MANALAPAN –  Any team that has a chance to put away Long Branch better do so early, because 2019 has shown us that if there’s any chance at a comeback the Green Wave are going to find a way to get it done.

Trailing by 17 points through nine bouts, Long Branch, ranked No. 8 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, surged ahead by winning the final five bouts to take down No. 6 Manalapan, 36-29, in a key Shore Conference Class A North match on Wednesday night.

La’Qym Morris, Tracey Taylor and Kevin Cerruti delivered back-to-back-to-back pins at 195, 220 and 285 pounds to give Long Branch the lead and Dylan Kelleher and Joe Conlon closed it out with dramatic victories at 106 and 113 pounds, respectively, to give Long Branch its biggest win of the season. The Green Wave are now set up to challenge top-ranked Howell for the division title when the teams meet on Jan. 30.

Long Branch won by fall in five of its seven wins as Rey Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman started the match off with pins at 120 and 126 pounds, respectively. Manalapan then won seven straight bouts to take a 29-12 lead but Long Branch’s firepower up top snatched the lead back quickly and two of its lowerweights pulled upsets to complete the stunning comeback.

“I’m super proud of Kelleher and Conlon, they work so hard and they’ve been so close in the past,” said Long Branch head coach Dan George. “We have the heart of a lion, we just need the experience to come along. I thought tonight was another huge step.”

Following Gavin Claro’s win by technical fall at 182 pounds Manalapan held a 29-12 lead with five bouts left. But the thunder was coming for Long Branch and everyone knew it. The questions was could Manalapan limit the damage up top.

It could not.

Morris needed just 1:25 to pin John Montgomerie at 195 pounds to Manalapan’s lead to 29-18 and begin the comeback. At 220, Taylor built an 8-0 lead on Jordan Adelson in the second period before securing the fall at the 3:02 mark, trimming the Green Wave’s deficit to 29-24. At heavyweight was Cerruti, a returning Region 6 champion and seventh-place finisher at the NJSIAA Tournament last season. Manalapan’s Matt Kovacs entered with a 14-2 record, but Cerruti would not be denied, getting a quick takedown before delivering a fall in 1:17. In less than 10 minutes, Long Branch had rallied back to take a 30-29 lead.

“We definitely have a 1-2-3 punch to heavy, and we were talking before the match and we all knew we had to get bonus,” Cerruti said. “Eventually it came to us and we did it.”

Cerruti was in a similar situation last week when Long Branch rallied past rival Ocean with a win in the final bout. He was looking for bonus points against Ocean’s Joe Teresi but had to settle for a decision victory.

“Back against Ocean I wanted to get bonus and worked my tail off in the first period, but my gas tank was gone,” Cerruti said. “One thing our coaches were saying was don’t try to get it in the first minute. Just work and eventually it will come to you.”

“This time he paced himself a little bit and found the opportunity,” George said. “He’s getting very dangerous on top.”

Even with the three straight pins to take the lead, Long Branch still wasn’t out of the woods. Manalapan was favored at both 106 and 113 pounds; not by a huge margin, but enough that George hoped, but didn’t expect, to win both weights. Kelleher, a junior, entered the bout with a 6-9 record while Manalapan sophomore Chris Balzano was 12-7.

After a scoreless first period, Balzano chose defense to start the second and escaped to take a 1-0 lead. He then secured a takedown with 18 seconds left in the period, but Kelleher came through with a huge reversal with two seconds left to make it 3-2 heading to the third period. It was Kelleher’s choice in the third period and he chose defense. After escaping to make it 3-3, Kelleher secured the go-ahead takedown with 1:31 left in regulation. Balzano escaped to make it 5-4, but Kelleher was able to hold on to give Long Branch a 33-29 lead with one bout left.

“Coach pointed to his heart and that’s what I needed to win that match: heart,” Kelleher said. “I was looking at the score and I knew the big guys were going to go out there and come through. All I had to do was step up and win my match for my team.”

