Wrestling Report

Southern Regional Wrestlers Score Big Win Over Phillipsburg as State Team Tourney Looms

Jan 30, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Southern’s Nick O'Connell puts the finishing touches on a dominant 11-3 victory over Cody Harrison during the Rams’ 32-16 victory over Phillipsburg on Jan. 26.

At the beginning of every season, the Southern Regional High School wrestling team circles the big dates against top-notch opponents on its calendar. South Plainfield on Jan. 22 and Phillipsburg on Jan. 26 were two of the premier contests lined up, and last week was the one where everybody learned whether the Rams were ready for the upcoming state team tournament.

On Tuesday maybe the Rams weren’t quite ready, as they lost by 12 points to South Plainfield. But on Saturday, Southern turned the corner.

“Finally,” said 152-pounder Nick O’Connell after the Rams handed the Stateliners a 32-16 defeat. “We finally showed up, and all 14 guys did their job. This is a big deal, and it should give us a lot of confidence with the sectional tournament right around the corner. This should light a fire under us.”

Robert Woodcock set the Rams (11-4) on a positive course with a 15-5 major decision over Luke Hardin at 138 pounds, scoring four takedowns during the first two periods to take an 8-3 advantage into the third period and cruising from there. Nick Pepe racked up three takedowns during the first two periods against Kyle Tino and ended up with a 9-4 victory at 145 pounds to give Southern a 7-0 lead after two bouts.

With the fire started, O’Connell took the mat for his bout against Cody Harrison – who placed fourth in the state at 138 pounds last year – and poured on the gasoline. O’Connell quickly took down Harrison to open up the first period, then added another takedown for a 4-1 lead into the second. The Southern senior worked his way to a neutral position to go up 5-1, before scoring another takedown with about 15 seconds left in the second for a 7-1 margin. O’Connell scored two more takedowns in the third to win, 11-3.

“For the first time this season, we had 14 guys who went out and did what they had to do,” said head coach John Stout. “We won all the toss-up bouts, we gave up one bonus point, and our kids wrestled really well. But Nick really lit the fire for these guys. He beat that Harrison kid soundly, and that really got our guys going.”

After Luke Galan’s 7-2 loss at 160 pounds gave Phillipsburg (11-2) its first points of the match, the Rams took command when Haven Tatarek delivered a big, 6-2 victory over David Pierson at 170 pounds, and 182-pounder John Stout delivered a 9-3 decision over Jacob Wicks to make it a 17-3 contest through six bouts. Following Ben LoParo’s 5-2 loss at 195 pounds, Southern’s J.T. Cornelius registered another big win, 3-0, against Gage Horvath at 220 pounds, before heavyweight Jayden Smith scored a decisive, 10-5 decision over Cody Cruts to make it 23-6.

With the contest seemingly in hand, the Rams still needed Jayson Scerbo to avoid a big loss in his toss-up 113-pound bout with Logan Maczko. Instead, the junior fanned the Southern fire with a come-from-behind, 5-4 victory. Scerbo went down, 3-0, by the end of the second period, but scored an escape to start the third and then got in a pair of takedowns, the last one with 11 seconds to go.

“We lost the past couple of times to Phillipsburg, so we really wanted this,” Scerbo said. “Going into the third period, I just had to think positive and keep my mind on the bigger picture, that I still had two minutes to turn things around. I just had to keep going and do what I could to score points. I had to keep up the intensity.”

Matt Brielmeier finished the roasting of Phillipsburg when he brought down 120-pound opponent Joe Innamorato within the first 10 seconds of their bout, worked Innamorato at the edge of the circle, then flipped him to his back for a pin in 59 seconds to give the Rams a 32-10 lead with two bouts left.

“I was excited to get out there and wrestle with a chance to win the match,” Breilmeier said. “The team needed me to do the job, and the goal was to go out there and get a pin. This was a big match for us.”

Indeed. The NJSIAA South Jersey Group V tournament is scheduled to start Monday, and the Rams likely will have to contend with Shore Conference rival Howell, which was shifted from Central to South Jersey by the state athletic association during the offseason. Last year, Howell upended Southern in the Group V championship.

However, with the win over Phillipsburg – a Group IV powerhouse for decades – Stout believes his crew is ready for February’s big stuff.

“We just held Phillipsburg to under 20 points, which is unheard of. This shows we have the ability to compete at the highest level, and we’re going to need to do that the first week of February,” Stout said. “We have a lot of respect for Phillipsburg and their coaches do an outstanding job with that program, so this is a huge win for us. I expect us to pick up some steam from this.”

Interestingly, earlier in the week some on social media had ridiculed Stout and the Rams for not participating in the Shore Conference Tournament – something Stout has chosen for his program for at least the past seven years. However, Stout had the last laugh.

“I’m sure a lot of the teams competing in it are having fun, but they’re not having as much fun as we are today,” Stout said. “The SCT is good for some individuals to get a few extra wins, but it just doesn’t mean anything for us. I’d rather we wrestle a team like Phillipsburg and get something out of it, whether we win or lose. This was a program win that makes a difference.”

Pair of Wildcats
Reach SCT Quarters

As for the Shore Conference Tournament, Pinelands Regional and Barnegat wrestlers competed and only a pair of Wildcats managed to fare somewhat well, reaching the quarterfinals of their weight class before getting bounced in wrestleback bouts.

After knocking off Toms River East’s Alexander Gorlin, 3-2, Travis Brown advanced to the quarterfinals to face the top seed at 132 pounds, Lacey’s Hunter Gutierrez, who pinned Brown in 3:05. Brown, the tourney’s eighth seed, then squared off with No. 4 Sam LaCorte of Christian Brothers Academy and lost an 8-3 decision.

Meanwhile, No. 9 Evan Burton first scored a 9-2 decision over Central’s Mike Monetti before winning a 3-2 overtime contest against No. 8 John Columbia of Red Bank Catholic. In the 195-pound quarterfinals, Burtin was pinned in 2:49 by top-seeded Jake Anderson of Middletown North, then lost a 7-5 decision to Point Pleasant Beach’s Liam Buday, the fifth seed, in the first wrestleback round.

Earlier in the week, on Jan. 23, Burton and Brown each won their bouts as Pinelands (6-7-1) cruised to victory past Shore Conference Class B South rival Manchester, 44-19. Avery Maski was awarded a forfeit at 220 pounds before the Hawks won three of their four bouts to take a 13-6 lead.

But after Karl Lambert was given a forfeit win at 120, the Wildcats’ Bryce LeFevre scored an 8-0 major decision at 126, before Brown pinned in 1:18 at 132 and Matt Albanese grabbed a 3-1 win at 138 to make it a 25-13 contest. Sam Cardillo extended the lead to 15 points with a 2-1 decision at 145.

Gavin Stewart won his 160-pound bout, 3-2, before Connor Harris pinned in 5:22 at 170, John Morrin delivered an 11-2 major at 182, and Burton capped the scoring with a 7-1 decision at 195 pounds.

On Monday, Jan. 28, Barnegat dipped to 11-7-1 on the season following a 34-30 loss to Central Regional. The Bengals’ Dante Powell won a 6-5 decision at 106 pounds before Robert Killmer recorded a 6-1 victory at 113. The Golden Eagles won the next eight bouts and held on for the team win despite Stephen Jennings’ pin in 5:36 at 182, Charlie Cotton’s forfeit win at 195, Peter Jennings’ pin in 4:41 at 220 and Griffin Jackstadt’s forfeit victory at heavyweight.

— David Biggy


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