MIDDLETOWN -- A cradle was the last move any of Nicko Cofone's teammates could have expected him to hit in a pressure-packed situation, but once they saw him reach for the leg of CBA's Garret Fitzgerald they knew what was about to happen.

In a critical bout at 160 pounds, Cofone locked in a bottom-leg cradle and pinned Fitzgerald early in the third period for a huge win that propelled Middletown North, ranked No. 9 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a scintillating 34-29 Shore Conference Class A North victory over No. 2 Christian Brothers Academy on Wednesday night.

Down by 11 with three bouts left, Cofone, junior Tom Anderson and junior Brian Winz combined for 16 points to complete the comeback and deliver the Lions (10-3, 4-1) one of their biggest regular-season wins in decades. If Middletown North can defeat Manalapan in its final division match there will be a tri-championship for the Class A North title with Middletown North, CBA and Howell.

"You wrestle him in practice and he never hits that on any of us," senior senior Anthony Vetrano. "He just runs bars or tries for tilts, but he's a strong kid so when I saw him hook that up I knew he had it. It was amazing."

"I knew I had to win, and I knew if I got the pin it would put us in a really good position to win the match," Cofone said. "I went for the switch and I didn't think the cradle would be there like that. I went for it all and it paid off."

Cofone, a sophomore, entered the bout with a 13-5 record wrestling mostly at 152 pounds, while Fitzgerald, a District 22 third-place finisher last season, was making his season debut.

"Our two options at 160 were a freshman or Cofone," said Middletown North head coach Matt Sirchio. "Last year he kind of went under the radar as a freshman getting his feet wet, but this year he's stepping it up. We figured we could put him out there and he would show up for us."

Cofone's timely pin cut Middletown North's deficit to 29-24, and Anderson followed with a 12-0 major decision at 170 pounds to set up the winner-take-all bout at 182 pounds. That's where Winz clamped down on the head of Cameron DiGiorgio and pressed him clean to the mat just 41 seconds in, setting off a raucous celebration on the Lions' bench.

"(Winz) loves the headlock and when he went for it we knew we were going to win it," Cofone said. "We were a little nervous. We never expected to beat CBA like that."

Cofone's pin was monumental as the Lions were heavily favorited in the remaining two bouts. He was far from the only hero for Middletown North on a night where the Lions won eight bouts and got clutch performances up and down the lineup.

Freshman Nate Pujols returned from a two-week absence because of a sprained MCL to win 5-4 over Sam LaCorte at 126 pounds in an enormous swing bout. Tied 2-2 heading to the third period, Pujols finally turned LaCorte with a cradle he had been searching for the entire bout for three near-fall points with under 30 seconds left. Those points put him up 5-2, and he held on despite a late reversal by LaCorte. The victory came after CBA had taken a 17-12 lead with a technical fall by Nick Schutzenhofer at 106 and two straight pins by Richie Koehler and Sebastian Rivera at 113 and 120, respectively.

"I couldn't hit a half (nelson) on him but his leg kept coming up when I went for it," Pujols said. "I went for the half then hit the cradle."

"I think he's a great wrestler," said Vetrano about Pujols. "He drills insanely hard in practice and puts in a lot of work. I knew he was going to step up in a big situation."

Two bouts later at 138 pounds, sophomore Stanley Wojdylak outlasted CBA senior Carl Vasti 4-2 in sudden victory overtime. Wojdylak took a 2-0 lead with a takedown midway through the first period, but Vasti tied the score with a slick several into a spladle just before the buzzer. Vasti rode out Wojdylak in the second period, and Wojdylak returned the favor in the third to force overtime. In sudden victory, Vasti reached for an outside single that initiated a wild scramble which ended with Wojdylak securing the winning takedown to trim CBA's lead to 23-18.

"That was a big matchup for him and we felt he could get it," Sirchio said. "We could have made some moves there but we figured let's keep our strong guy on (Vasti)."

