Wrestling – Region VI Quarterfinals: Survival of the Fittest
Follow Bob Badders on Twitter for results and news from around the Shore.
TOMS RIVER — In a wild, back-and-forth, scramble-filled bout with Christian Brothers Academy’s Erik Beshada, Pinelands junior Tom Poklikuha could rely on the fact that he’d been in the same position many times in the practice room.
“Me and (Brick Memorial’s) Alec Donovan at club, that’s all we do,” Poklikuha said. “I was used to it.”
Poklikuha, the No. 7 seed at 138 pounds, took the second-seeded Beshada to overtime in their 138-pound quarterfinal bout before delivering the winning takedown in sudden victory for a 4-2 victory during Friday night’s NJSIAA Region VI Tournament at Pine Belt Arena at Toms River North.
“I knew my conditioning was second to none, and I just gritted that one out,” Poklikuha said.
The Wildcats junior, who wrestled at 145 pounds for much of the season, entered the District 24 final last Saturday with an undefeated record. He suffered his first defeat in the final, 7-5 to Southern junior Matt Wilhelm, but he came away from that bout knowing he could wrestle with the Shore’s best at the weight.
“I realized it wasn’t just a dream, it could be reality,” Poklikuha said. “Every day I know I can wrestle with all of them. You have to believe in yourself and your ability and everything will take care of itself.”
Beshada entered as a four-time district champ and a very good bet to reach the final. Now Poklikuha gets another shot at Wilhelm in the semifinals, which take place Saturday at 10 a.m. at Pine Belt Arena. Wrestleback rounds will follow the semifinals with the finals scheduled for 5 p.m. Poklikuha is among the final four left in the championship bracket along with Wilhelm, Brick Memorial’s Joe Ghione and Middletown North’s Paul Capaldo. Pinelands’ last region champion was Mike Molosky at 135 pounds in 2002.
“He’s even, if not better, than Beshada, so it’s going to be another barn-burner,” Poklikuha said.
Poklikuha’s win played along with the central theme of Friday’s quarterfinal round. It was all about upsets in the round of eight as seven wrestlers seeded sixth or lower advanced to Saturday morning’s semifinals. All the upsets occurred from 106 through 152 pounds.
The 152-pound weight class is where most of the madness happened. First, Brick Memorial junior Rob Ruggiero, the No. 8 seed, ousted top-seeded Kyle Wojtaszek of Brick, 8-4. Ruggiero hit a five-point move in the first period and never looked back. He is one of seven semifinalists for the Mustangs. Ironically, Ruggiero and Wojtaszek, who also met in the District 23 final, are best friends.
Later in the night it was sixth-seeded Brandon Perez from Long Branch taking out third-seeded Dylan DaSilva of Toms River North, 3-2. DaSilva had lost in double-overtime to Southern’s Nick Racanelli in the District 24 final. Now Racanelli, as the No. 2 seed, is the favorite to win the bracket. Long Branch twice had a hand in pulling the upset, as at 120 pounds seventh-seeded Andy Hernandez (33-2) edged Point Boro’s Dan Nobbs, 3-1. Nobbs entered the bout undefeated at 19-0.
In addition to Perez, three other No. 6 seeds pulled upsets to move on to the semifinals. At 106 pounds, Brick Memorial freshman Gianni Ghione (24-6) pinned Barnegat junior Jeff DeLuise in 3:04. At 126 pounds, Southern senior Andrew Tonneson rode his way to a 1-0 victory over Neptune junior Nasiyr Brown, who was a state medalist last season. Ocean’s Andrew MacNeille took out Jackson Liberty’s Matt Russo, 6-5, at 132 pounds. Russo is a two-time state qualifier.
There were also several excellent No. 4 vs. No. 5 bouts. At 120 pounds, Southern junior Chris Crane avenged a loss to Howell’s Jimmy Slendorn with a thrilling 4-2 sudden victory win in the quarterfinals. Crane, who was the fifth seed, hit a third-period reversal and was leading 2-1 late in the bout when Slendorn almost broke free until Crane locked up his ankle. He was hit for his second stalling with 1.7 seconds left in the third period, which gave Slendorn a point to tie the bout at two and force overtime.
In sudden victory, a mad scramble ensued and Crane was able to come out on top to reach the semifinals versus top-seeded Mike Russo of Jackson Liberty.
“With 1.7 seconds left I couldn’t believe it,” Crane said of getting called for stalling. “But I had to keep going. I knew I had to win the first one and better my chances at getting out of the region, and I did that. He’s a really funky kid and he always funks me, but I pulled it out this time.”
In a loaded 106-pound bracket, Christian Brothers Academy sophomore Sebastian Rivera improved to 34-0 with a 4-1 victory over Howell’s Peter Dee in a 4-5 matchup of two potential state medalists. At 126, Toms River South senior Brandon Murray edged Middletown South senior Dom Franciosi, 5-3.
At 138, Capaldo edged Howell senior Jack Rada, 3-2, while Manalapan’s Jake Kaminsky rallied for a 10-7 win over Marlboro’s Dan Saraiva at 145 pounds. St. John Vianney’s Terrence Davis eked out a 3-2 win over Middletown South’s Matt Best at 152 and Jackson Liberty’s T.J. Liquori bested Brick Memorial’s Cliff Ruggiero, 4-0 at 160 pounds.
Wall senior Tyler Romanelli handed Barnegat senior Greg Moran his first loss of the season with a 5-3 win in sudden victory in the 4-5 bout at 195 pounds. At 220, Toms River North’s Mike Siwiec (31-2) stopped Manalapan’s Ben Aquilina, 6-3.
There was nearly another top three seed that fell at 170 pounds. Brick’s Dean Sherry outlasted Wall’s Matt McKenzie, 3-2 in the ultimate tiebreaker, but not without some controversy. Sherry was awarded a takedown at the end of regulation that would have given him a 3-1 win, but it was waved off after the officials convened. In the final overtime period tied 2-2 with Sherry on defense, McKenzie rode Sherry out until the last second when the Brick junior escaped for a 3-2 win. However, video shows the clock on all zeroes before Sherry escapes.
Sherry takes on third-seeded Gerardo Jorge from Southern in the semifinals.
The top four seeds advanced in just five of 14 weight classes, setting up what could be a very unpredictable Saturday session. The Shore Conference might not have a state title favorite as it has for the better part of the last decade, but what Region VI lacks in dominance, it’s making up for with drama.