BRICK TOWNSHIP — A pair of returning top-five state medalists met Wednesday night in a tournament final fit for Boardwalk Hall and delivered a match that could be a glimpse of things to come.

Brick Memorial senior Gianni Ghione won a thriller over Kingsway junior Quinn Kinner, 6-5, in the 132-pound final of the Mustang Classic en route to being named Outstanding Wrestler. Ghione, who was the state runner-up at 113 pounds as a sophomore and fourth in the state at 120 pounds last season, built a 4-0 lead and held on through a wild scramble in the closing seconds to edge Kinner, last season’s third-place finisher at 126 pounds and the fifth-place finisher at 106 in 2015.


“It felt like a match that…I think that was everything we both had thrown out on the mat,” Ghione said. “At one point right at the end of the second period I looked out and everybody was on their feet cheering. This is (only) a tournament finals match, but I think it’s going to be another tournament finals match in about three months.”

Ghione was the No. 1 seed in the bracket and Kinner was seeded second, and it was clear from the beginning it was going to take a shocking upset to prevent the two from meeting in the final. Ghione won by fall in all three of his bouts to reach the final while Kinner had a pin and two technical falls on his side of the bracket.

After a scoreless first period, Ghione chose defense in the second and escaped for a 1-0 lead that lasted through the middle frame. Kinner’s choice to start the third period was defense, and that was where Ghione locked in a cradle for a five-count and three near fall points to take a 4-0 lead. Kinner escaped shortly after, but Ghione had struck first in a huge way.

“I think I can cradle anyone,” Ghione said. “He’s obviously a great wrestler but I hit cradles on coach (Ryan) Wilson once a week in practice, so I feed off if I can hit it on him I can hit it on anyone.”

The heavy lifting was still to come, however, because Kinner came at Ghione with a furious pace over the final 90 seconds. He took Ghione down to make it 4-3, cut Ghione loose to make it 5-3, then took him down again to tie the bout at five. Feeling confident on his feet, Kinner let Ghione to his feet once again to make it 6-5, but that was the last takedown he could secure. Ghione held on over the final 20 seconds, fighting through a scramble where Kinner was very close to the go-ahead takedown.

“After I saw the lead I knew it was going to be about a minute and a half of the most violent wrestling I’ll see all year,” Ghione said. “I looked up and saw 18 second. That’s a lot of time, but I knew I could definitely hold on for 18 seconds. I was just squeezing with all my heart.”

Ghione is already 10-0 this season and recently secured his 100th career win. He also has 81 career pins and recently committed to the University of Pennsylvania. Wednesday night’s win was great and all, but he knows it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme if he can’t deliver in the state tournament.

“I was pretty disappointed with myself last season, I thought I could have ended a lot better,” Ghione said. “I wouldn’t say this is a huge match, it’s the Mustang Classic. Obviously it’s a big tournament, but it’s not states. States is everything this year and it’s all I’m focusing on as of right now.”

Ghione was one of eight champions from the Shore Conference. St. John Vianney’s lower weight duo of freshman Tyler Pepe at 106 and senior Luke Ecklof at 113 each won their respective weight classes, while junior Steven Giannios captured the 220-pound title.

Wall senior Matt McKenzie became a four-time Mustang Classic champion with a clean run in the 195-pound bracket and sophomore Rob Kanniard impressed in winning at 152 pounds.

Ocean junior Jake Benner was dominant in winning the 138-pound crown and senior heavyweight Nick Rivera joined Ghione as Brick Memorial wrestlers on top of the medal stand.

If not for Ghione, Benner would have likely been OW after an eye-opening tournament. The No. 2 seed won by fall in his first two bouts before a 14-0 major decision over Wall’s Nick Wagner. Last season Benner was 2-0 vs. Wagner, but both were close bouts at 6-2 and 4-0. In the final Benner easily controlled Kingsway senior Trace Kinner, 11-4.

Kinner is a three-time state qualifier and was a Region VIII champ and state medalist in 2015. Benner was the Region VI runner-up at 132 pounds last season and reached the second round of wrestlebacks in the state tournament.

“I’m an upperclassman now and I feel a lot more dominant,” Benner said. “I’m training so much harder now. It felt terrible coming so close to the podium. I have two more years and high goals.”

Kanniard has started his second season on fire with a 9-0 record and has been putting up points in bunches. He has four wins by fall this season and has scored 89 points in his five other bouts. At the Mustang Classic he won his first two bouts by fall before a 11-1 win over Paulsboro freshman Brandon Green. In the final he topped St. Augustin’e Dillon Taylor, 12-3. Taylor was the Region VII runner-up at 145 pounds last season.

“He’s been putting in the time and getting a ton of work,” said Wall head coach Brian Fischer. “There’s some maturity going on too. He is understanding when he needs to attack and is attacking under control. Take that and compliment it with his natural ability and that’s why he’s at another level right now.”

McKenzie is believed to be the first four-time champion at the Mustang Classic, and clinched the 195-pound title with a 12-5 win over Delsea’s Tommy Maxwell. McKenzie, who was third in the state at 195 pounds last season and sixth at 195 as a sophomore, had two falls and a technical fall to reach the Mustang Classic final.

“His whole game plan seems to be going forward with a lot more attack and confidence,” Fischer said. “He’s under control and confident in everything, and I’m loving what I’m seeing from him right now.”

At 106, Pepe scored a reversal to put High Point’s Brandon LaRue to his back and finish off the fall in 3:35 to win the title. Pepe, the No. 6 seed, beat Ocean’s Jack Nies, the No. 3 seed, 4-2 in the quarterfinals. Paulsboro freshman Georgio Mazzeo upset Kingsway freshman McKenzie Bell, the No. 2 seed, 5-4 in the quarterfinals, and Pepe beat Mazzeo 3-2 in double overtime in the semifinals.  

Eckloff, the eighth-place finisher at 106 pounds last season, cruised to the 113-pound title with a major decision, tech fall, pin and finally a 7-0 decision over High Point sophomore Devin Flannery.

Giannios was the No. 2 seed at 220 and defeated the No. 4 seed, Delsea’s Justin Moore, 9-2 in the final.

Rivera, a two-time Region VI champion and the heavyweight state runner-up in 2015, defeated St. John Vianney senior Micah Clark, 7-1. Rivera won by fall in all three of his bouts to reach the final.


Box Score

Outstanding Wrestler: Gianni Ghione, Brick Memorial


106: 6-Tyler Pepe (St. John Vianney) p. 5-Brandon LaRue (High Point) 3:35

113: 1-Luke Ecklof (St. John Vianney) d. 2-Devin Flannery (High Point) 7-0

120: 1-Mike Kelly (St, Peter’s Prep) md. 7-Jacob Perez (Paulsboro) 8-0

126: 2-Anthony Duca (Paulsboro) d. 1-Edison Eehevarria (Delsea) 7-2.

132: 1-Gianni Ghione (Brick Memorial) d. 2-Quinn Kinner (Kingsway) 6-5

138: 2-Jake Benner (Ocean) d. 1-Trace Kinner (Kingsway) 11-4

145: 1-Nick Santos (St. Pater’s Prep) p. 3-Jack Kelly (Wall) 3:39

152: 2-Rob Kanniard (Wall) md. 1-Dillon Taylor (St. Augustine) 12-3

160:  5-Blaine Shade (Timber Creek) d. 6-Aric Wingle (High Point) 6-3

170: 1-Billy Janzer (Delsea) p. 2-Nick Caracappa (St. John Vianney) 3:46

182: 2-Vince DeGeorge (Delsea) d. 1-Tom Anderson (Middletown North) 6-5

195: 1-Matt McKenzie (Wall) d. 2-Tommy Maxwell (Delsea) 12-5

220: 2-Steven Giannios (St. John Vianney) d. 4-Justin Moore (Delsea) 9-2

Hwt: 1-Nick Rivera (Brick Memorial) d. 2-Micah Clark (St. John Vianney) 7-1



106:  5-Brandon LaRue (High Point) d. 1-Nick DiGiacomo (Timber Creek) 3-2 6-Tyler Pepe (St. John Vianney) d. Georgio Mazzeo (Paulsboro) 3-2 TB.

113: 1-Luke Ecklof (St. John Vianney) p. 4-Adam Manzo (Ocean) 2:32; 2-Devin Flannery (High Point) p. 6-Cheney Kinner (Kingsway) 5:26.

120: 1-Mike Kelly (St. Peter’s Prep) md. 4-John Patterson (Delsea) 15-7; 7-Jacob Perez (Paulsboro)ps. Ryan Crane (Kingsway) 1:59.

126: 1-Edison Eehevarria (Delsea) md. Rick Eli (Paulsboro) 9-1; 2-Anthony Duca (Paulsboro) p. 3-Conner Kraus (St. Augustine) 1:00.

132: 1-Gianni Ghione (Brick Memorial) p. 5-Tim Spatola (Delsea) 0:59; 2-Quinn Kinner (Kingsway) tf. 3-Joey Perez (Paulsboro) 5:21 (19-3).

138: 1-Trace Kinner (Kingsway) d.. 4-Marcanthony Macrino (West Essex) 9-4;  2-Jake Benner (Ocean) md. 3-Nick Wagner (Wall) 14-0.

145: 1-Nick Santos (St. Peter’s Prep) d. 4-Stanley Wojdylak (Middletown North) 7-3; 3-Jack Kelly (Wall) d. 2-George Worthy (Paulsboro) 3-2.

152: 1-Dillon Taylor (St. Augustine) md. Chris Richardson (Brick Memorial) 10-1;  2-Rob Kanniard (Wall) md. 6-Brandon Green (Paulsboro) 11-1.

160: 5-Blaine Shade (Timber Creek) d. 1-Santino Morino (Paulsboro) 7-2 ; 6-Aric Wingle (High Point) d. Jacob Anderson (Middletown North) 7-0.

170: 1-Bill Janzer (Delsea) md. 4-Nicko Cofone (Middletown North) 14-5; 2-Nick Caracappa (St. John Vianney) d. 6-Brian Winz (Middletown North) 6-4.

182: 1-Tom Anderson (Middletown North) p. George Taylor (Paulsboro) 1:08; 2-Vince DeGeorge (Delsea) p. Anthony Blattenberger (Camden Catholic) 1:30.

195: 1-Matt McKenzie (Wall) p. 5-Jeremy Hutt (Camden Catholic) 0;25;  vs. 2-Tommy Maxwell (Delsea) p. 3-Andres Camacho (Timber Creek) 1:20.

220: 4-Justin Moore (Delsea) p. Clayton Oates (Ocean) 1:38; 2-Steven Giannios (St. John Vianney) d. 6-Malcom Henry (Delsea) 5-2.

Hwt: 1-Nick Rivera (Brick Memorial) p. