HAZLET – In the battle between balance and firepower it was the impressive arsenal of St. John Vianney that came out on top.

A total of 10 bonus points, including a fall by freshman Dean Peterson at 113 pounds, plus a big win by junior heavyweight Paul Liseno helped St. John Vianney, ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a thrilling 31-29 Shore Conference Class A Central victory over No. 2 Raritan on Wednesday night for the Lancers’ biggest regular-season win in program history.

Raritan and St. John Vianney split the bouts, 7-7, but bonus points by senior Nick Caracappa (170), freshman Joseph Butler (106), Peterson and sophomore Tyler Pepe (120), along with a forfeit to senior Steven Giannios at 220 pounds and Liseno’s 6-4 win over previously-undefeated Ethan Wolf helped the Lancers dethrone the seven-time defending Class A Central champion Rockets. St. John Vianney now has the inside track to claim its first division title in program history.

"It's the biggest win in St. John Vianney history other than when they won that Parochial B title (1995), which wasn't exactly (the hardest bracket)," said St. John Vianney head coach Denny D'Andrea. "We've worked very hard. We don't have a lot of kids and we don't have any moves to make, and they all wrestled pretty tough."

"It's the best," Giannios said. "Freshman year we lost coming down to the last match and it stunk. I told the team that four years ago we were sitting here with our heads down and I don't want to feel like that again. We came in with a chip on our shoulder and it made it that much sweeter."

Raritan will almost certainly have its streak of seven straight division titles come to an end. Since wrestling added Class A Central in 2005, the Rockets have won the title every season but 2010.

"I'm proud of my guys and though we wrestled well," said Raritan head coach Rob Nucci. We minimized a lot of their stars to decisions and majors but unfortunately we just didn't win big enough or lose small enough."

The first moves of the match came at weigh-ins with Raritan weighing in state qualifier Russell Benson up a weight at 138 pounds and weighing both Anthony Aquilano (160) and Justin Acevedo (182) down a weight from their usual spots. St. John Vianney had Peterson up a weight at 113.

Leading 7-4 after three bouts and heading into 220 pounds, Raritan had a choice to make: send undefeated senior Ethan Wolf out against SJV standout senior Steven Giannios and likely concede bonus points to Liseno at heavyweight, or forfeit to Giannios and send Wolf to heavyweight to try and get a win. Rockets head coach Rob Nucci chose the latter, forfeiting 220 pounds to give St. John Vianney a 10-7 lead and hoping Wolf could do to Liseno what he did to another of the Shore’s top heavyweights, Long Branch’s Kevin Cerruti, last week during a one-point Raritan win.

"We took a shot at where we thought we could win and Giannios beat us last year in close bouts," Nucci said. "We thought we had a better chance at heavyweight and unfortunately he was too big for us."

Liseno scored first with a takedown in the first period and was able to hold Wolf down for the remainder of the period to take a 2-0 lead into the second. Wolf was awarded an escape and then got in on a double-leg takedown, but Liseno used his 60-plus-pound weight advantage to fight off the takedown and score points of his own to take a 4-1 lead into the third period. Liseno chose neutral to start the third and once again fought off a takedown attempt from Wolf to score and go up 6-1. Wolf got out and was finally able to take Liseno down late in the bout, but the SJV junior was able to hold on and hand Wolf his first loss of the season to give his team three critical team points.

"I honestly don't care who I wrestle, I just want to pin them and get six points up there for my team, but I knew the whole time it was a possibility (to wrestle Wolf)," Liseno said. "Steve (Giannios) was a great partner to help me simulate him. I knew I had to move my feet because in the tournament (Sam Cali Invitational) over the weekend I got ankle-picked a few times because I wasn't moving my feet."

"We had an idea they could bump (Wolf) up because that's what they did against Long Branch," Giannios said. "I was working with him in live situations all week to get his hips down and keep moving his feet."

"He's pretty good," D'Andrea said. "He's a pretty tough kid and he's a big boy. He's been a nice addition to our team."

Liseno’s win gave the Lancers a 13-7 lead and halted any momentum Raritan had gained following wins at 182 and 195 pounds. Caracappa started the match with a 21-8 major decision over Dylan Lonnay to give St. John Vianney a 4-0 lead. Acevedo followed with an 8-5 win over Jaden Lowe to get Raritan on the board, and George Burdick then delivered a scintillating 16-5 major decision over Lancers senior and returning state qualifier Josiah Walker to put Raritan up, 7-4.

