Feb. 8, Southern senior Dan Gorman knew he had to either seal the deal or possibly put his team in a precarious position.

“I knew I was going to do it,” said Gorman, who scored a takedown with 31 seconds to go in his 160-pound contest with Kevin Pandorf and delivered a 3-1 victory to finish off Kingsway, 33-29. “I had to do it. All the hard work I’ve put in this season came down to that moment. I was going to get it done for my teammates.”

After a scoreless first period, Pandorf eventually managed an escape point after choosing defense for the second period, breaking Gorman’s grasp with three seconds left. Just seconds into the third, Gorman easily escaped from his defensive position to tie the match, 1-1. Gorman and Pandorf continually tied each other up during the next 1:15, with few shot attempts taken by either wrestler.

But with just over 40 seconds left in the contest, Gorman shot in on Pandorf near the edge of the circle and snagged an ankle. Gorman then snatched Pandorf’s ankle as Pandorf tried to scramble out of points, scoring the takedown to make it a two-point bout with 31 seconds to go. Gorman rode out Pandorf for the remainder of the match to clinch the title. Southern conceded a forfeit to the Dragons at 172 pounds for the four-point victory.

It was the Rams’ 12th state sectional crown and 11th since the 2004-05 season. Last year, the NJSIAA disqualified Southern from the tournament following a first-round win, after it had been revealed that a weigh-in certification error had occurred during the preseason.

“Winning this title again was very important to us,” Gorman said. “For me, it was more important than breathing at the moment. And to win this match in our gym – getting one more chance to look up and see the fans cheering – was special for us.”

After John Stout gave the Rams a 6-0 lead with a 3:52 pin of Dalvin Johns at 182 pounds, the Dragons scored a pair of narrow decisions to grab the lead before Matt Mackanic pinned Jaylen Shanklin in 1:37 at heavyweight and Matt Brielmeier delivered against Lance Crawford at 106 to send the Rams back in front, 18-6. A technical fall and two more decisions for the Dragons closed the gap to a point, 18-17.

That’s when veteran Matt Barnett – a senior who’s made trips to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall for the state championships the past two years – took the mat to face Kingsway’s Jake Gentile in a crucial 132-pound contest.

“It was a big match, but I’ve been in that position before,” Barnett said. “I just wanted to go out there and wrestle tough, and do the job I was expected to do. That’s why we won tonight – because everybody did their job.”

A takedown in the first period gave Barnett a 2-0 lead into the second period, before Gentile escaped from his defensive position to cut the lead to 2-1 heading into the third period. An escape for Barnett to start the period made it 3-1, and the experienced Ram added another takedown to push Southern’s lead to 21-17. Robert Woodcock followed with a 1:48 pin of John Sambogna at 138, and despite a pin at 145, the Rams maintained a four-point gap with three bouts left.

Nick O’Connell scored an early takedown against Ryan Crane at 152 pounds, then scored an escape and takedown to start the second period. But in a wild turn of events, Crane worked a reversal and immediately sent O’Connell to his back. Despite the appearance of being pinned, the referee counted off only a near-fall for Crane, giving him the lead, 6-5. O’Connell escaped to make it 6-6 going into the third. O’Connell conceded a neutral point to start the third, then scored two consecutive takedowns for a 10-9 win.

“Nick is a crafty wrestler,” said head coach John Stout. “Even when he’s not completely sharp, he stays calm and finds ways to win matches when he needs to. He came up big for us tonight. He and Danny both did.”

After O’Connell made it 30-23, Gorman scored the win that brought the sectional trophy back to Southern’s gym.

“This was a big deal to our guys because they felt like it was stolen from them last year,” Stout said. “The first time we won the title under me in 2005, the seniors on this team were 3 years old, and some of them were sitting in the stands watching that. So for them to come through the youth program and then through our program, and come back from what happened last year, it’s a testament to their hard work and dedication.”

On Feb. 11 at Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North, the Rams cruised into the Group V final with a 43-23 semifinals win over Watchung Hills. Senior Owen Kretschmer started the contest with an 11-2 major decision at 120 pounds before junior Sebastian Delligatti won a 5-4 decision at 126, and Barnett was awarded a forfeit at 132 to make it 13-0. Woodcock added another 5-4 decision, and the Rams (19-3) rolled from there.

Unfortunately, Southern ran out of gas against Shore Conference rival Howell in the Group V championship, falling 33-15. Delligatti and Barnett each scored a decision to start the match, but the undefeated Rebels (32-0) won six straight bouts from 138 through 182 to grab control. Ben LoParo (195), Mackanic (22) and Jayson Scerbo (113) each won decisions during the next six bouts, but it wasn’t enough.

Starting this weekend, the Rams will begin potential journeys to Boardwalk Hall as the NJSIAA individual tourney gets underway. Southern’s first stop is the District 29 tournament, scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 17, at Kingsway High School.

— David Biggy

biggythesandpaper.net

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