Middletown North knew winning the pre-match flip would be crucial, and when the Lions won the flip to dictate which bouts they would have to send their wrestler out first, they knew they were in a good spot. They still had to win those bouts, however, and that's where their hammers made a statement.

In the opening bout at 195 pounds, Vetrano defeated CBA senior Jack LaCorte 6-1 in a matchup of the Shore's top-ranked wrestlers at 182 and 195 pounds, respectively, as ranked by theshoreconference.com. Vetrano took a 2-0 lead with a reversal 24 seconds into the second period and pushed his lead to 4-0 with a takedown early in the third period. He added a takedown just before the buzzer to seal the must-have victory. LaCorte entered with a 16-2 record while LaCorte was 17-1.

"(Sirchio) told me no matter what I was going out to wrestle LaCorte," Vetrano said. "I pinned him last year in the second period in district finals, so I was pumped up to wrestle him. I weighed in at 182 but going up to 195 was not a big deal to me because I'm used to it. I was ecstatic to go up and get a big win."

Sophomore Austin Dewise followed with a pin over Jared Smallwood at 220 for a 9-0 lead, earning his first win of the season in a big way. That brought the match to heavyweight where the Lions shifted senior Chad Freshnock to match up with CBA senior William Oxley, who had bumped up to heavyweight. Freshnock is the reigning Region VI 220-pound champion and defeated Oxley in the finals last season. A takedown in the first period and another in the third, combined with escapes in the second and third periods were enough hold on for a 6-5 victory and a 12-0 Middletown North lead.

The Lions got the matchups they needed and came through with a 12-0 lead while taking out two of CBA's best wrestlers.

"The flip was obviously huge for us," Sirchio said. "They have a couple of monster up top and so do we. We wanted to match them up in our favor."

CBA went on its expected run in the lower weights to take the lead. Schutzenhofer won by  16-1 technical fall over John Provenzano at 106, Koehler pinned Sean Deering in 1:09 at 113 and Rivera decked Andrew Lacey in 1:40 at 120 pounds to put the Colts (9-4, 5-1) up 17-12.

Pujols' victory closed the gap to 17-15, but undefeated senior Dylan VanSickell pinned Mike Del Grosso in 3:38 to extend CBA's lead to 23-15. After Wojdylak's victory at 138 made it 23-18, Ben Kuhn and Chris Koutzen picked up decisions for the Colts at 145 and 152 to give them a 29-18 lead with three bouts left. Middletown North had just enough firepower left to pull off the thrilling victory.

"You have to earn your respect around the Shore Conference," Sirchio said. "We deserve respect and now we're earning it."

The Lions are seeded sixth in the Shore Conference Tournament, which begins on Thursday with the preliminary, pre-quarterfinal and quarterfinal matches. They square off with 11th-seeded Ocean in a rematch of a Jan. 9 match won by Middletown North, 36-24.


Box Score

No. 9 Middletown North 34, No. 2 CBA 29

195: Anthony Vetrano (MN) d. Jack LaCorte 6-1

220: Austin Dewise (MN) p. Jared Smallwood 1:41

Hwt: Chad Freshnock (MN) d. William Oxley 6-5

106: Nick Schutzenhofer (CBA) tf. John Provenzano 5:34 (16-1)

113: Richie Koehler (CBA) p. Sean Deering 1:09

120: Sebastian Rivera (CBA) p. Andrew Lacey 1:40

126: Nate Pujols (MN) d. Sam LaCorte 5-4

132: Dylan VanSickell (CBA) p. Mike Del Grosso 3:38

138: Stanley Wojdylak (MN) d. Carl Vasti 4-2 OT

145: Ben Kuhn (CBA) d. Eddie Walz 10-5

152: Chris Koutzen (CBA) d. Jacob Anderson 5-0

160: Nicko Cofone (MN) p. Garret Fitzgerald 4:35

170: Tom Anderson (MN) md. Sam Houstan 12-0

182: Brian Winz (MN) p. Cameron DiGiorgio 0:41

Records: at Middletown North (10-3, 4-1); CBA (9-4, 5-1).

Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.