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STAFFORD TOWNSHIP -- There is a beautiful uniqueness to a high school wrestling dual, particularly one between a pair of powerhouse teams stocked with talent. These are moments in time when the unexpected happens so often that you anticipate witnessing something that will turn the entire match on its head. You don't know exactly when, but you know it's coming.

More often than not, these matches deliver in breathtaking fashion, and on Tuesday night in Manahawkin inside a packed-to-the-rafters gymnasium, Southern Regional and Christian Brothers Academy combined to produce an epic clash between the two best teams in the Shore Conference.

For all the star power in this match - 15 state qualifiers and seven state medalists - and the classic duals that have come before, these match stories rarely focus on the superstars. The unforeseen moments are what define these types of matchups; a surprise chess move on the weigh-in sheet, an unheralded wrestler pulling an upset, winning a toss-up bout, or even saving bonus points against one of the opposition's hammers. This match had all of that.

Any time a dual is decided by just a few points, you can comb through the details of all 14 bouts to find sequences that led to the final result. But there is usually one bout and one wrestler that does something so extraordinary it sends a shockwave through the entire arena, producing a sound that leaves you speechless. On Tuesday night, that wrestler was Southern Regional sophomore Scottie Sari, who delivered the greatest win of his young career to lead his team to a triumphant victory.

In the seventh bout of the night and with CBA holding a three-point lead, Sari entered the second tiebreaker period in double overtime tied 1-1 with Colts sophomore AJ Falcone. After being ridden out by Falcone in the first 30-second tiebreaker, he needed to at least do the same and hold Falcone down for 30 seconds to force an ultimate tiebreaker rideout.

Shortly after the whistle, Sari became a hero.

Falcone tried to roll out from bottom a few seconds after the whistle but Sari caught him and turned him to his back. The near-fall points were being counted and a victory was in hand, but Sari got more, pinning Falcone at the 7:44 mark for a match-turning fall that elicited a ferocious roar from the home crowd. It was the bout that turned the tide and enabled No. 2 Southern to defeat No. 1 CBA, 27-25, in one of the best high school wrestling matches you will ever see.

"It felt really cool to be able to do that for my team," Sari said. "I was just hoping he would make a simple mistake I could try to counter and it just happened to go my way. I usually try not to do anything cocky but I couldn't help myself, I jumped into my coach's arms I was so happy."

Sari's clutch fall was the difference-maker but he certainly wasn't the only Rams wrestler to play an integral role in the victory. In the bout prior at 120 pounds, freshman Atilla Vigilante won 6-2 over CBA junior Tyler Venet, a returning Region 6 champion. That ignited a three-bout winning streak that included Sari's window-rattling pin and senior hammer Connor Collins winning by fall at 132 for a nine-point Southern lead.

The team split the bouts, 7-7, with Southern also receiving decisions from Riley O'Boyle (215), Anthony Mason (106), Hayden Hochstrasser (144), and Cole Velardi (175). CBA weighed in returning state runner-up Julian George at 150 pounds up from his usual spot at 144, running up the rest of its lineup from there to fill the gap at heavyweight and also potentially get 157-pound state third-place finisher Zander Silva on Velardi, who was fifth in the state at 150 pounds last season. Southern, however, won the flip and was able to dictate the matchup at 165 pounds. Velardi moved up to 175 and with Southern trailing 25-24, he clinched the match with a 6-1 victory over Anthony Lawrence in the final bout.

Saving bonus points was just as crucial as the victories. At 138 pounds, a takedown in the third period helped Region 8 champion Wyatt Stout limit the damage against CBA's Alex Nini, the state fourth-place finisher at 120 pounds last season. CBA needed bonus points from Silva at 165 - ideally a fall - but Mitch Bivona was able to hold Silva to an 11-2 major decision and allow Velardi to take the mat needing just a decision to clinch the match. Even Matt Henrich's presence at 150 against George made a huge difference. George, a two-time state medalist who was the 138-pound state runner-up last season, is a bonus-point machine. Henrich, who was 7th in the state at 138 pounds last season, scored a reversal in the third period and nearly had a tying takedown in the final seconds before George prevailed, 4-2. The same can be said for Nick Bennet, who dropped a 1-0 decision to Tyler Barrett (3rd in NJ at 150 last season) at 157 pounds. The wrestlers who usually produce bonus points for CBA did not, and it was because of the toughness and fortitude of the boys in black and gold.

