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What a fun weekend of Shore Conference action, from the NJSIAA Individual Wrestling Championships down in Atlantic City to six boys basketball teams and seven girls teams keeping their hopes alive for a state sectional title.

I'll start with wrestling, as the Shore crowned a pair of state champions in Keansburg senior Tyree Sutton at 195 and Brick Memorial senior Alec Donovan at 145. The Sutton story was one of the best of the weekend, as he became the first state champ in Titans' history while finishing the season undefeated and winning his 100th career match in the final with a 5-3 overtime thriller against Holy Cross's Matt Correnti.

Keansburg's Tyree Sutton became the first state champion in school history. (Photo by Larry Murphy/Sports Pix NJ)

I've chronicled Sutton's journey since a Shore Sports Network Journal cover story that I wrote on him last year, so I was definitely happy for him that he was able to finish the job. He has gone through several tough situations in his life, but he kept his eyes on the prize. While the roars at Boardwalk Hall on Sunday were a tremendous moment for him, the moment when he truly triumphs will be walking across a stage to get his college diploma a few years from now.

He has talked about how wrestling is his ticket to a better life for his son, 1-year-old Tyree Jr., because it is an avenue for him to get some money to go to college and better his life. I've seen talented athletes derailed by much less than what Sutton has faced, so I don't doubt him when he insists that he will be a Division I wrestler one day, even if it takes a season at a junior college next winter.

You could tell how much weight he has carried through this journey because even though he was initially elated after winning yesterday, it soon gave way to utter exhaustion. He was making that run not only for himself and his family but for all of Keansburg, and it took its toll. He's so competitive that afterward when he was talking to friends, he wasn't reliving his sensational comeback from a 3-0 third-period deficit, he was more mad that he gave up three back points because no one had scored on him all season until Correnti tilted him. That relentlessness served Sutton well in the end, and he will go down as one of the best athletes in Keansburg history.

Donovan capped the finals with a 1-0 win over Bound Brook sophomore Stephan Glasgow to win his first state title. I was surprised to read in Bob's story that Brick Memorial only has six state champions given its amazing history of team success, so Donovan really put himself in a select group.

Alec Donovan joined a select group of state champions in Brick Memorial's storied history. (Photo by Larry Murphy/Sports Pix NJ)

Everything you hear about Donovan from other coaches and wrestlers is that he works tirelessly. He basically lives at Shore Thing Wrestling Club. There's probably a cot for him in the back. It was only fitting that his championship win was a grinding, one-point victory in which he rode out Glasgow for the whole second period and then escaped in the third to win it.

Donovan is a fun wrestler to watch because he has great balance and is so good on scrambles that he can turn a precarious situation into points for himself in an instant. He also is a great interview with a good sense of humor who always speaks his mind. His reversal of High Point's Jason Gaccione with seven seconds left in the match to win it 3-2 was one of the best bouts of the semifinals.

Donovan's good friend, Pinelands senior Tom Poklikuha, whom Donovan beat in the Region VI final, took third at 145 with a tremendous display of mental toughness and physical endurance. He lost his opening match in the preliminary round on Friday night and then won six matches to cut his way all the way through the consolation bracket to get third, which included pinning St. Peter's Prep's Ryan Burkert, who was a state finalist last year.

Just like Donovan, Poklikuha is also a great interview, and he talked about how a grueling 11-day camp at the University of Iowa the past two seasons helped simulate the cutthroat, exhausting conditions he would face in the wrestlebacks in Atlantic City. He ends his career as Pinelands' all-time wins leader and is their first state place-winner since Mike Molosky took second in 2002. He had a great quote when talking about his run in AC cementing his legacy at Pinelands.

"I'll be remembered,'' he said.

Brick senior Kyle Wojtasek did the same thing as Poklikuha, losing his first match on Friday night and then battling his way to third at 170. He ends his career as Brick's all-time wins leader. He and senior teammate Dean Sherry, who took third at 182, are now part of a group of only five wrestlers in Brick history who have finished in the top three in the state.

Jackson Memorial heavyweight Brody Graham and Southern 152-pounder Matt Wilhelm also had third-place finishes.

The Brick Memorial trio of Gianni Ghione (113), Cliff Ruggiero (160) and Nick Rivera (Hwt.) all reached finals but came up just short of winning championships. For Ruggiero, it was a great run to the final, where he was the underdog to two-time state champion Dave McFadden of DePaul. Ruggiero had some of the most exciting matches of the tournament because he can hit a throw from anywhere in an instant.