Walker nearly had Burdick decked in the first period with a big throw for a takedown and three near-fall points, but Burdick would battle back to tie the bout and score the final 16 points of the bout to pick up bonus points. Burdick escaped and quickly hit Walker with a headlock to the mat for a takedown and two back points to tie the bout 5-5 heading into the second period. Walker chose defense to start the second but Burdick locked in a spladle for three back points to take an 8-5 lead into the final period. On defense to start the third, Burdick scored a reversal to go up 10-5 and then used a cradle to turn Walker two more times for the win and four key team points.

But the forfeit to Giannios and Liseno’s win over Wolf put St. John Vianney up by six, and Butler added to the lead with an 18-2 technical fall over Jordan Rafalko in 5:34 at 106 pounds. Then, at 113 pounds, Peterson built a 10-5 lead on Robert Taddeo before cinching a cradle and finishing off the fall in 3:21 to give the Lancers a commanding 24-7 lead.

"I've been in big situations, big matches and everything going all over the country so it was common ground, no pressure really," Peterson said. "I thought he was just going to stall out the match and maybe I'd get a major or a tech. I wasn't really thinking pin, just get the points on the board. But when that pin came I knew it was big for the team."

"He's a stud, there's no other way to put it," Giannios said of Peterson. "Everbody had a job to do and everybody did their job, and that's why we won. Dean knew we needed six on the board and he went out there and did it."

Pepe scored five takedowns and a reversal to defeat Mike Lonnay, 13-4, at 120 pounds to extend SJV’s lead to 28-7, and another of the Lancers’ standout freshmen, Seth Rotondella, bested Cameron Rafalko, 7-3, at 126 pounds to give St. John Vianney a 31-7 lead and seven bouts won with just five bouts remaining.

Raritan still had a chance, both mathematically and realistically given the matchups remaining, but was going to need plenty of bonus points to do so. The comeback attempt started on the right foot when sophomore Vin Mangano won by 10-2 major decision over Gabe Jones at 132 pounds, cutting Raritan’s deficit to 31-11.

At 138 pounds, Benson came out on fire and pinned Isaac Holt in just 1:01 to make it 31-17, and A.J. Erven followed with a 9-3 decision over Charlie Peterson at 145 pounds.

Raritan was now down 31-20 with two bouts left, meaning it needed two pins to win the match. If Raritan won by fall and technical fall in the final two bouts to tie the score at 31 and send it to criteria, SJV would have won on criteria H: greater number (total match points) of first points scored.

That put all the pressure on Christian Sookdeo at 152 pounds against SJV freshman Blake Clayton. Sookdeo had to have the pin while Clayton could lose any way but flat on his back. Sookdeo controlled the bout from start to finish, but Clayton held him to a 4-0 decision to clinch the match. SJV then forfeited to Aquilano at 160 pounds.

"(Clayton) likes to roll around and he almost gave me a heart attack, but he did his job," D'Andrea said.

St. John Vianney now has to defeat Rumson-Fair Haven on Friday and Holmdel on Jan. 24 to clinch its first-ever Class A Central title.

"Coming into high school me and Nick and Josiah, we were nobodies," Giannios said. "I took second in the red division in eighth grade. But four years of grinding every day built up to this and all the hard work is paying off."

Box Score

No. 4 St. John Vianney 31, No. 2 Raritan 29

170: Nick Caracappa (SJV) md. Dylan Lonnay 21-8

182: Justin Acevedo (R) d. Jaden Lowe 8-5

195: George Burdick (R) md. Josiah Walker 16-5

220: Steven Giannios (SJV) by forfeit

Hwt: Paul Liseno (SJV) d. Ethan Wolf 6-4

106: Joseph Butler (SJV) tf. Jordan Rafalko 5:34 (18-2)

113: Dean Peterson (SJV) p. Robert Taddeo 3:21

120: Tyler Pepe (SJV) md. Mike Lonnay 13-4

126: Seth Rotondella (SJV) d. Cameron Rafalko 7-3

132: Vin Mangano (R) md. Gabe Jones 10-2

138: Russell Benson (R) p. Isaac Holt 1:02

145: A.J. Erven (R) d. Charlie Peterson 9-3

152: Christian Sookdeo (R) d. Blake Clayton 4-0

160: Anthony Aquilano (R) by forfeit


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights. 


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