Battle-Tested: No. 5 Brick Memorial holds off late rally to edge No. 10 Ocean
OCEAN TOWNSHIP -- With just two days remaining before the state tournament cutoff and 10 days until the start of the NJSIAA Team Tournament, contending teams are eager for matches that will prepare them for the high-stakes environment. That's exactly why Brick Memorial and Ocean scheduled a Shore Conference nondivisional meeting for late January.
Both the Spartans and Mustangs honed their edges on Thursday night in a fantastic dual that saw Brick Memorial, ranked No. 5 in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16, hold off a furious rally in the final four bouts by No. 10 Ocean to prevail in a 29-27 victory. Ocean won eight bouts, including the last four from 126 through 144 pounds, but Brick Memorial won by fall in three bouts and by technical fall in another to eke out a thrilling victory over the Spartans.
'I knew coming in this was going to have to be a team effort," said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Kiley. "That's a tough squad with tough stretches in their lineup and some guys were going to have to not get pinned and in other weights we were going to have to attack bonus. It's really good to have a match like this before sectionals where you can piece it together like a sectional final."
"That's what we talked about leading up to the match. This wasn't for a championship or anything of that nature but it was to get to the point where we're preparing ourselves for Monday, Feb. 5, and hopefully Wednesday, Feb. 7, and hopefully farther," said Ocean head coach Cippy Apicelli. "We believe we have a team that can compete and I think we showed that even though we didn't come out on top. We wrestled really tough."
A pin by junior 120-pounder Gavin Martin gave Brick Memorial a 29-14 lead with four bouts left before victories by Steven Perez, Jake Volek, and Dominic Volek set up Ocean with a chance to win with either a technical fall or a fall at 144 pounds. The Spartans were down 29-24 with Ocean junior Michael Volek (5th in Region 6) taking on Brick Memorial senior Jack Torre. A technical fall to tie the bout would have given Ocean the win on tiebreaking criteria with the most bouts won (8-6).
Volek started strong with two takedowns in the first period to go up 4-1 before Torre hit a reversal to cut Volek's lead to 4-3. He was aggressive from the opening whistle knowing he needed bonus points to clinch the match and Torre was able to counter with another reversal in the second to trim Volek's lead to 7-5. Shortly after Torre's reversal, Volek called for injury time and came up hobbling with what appeared to be an ankle injury. He returned to the match but almost immediately after the restart he grabbed his ankle and needed another injury timeout. Ocean head coach Cippy Apicelli told Volek it was time to injury default but his wrestler insisted on staying on the mat.
Torre had the choice of position after the second injury timeout and elected to remain in the top position. Volek was able to hit a reversal to extend his lead to 9-5 before Torre escaped to make it 9-6. The roof nearly blew off the gym seconds later when Volek put Torre to his back and tried to finish off the fall to win the match. Torre was inches away from being pinned flat as Brick Memorial's bench looked on in disbelief while Ocean's bench was poised to celebrate, but the Mustangs senior was able to muster enough strength to fight off his back and preserve the match. Volek led 14-6 going into the third period and scored a takedown to make it 16-6 before awarding Torre an intentional escape. The last takedown of the bout went to Torre as Volek won the bout, 16-9, but Brick Memorial held on to win the match by two points.
"I was thinking about protecting the kid and he said let me go," Apicelli said. "He's a kid who has earned our trust and he gutted it out. That was really close, about as close as you can get. He showed a lot of toughness."
"I almost went down. The trainer was about to have to come over to me," Kiley said of the dramatic ending at 144. "Jack did a great job fighting."
It was precisely the environment both Kiley and Apicelli wanted their teams to be exposed to before the sectional tournament, and both teams got exactly what they were looking for in that regard.
Ocean won the flip and chose the even bouts, which enabled them to control their matchup with standout senior James Farina at either 150 or 157. Brick Memorial had less flexibility in the middle of its lineup without senior state qualifier Mason Pirnik, who has been out with an injury. With the match starting at 150, that gave Ocean a chance to put its matchup advantage to work right away.
Brick Memorial sent out freshman Jack Marotta at 150 and Ocean countered with junior Malcome Beale. It was a back-and-forth bout the entire way that saw Beale prevail with a 10-8 victory for a 3-0 Ocean lead. Farina, a three-time state qualifier and this season's 150-pound Shore Conference Tournament champion, won by 21-5 technical fall over junior Frank Bongiovanni at 157 to make it 8-0, but Bongiovanni saving only one bonus point was important. Sophomore Josh Calixte put Ocean up 11-0 when he edged Brick Memorial junior Malachi Saint-Vil, 6-5 at 165 pounds, by holding off a takedown attempt in the final seconds.
