Brick Memorial Crushes Hunterdon Central to Win the NJSIAA Group V Title
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TRENTON — Brick Memorial’s quest for a ninth state title was completed in dominating fashion.
The Mustangs dispatched of North Bergen in the semifinals before emphatically defeating Hunterdon Central, 53-15, to win the NJSIAA Group V championship on Sunday at Sun National Bank Center.
The Mustangs blew out the Red Devils by winning 10 of 14 bouts and earning bonus points in nine of the wins, including six pins, to win the inaugural Group V title. It is the ninth overall state title for Brick Memorial, first since 2013 and first under second-year head coach Mike Denver.
“It’s a great way to end off senior year and it was a lot of fun,” said senior Cliff Ruggiero, who won by fall and, along with twin brother Rob, set the tone in the first two bouts as Brick Memorial raced out to a 10-0 lead.
“Now we get to look back on it forever.”
“It’s just surreal to be as good as we are,” said sophomore Gianni Ghione, who pinned arguably Hunterdon Central’s top wrestler, Peter Nace, at 113 pounds. “I thought we were going to be great this year, but to be No. 2 in the state is amazing. We wrestled so well, and again a great plan by the coaches, and the whole team wrestling their (butts) off today.”
The de facto Group V state title was decided Friday when Brick Memorial edged Howell, 28-25, to win the South Jersey Group V championship. The bracket also featured Southern, which Howell beat in epic fashion in the semifinals. It was universally considered whichever team emerged from that section would win the overall title. The Mustangs still had to take care of business, and the way they wrestled Sunday made it feel more like a coronation.
Hunterdon Central provided some match-up issues among the upperweights, specifically with Nick Suk at 182 pounds and Nestor Crespo at 195. The Mustangs knew they had to stay off their backs there to be in good shape, and did so when senior Bobby Mitler held Suk to a 1-0 decision and senior Connor Owen wrestled smart in a 3-0 defeat to Crespo. Senior Joe Stowers also fought off his back a couple times against Mike Iodice at 170 pounds, losing 12-6.
The Ruggiero brothers had staked the Mustangs to a 10-0 lead prior to the three straight decision victories by Hunterdon Central, however. Rob Ruggiero won by 15-5 major decision over Nick Taylor at 152 pounds to start the match before Cliff Ruggiero obliterated 27-5 Joe Scerbo at 160. Ruggiero built a 9-0 lead in the first 60 seconds before sticking Scerbo at 1:12.
“I felt like I had to motivate the team a little bit,” he said.
“That set a huge, huge tone that hey, it’s time to wrestle,” Denver said. “Some of our kids were thinking more about the atmosphere, and to see the Ruggieros be leaders like they’ve been all season was big for the team.”
Heading to 220 pounds the Mustangs held a 10-9 lead, and junior Chris Hayes made sure it was a lead they would never relinquish. Hayes hit a hip toss on Victor Lacombe during sudden victory overtime and launched him to his back for a five-point move. He ran out of time for the pin, which was actually called just after the buzzer, but his 6-1 decision put Brick Memorial up 13-9 heading into a strong stretch.
Standout sophomore heavyweight Nick Rivera then pinned Leo Aquino in 1:30 at heavyweight to make it 19-9. Hunterdon Central got those six points back when Hunter Graf pinned Matt Wardlaw at 106 pounds, but Ghione effectively ended the match when he decked Nace in the second period at 113 ponds.
Nace was the District 17 champ at 106 last season and entered with a 29-4 record. Ghione (25-1, 2014 Region VI champ at 106) built a 4-2 lead in the second period before finding a cradle and pinning him in 3:42 to give Brick Memorial a 25-15 lead with five bouts left.
“I’ve been trying all year long to just let it fly and go for it, and I feel like that’s what I did in that match,” Ghione said. “The pin presented itself and it worked.”
“Gianni’s been burning all cylinders,” Denver said. “He’s definitely picked it up toward the end of the year and he’s ready (for the individual tournaments). He wants to make it to the state finals and I think he has the potential to if he keeps working.”
Brick Memorial’s other set of senior twins followed with pins to officially clinch the match. Luis Bocalman pinned Bryce Hall in 44 seconds at 120 pounds and Jose Bocalman stuck Eric Kaiser in 3:18 at 126 pounds to make it 37-15 with three bouts left.
Junior Luke Vescovi then scored a 15-1 major decision over Chris Taylor at 132 pounds and junior Anthony Mitchell threw and pinned Kevin Ciresa in 1:44 at 138 pounds.
The Red Devils forfeited in the final bout to Mustangs’ senior Alec Donovan, who had a huge smile on his face as his hand was raised. He didn’t get to wrestle, but didn’t care. His personal quest for a state championship starts on Friday. This was about the team earning vindication after last year’s exit in the sectional final.
“Losing junior year really bothered me, so I wanted to come back this year and get one more,” Donovan said after Friday’s win over Howell. “This is about redemption.”
Brick Memorial’s latest state championship also speaks volumes about the year-to-year strength of the program. The Mustangs have now won four Group championships in the last eight seasons, and got their first under Denver on Sunday. The fourth coach in Brick Memorial history has a great support staff around him in longtime assistants Dean Albanese and Tony Nash, along with Tim Brennan, Don Miller and Russ Pascale, but to be able to come in and lead the team to a state championship in just his third year out of college is a great accomplishment.
“I just have to say I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support I have from coaches, parents and administrators,” Denver said. “It’s no wonder why we are as good as we are. It’s because of the people around us. We’re one big family and we always do what’s best for each other.”
Denver wrestled at Central, where he was a two-time District 24 runner-up at 171 pounds and the third-place finisher in the Region VI Tournament at 171 as a senior, finishing 34-7. He blossomed at the next level at The College of New Jersey, winning the 2012 Division III National Championship at 184 pounds. Now he’s a champion coach as well.
“It’s awesome to be able to step into the shoes of someone like (previous head coach Dan) O'Cone and step into a program like this and be accepted,” Denver said. “Sometimes you may come into a new place and people want to do their own thing, but I’ll tell you, it was amazing. I had people that I’ve only known for a month and a half asking me what I need and always trying to help. That belief and faith really helped me out and made it easy.”
NJSIAA Team Championships
At Sun National Bank Center, Trenton
Brick Memorial 53, Hunterdon Central 18
Ninth state championship for Brick Memorial
152: Rob Ruggiero (BM) md. Nick Taylor 15-5
160: Cliff Ruggiero (BM) p. Joe Scerbo 1:12
170: Mike Iodice (HC) d. Joe Stowers 12-6
182: Nick Suk (HC) d. Bob Mitler 1-0
195: Nestor Crespo (HC) d. Conner Owen 3-0
220: Chris Hayes (BM) d. Victor LaCombe 6-1
Hwt: Nick Rivera (BM) p. Leo Aquino 1:30
106: Hunter Graf (HC) p. Matt Wardlaw 1:18
113: Gianni Ghione (BM) p. Peter Nace 3:42
120: Luis Bocalman (BM) p. Bryce Hall 0:44
126: Jose Bocalman (BM) p. Eric Kaiser 3:18
132: Luke Vescovi (BM) md. Chris Taylor 15-1
138: Anthony Mitchell (BM) p. Kevin Ciresa 1:44
145: Alec Donovan (BM) by forfeit