"We have all of our guys' backs and nobody is going to beat us if we all go out and give it our all," Velardi said. "Just wrestle our match and wrestle tough. They called us out last year and we got the match going and we were hyped for this since last year. We got the job done"

"Very proud of these guys," said Southern head coach Dan Roy. "It was a true team effort all the way around, I can't say enough about it. They all came through. These guys have grown up watching this program since they were little kids and it means a lot to them to be a part of it and have their turn to put the singlet on and wrestle in front of this crowd. I think that goes a long way."

George weighing in at 150 made it obvious what CBA's plan was, and it was confirmed when senior Nick Stump, the Colts' regular 175-pounder, took the mat for the match-opening bout at 190 pounds vs. Southern junior Collin French. The bout was tied 1-1 in the third period when Stump scored a takedown and three back points with 1:15 on the clock to win 6-1.

O'Boyle evened the match 3-3 when he won by 9-3 decision over Peter Grippo at 215, but Grippo was able to keep it to a regular decision against the returning state qualifier. CBA senior Robert Canterino moved up from 215 to heavyweight where CBA has been regularly forfeiting and delivered a 3-0 decision over fellow state qualifier Anthony Evangelista, giving the Colts a 6-3 lead.

Southern freshman Anthony Mason then won 9-3 over Alex Provines at 106 pounds on the strength of four takedowns to tie the match score again. The first bonus-point breakthrough came at 113 where CBA freshman Bobby Duffy continued his strong season with a 39-second fall over Sam Pari. The Colts were now ahead 12-6, but the Rams were about to change that in a big way.

Technically and tactically, Vigilante wrestled an exceptional match against Venet, who is long and lean and a viper in the top position. Vigilante scored a takedown in the first period and then rode out Venet in the second period to take a 2-0 lead into the third. He chose neutral in the third to stay out of harm's way, then got in for another takedown to push his lead to 4-0. Venet scored a reversal with 41 seconds left and aggressively went for a turn, but Vigilante was able to fight off the holds and come back with a reversal of his own to win 6-2 and cut CBA's lead to 12-9.

"He just keeps wrestling," Roy said "He doesn't stop in positions and is always fighting. He was in a couple tough positions and he took those low singles underneath and he just kept going until he scored. He's not afraid to go out there and let it fly, and you can't always teach that."

Then came the Sari vs. Falcone bout, which was 1-1 through sudden victory. Falcone rode out Sari in the first 30-second tiebreaker, meaning Sari had to at least do the same. He went above and beyond. The overtime fall put Southern ahead, 15-12, and made Roy's next decision quite easy.

"We had to take the points where we could get them," Roy said.

Collins, a two-time state medalist committed to Army who was second in the state at 113 as a sophomore and third at 120 last season, could have been bumped up to 138 to wrestle Nini, whom he beat in the NJ third-place bout last season. But with Sari's pin and the unexpected three bonus points, Collins was able to take the mat at 132 as an overwhelming favorite versus William Sakoutis and come through with a 39-second fall. Just like that, it was 21-12 Southern.

The Colts had plenty of firepower on the way, so Southern's work was far from over at this point. Nini started fast against Stout at 138 with three takedowns in the first period and two more in the second to lead 10-4 going into the third. A major decision seemed imminent, but Stout dug deep and won the third period, scoring a takedown and holding Nini to a 10-6 decision. 21-15, Southern.

Bumping George up to 150 pounds meant inserting freshman Jimmy Jakub into the lineup at 144 pounds, and the Colts viewed it as a toss-up bout vs. Hochstrasser. It was a massive swing bout, to begin with, and that was escalated given how the dual had taken shape. Jakub entered with an 8-3 record while Hochstrasser, a sophomore, showed his mettle last season by qualifying for the state tournament. Hochstrasser earned a 2-0 lead in the first period and took control of the matchup from there, adding an escape and a takedown in the second period and another takedown in the third period on his way to an 8-3 victory for a 24-15 Rams lead with four bouts left.

At 150, George took a 3-0 lead with an escape and then a takedown with 15 seconds left in the second period. Henrich closed the gap to 3-2 with a late reversal and immediately cut George loose so he could attempt to hit the tying takedown with just three seconds left. George was able to hold on off the restart to earn his 100th career victory and pull the Colts to within six points at 24-18, Southern.

Few wrestlers in the state are as comfortable as Barrett in close, low-scoring bouts and he once again came through by edging Bennet, 1-0. He rode Bennet out in the second period and escaped in the third for the bout's only points. Southern 24, CBA 21 with two bouts left.

CBA has to send out first at 165, and when Silva took the mat the Rams countered with Bivona. The Rams were going to get the matchup they wanted with Velardi on Lawrence, but the stakes of that bout depended on what went down between Silva and Bivona. Silva led 2-0 after one period and 5-0 heading into the third as Bivona did enough to limit Silva's offense while only being warned for stalling once. Silva pushed the pace even further in the third period looking to build his lead into bonus-point territory, and while he did that with two more takedowns plus two points for stalling calls on Bivona, the bout ended with an 11-2 major decision. It was enough to give the Colts a 25-24 lead heading into the final bout, making the task simple for both Velardi and Lawrence: just win.

Velardi took a 2-0 lead with a takedown 40 seconds into the first period and added a reversal at the same point in the second period to lead 4-1. Lawrence's best shot was to take the top position in the third period, and while he nearly cinched up a hold to turn Velardi, the Rams senior reversed Lawrence again and rode him out the rest of the way for a 6-1 victory that officially gave the Southern Regional wrestling program another legendary victory.

"I just tried to stay calm," Velardi said. "I've been in this position a lot in some big matches so I've been here before. I had to stay focused and not get caught up in the hype. I knew what I had to do."

"We really thought we had to win, we had to show that public schools can beat those private schools," Sari said.

For those of us fortunate to have watched and covered this sport for the better part of the last 30 years, this Southern-CBA match was similar to past Shore Conference epics involving some combination of Brick Memorial, Jackson Memorial, Southern, Howell, Raritan, and many others. But at the same time, this one felt very different. Many of those aforementioned teams are rivals with long histories against one another. There was zero meaningful history between Southern and CBA before Tuesday night. Southern hadn't even wrestled another non-public school since 2015 prior to Tuesday. And with it being No. 1 vs. No. 2 and public vs. non-public, it added more intrigue. Varsity jackets from schools around the Shore could be seen in the crowd, along with various head coaches, former standouts, and even Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale all in the house.

"This was great for wrestling," Roy said. "There had to be over 1,000 people here. I came out before the match and I felt the energy of this crowd. It was unbelievable. Anyone who was here and saw it, it was an awesome atmosphere."

After a win over Brick Memorial last week, Roy spoke of the looming CBA match and how the Rams "Had nothing to lose" and were going to "go for it and wrestle as hard as they can". Did they ever. And kudos to CBA head coach Billy Ashnault, who has sought out top competition since he took over the program five years ago and wanted his team to experience the atmosphere of a huge match in Southern's large gymnasium.

The paperwork says it will go down as a win for Southern and a loss for CBA, but it was so much more than that. It showcased how genuinely great high school wrestling can be. This wasn't a great match simply because it was No. 1 vs. No. 2, it was great because of the environment, because of the unrelenting effort of the student-athletes, because of the passionate fans.

It was a banner night for the sport, a counterpunch to the argument that wrestling is dying a slow death due to participation imbalance, forfeits, and blowout matches. But inside Southern's gym, a different side was evident, one that any sports fan should witness: the beautifully unique aura of a high school wrestling dual and the reality that anyone who toes the line can accomplish something unforgettable.


Click here for a photo gallery by Ray Rich Photography

Southern vs. CBA wrestling



Box Score

No. 2 Southern 27, No. 1 CBA 25

190: Nick Stump (CBA) d. Collin French, 6-1

215: Riley O'Boyle (S) d. Peter Grippo, 9-3

285: Robert Canterino (CBA) d. Anthony Evangelista, 3-0

106: Anthony Mason (S) d. Alex Provines, 9-3

113: Bobby Duffy (CBA) p. Sam Pari, 0:39

120: Atilla Vigilante (S) d. Tyler Venet, 6-2

126: Scotti Sari (S) p. AJ Falcone, 7:44

132: Connor Collins (S) p. William Sakoutis, 0:39

138: Alex Nini (CBA) d. Wyatt Stout, 10-6

144: Hayden Hochstrasser (S) d. Jimmy Jakub, 8-3

150: Julian George (CBA) d. Matt Henrich, 4-2 (100th career win)

157: Tyler Barrett (CBA) d. Nick Bennet, 1-0

165: Zander Silva (CBA) md.  Mitch Bivona, 11-2

175: Cole Velardi (S) d. Anthony Lawrence, 6-1




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