Ghione and Rivera are poised to be two stars of this tournament in the coming years. Both are sophomores. Ghione was right there in a 3-1 loss to Brandon Cray, who won the first state title in Steinert history. Rivera gave a solid battle to Don Bosco Prep heavyweight Zack Chakonis, losing 5-1 to the Northwestern University recruit, who had been dominating opponents throughout the tournament. With Chakonis graduating, Rivera looks to be the one to beat in the heavyweight bracket for the next two years.

Brick Memorial sophomore Nick Rivera (left) came up just short against a big-time opponent in the heavyweight final, but he has the goods to be a two-time state champion. (Photo by Larry Murphy/Sports Pix NJ)

Region VI, which is essentially the Shore Conference, had 20 medalists, second only to Region II's 24, and 10 of them finished in the top three, so it was a great showing one season after the Shore didn't produce a state champion for the first time since 2003.

The one other funny thing is seeing wrestlers whose seasons are over just absolutely pigging out. I should've taken a picture of it, but Toms River South's Antrez Clagon was eating the biggest peanut butter cup I have ever seen while sitting and watching the finals. It was like the size of a pot pie. Everywhere you looked, there was some 130-pound kid taking down food like an NFL lineman. Hey, they earned it.

BASKETBALL 

Two teams will be playing for sectional championship tonight, including a Freehold Township team bidding to make history with its first NJSIAA title. The Patriots host 13th-seeded Hillsborough at 7 p.m. with the Central Jersey Group IV title on the line.

Tyree Wilson and Freehold Township will try to make school history on Monday night. (Photo by Larry Murphy, SportsPixNJ)

Manasquan is back in the sectional final for the second time in three seasons, and it will host eighth-seeded Bordentown in Central Jersey Group II at 6 p.m. The Warriors knocked off defending champion Matawan in the semifinals and now look to finish the job against a tough Bordentown team that has already gone on the road and picked off Lakewood and Shore Conference Tournament champion Rumson-Fair Haven in the tournament.

Toms River South is on the road down at Winslow Township in a bid to reach the South Jersey Group III final. The Indians have a legitimate shot in that game with Tymere Berry leading the way. Middletown North will look to continue its Cinderella run in Central Jersey Group III on the road against a Hamilton West team that knocked out Wall in the last round. There were three Top 10-ranked Shore teams in the CJ III bracket (Neptune, Wall, Red Bank), but the Lions are the only ones still alive despite going 0-10 in the month of February. They always seem to click right around state playoff time under coach Mike Iasparro, and they have done it again with a young team that should be a factor next season.

Christian Brothers Academy punched its ticket to the sectional final by going on the road and taking down second-seeded Camden Catholic on Sunday night. The Colts now play top-seeded St. Augustine tomorrow on the neutral court at Jackson Liberty.

On the girls side, things have pretty much gone as expected. Defending Group II champion Manasquan will host Rumson in the Central Jersey Group II final, defending champion Middletown South has reached the Central Jersey Group III final and awaits the winner from tonight's Neptune-Allentown game, and defending champion St. John Vianney is back in the Non-Public South A final and will play Gloucester Catholic at 4 p.m. tomorrow at Jackson Liberty before the CBA game.

Defending Non-Public B champion St. Rose is in the semifinals of the South section and will have a real battle on its hands tonight against a tough Rutgers Prep team at home. Also, Marlboro dethroned defending Central Jersey Group IV champion Colts Neck and will travel to top-seeded Monroe tomorrow for the championship game.

More on Monday:

  • Bergen County's dominance was the overall story of Sunday's wrestling finals.
  • Delsea, which Toms River South will face in the South Jersey Group III final with a win tonight, got 42 points from Keith Braxton in their semifinal win. Could be a pretty epic showdown between Braxton and Tymere Berry if it comes to fruition.
  • St. Augustine point guard Sa'eed Nelson is going to be a handful for CBA tomorrow night.
  • The Minnesota High School All-Hockey Hair Team.
  • Nice moment for Middletown North grad Eric Youncofski in the regular-season finale for Rhode Island basketball.
  • The Robert Morris team coached by CBA grad Andy Toole plays tomorrow night in the NEC Tournament final in a bid to reach the NCAA Tournament.

On tap for tonight: Here we go. We will have coverage from the Freehold Township and Manasquan games.

Boys basketball state playoff scoreboard

I'll end with a highlight from the weekend. Colts Neck came up short against Freehold Township in the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals, but this was a nice tip dunk by Tom O'Reilly with some emotion at the end by whipping the ball off the ground as the Cougar Den goes nuts in the background.