Kelleher’s win meant Manalapan sophomore Calvin Burke had to win by major decision at 113 pounds to give Manalapan the win. The Braves had won seven bouts to that point so a major by Burke to tie the score would have given Manalapan the win on criteria. Burke entered the bout with a 13-4 record while Conlon, also a sophomore, was 6-8.

Burke came out with a quick takedown but Conlon escaped and then scored a takedown of his own to take a 3-2 lead. Burke countered with a reversal to make it 4-3 after the first period. In the second, Burke scored a reversal to hold a 6-3 lead entering the third. Conlon escaped to make it 6-4 but Burke secured a takedown and was then awarded a point when Conlon was called for stalling, making it 9-4. If winning the bout was his only goal, Burke would have been in good shape, but he needed more, and that meant staying aggressive. Conlon knew it, too, so when Burke but him loose and then tried to throw him to his back Conlon countered with a takedown and two back points to tie the bout at nine.

With the bout now in sudden victory, Burke’s approach remained unconventional. A takedown would win him the bout, but that would be enough. He had to put Conlon to his back and go for the fall, but instead, it was Conlon who scored the takedown with one second left for an 11-9 win, clinching the match for Long Branch.

With the bout tied in the third, George thought about having Conlon cut Burke loose to avoid overtime; lose the bout, win the match. But with it being tied 9-9 he was talked out of it.

“I Looked at the assistants and said are we just going to let (Burke) go? And they said, ‘coach, it’s 9-9 we’re going to give this kid a chance to win!”, George said. “Conlon is a super smart kid for us so you’d like to believe [he wouldn’t get pinned]. Give credit to the Manalapan kid. He doesn’t just have to win, he had to major.”

Long Branch’s quick 12-0 lead in the pins by Guzman and Zimmerman was quickly erased as Manalapan won seven straight bouts from 132-182. Ryan McCoy won 9-7 in sudden victory over Angel Bonnano at 138, Alex Baran (145) and Matt Benedetti (160) won by fall and Claro closed the run with a technical fall at 182.

Manalapan had a few wrestlers down a weight for the first time this season as Paul Santomarco was at 152, Benedetti was at 160 and Dylan Waller was at 170. Manalapan wrestled without senior district medalist Kareem Ghaida (132/138). Braves head coach Scott Pressman said he is day-to-day.

“That team [Manalapan] is very good,” George said. “They’re not exactly where they want to be with [Ghaida] out but we’ll take it.”

Long Branch may be inexperienced at several spots but the team continues to grow as it pushes toward its ultimate goal. Victories like Wednesday’s are more iron for the forge.

“We keep grinding, grinding, grinding and they’re sticking to the plan and pulling matches out,” George said. “Who comes back from 29-12 against the No. 6 team in the Shore? You’re staring an ‘L’ in the face and our kids find ways. It’s a credit to their conditioning and their state of mind.”


Box Score

No. 8 Long Branch 36, No. 6 Manalapan 29

120: Rey Guzman (LB) p. Noah Rojas, 3:25

126: Ryan Zimmerman (LB) p. Zach Simmons, 2:39

132: Hunter Konstantoulas (M) d. Stiviny Silva, 5-2

138: Ryan McCoy (M) d. Angel Bonnano, 9-7 in sudden victory

145: Alex Baran (M) p. Steven Pabone, 3:50

152: Paul Santomarco (M) d. Ryan Carey, 11-6

160: Matt Benedetti (M) p. Isaiah Gonzalez, 2:39

170: Dylan Waller (M) d. Edgar Padilla, 5-0

182: Gavin Claro (M) tf. Patrick O'Dwyer, 3:44 (16-0)

195: La'Qym Morris (LB) p. John Montgomerie, 1:25

220: Tracey Taylor (LB) p. Jordan Adelson, 3:02

285: Kevin Cerruti (LB) p. Matt Kovacs, 1:17

106: Dylan Kelleher (LB) d. Chris Balzano, 5-4

113: Joe Conlon (LB) d. Calvin Burke, 11-9 in sudden victory

Records: at Manalapan (14-3, 4-1); Long Branch (9-1, 6-0).


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