The teeth of Brick Memorial's lineup were in the next seven weights, and during that span, the Mustangs did the heavy lifting that ultimately won them the match. Sophomore Trey Tallmadge, a returning state qualifier, put Brick Memorial on the board with a 4-1 decision over Ocean senior Michael Poniros, who was a region qualifier last season. Brick Memorial quickly took the lead after the next two bouts where junior Harvey Ludington, the 2022 NJSIAA 175-pound state champion and last season's 175-pound state runner-up, needed just 15 seconds to win by fall over TJ Strom at 190, and junior Ben Szuba, a returning state qualifier, pinned Danny Farina in 1:30 at 215 pounds.
Brick Memorial now led 15-11 through six bouts but Ocean stopped the run when junior Abi Andre gutted out a 7-4 win over Steven Gobraiel at heavyweight to pull the Spartans within a point at 15-14. In another instance where Ocean was inches from a match-turning fall, Andre tossed Gobraiel to his back in the first period and nearly had the pin secured before Gobraiel scored a reversal to both escape danger and trim his deficit to 5-2. There was no scoring in the second period and in the third, Gobriael closed to within a point at 5-4 after a penalty point and a second stalling call on Andre. Gobriael was in deep on a shot in the final seconds but Andre was the one who came out on top with the takedown and the victory.
With sophomore Michael Napolitano now down at 106 pounds where he was a state qualifier last season, Brick Memorial has great flexibility down low with he and freshman Sonny DiMatteo also weighing in at 106. Ocean had to send first and presented sophomore Justin Penta (fourth in districts last season). Napolitano took the mat for Brick Memorial and delivered a 4-1 victory that pushed the Mustangs' lead to 18-14.
At 113, DiMatteo built a 4-1 lead on Michael Apicelli after the first period and extended his advantage to 14-2 after two periods en route to an 18-3 technical fall in 5:29. Martin, a two-time regional medalist, gave Brick Memorial its sixth and final victory when he pinned Ocean freshman Justin Farina in 1:58 at 120 pounds to give the Mustangs a 29-14 lead with four bouts left.
"I wanted 15 to 18 points from 106 through 120 but we made up for it by not getting pinned at some weights - we didn't get pinned by Farina - so a lot of people did their jobs," Kiley said.
Ocean needed to win the final four bouts and secure bonus points if it was going to rally for the win, and Perez and his 10-5 decision over Brick Memorial sophomore Kson Young at 126 was the first step. Perez had Young on his back in the second period and took an 8-2 lead into the third. At 132, freshman Jake Volek won a seesaw bout with Ryan Henderson, 13-9, and he too almost had a pin that would have changed the complexion of the match. Henderson had the advantage on his feet with four takedowns in the bout but Volek hit the big move of the bout by planting Henderson to his back in the second period. The Mustangs senior was able to fight off his back, but Brick Memorial's lead was down to 29-20 with two bouts left.
Freshman Dominic Volek took the mat versus Brick Memorial senior Tommy Prince (region qualifier) at 138 needing a win to keep Ocean alive and he delivered a dominant performance that ended with an 11-3 major decision. He led 2-0 after the first period and 5-0 heading to the third where he scored three takedowns in the final two minutes, including a takedown with four seconds left to lock up the major decision.
That set up the final-bout drama between Torre and Boomer Volek to conclude an excellent high school dual meet. Brick Memorial secured the win but both teams got what they wanted out of a marquee dual between two top-10 teams in the Shore Conference.
"In sectionals, you have to lose small and find ways to win and sometimes manipulate the lineup a little bit," Apicelli said. "Our kids fought their butts off tonight."
"Now the first time you're in a 29-27 match it isn't a semifinal, sectional final, or groups. You've been there before," Kiley said. "I love seeing my team rally. There's good energy at Brick Memorial right now and we're just going to keep building."
No. 5 Brick Memorial 29, No. 10 Ocean 27
150: Malcolm Beale (O) d. Jack Marotta, 10-8
157: James Farina (O) tf. Frank Bongiovanni, 4:16 (21-5)
165: Josh Calixte (O) d. Malachi Saint-Vil, 6-5
175: Trey Tallmadge (BM) d. Michael Poniros, 4-1
190: Harvey Ludington (BM) p. TJ Strom, 0:15
215: Ben Szuba (BM) p. Danny Farina, 1:30
285: Abimael Andre (O) d. Steven Gobraiel, 7-4
106: Michael Napolitano (BM) d. Justin Penta, 4-1
113: Sonny DiMatteo (BM) tf. Michael Apicelli, 5:29 (18-3)
120: Gavin Martin (BM) p. Justin Farina, 1:58
126: Steven Perez (O) d. Kson Young, 10-5
132: Jake Volek (O) d. Ryan Henderson, 13-10
138: Dominic Volek (O) md. Tommy Prince, 11-3
144: Michael Volek (O) d. Jack Torre, 16-9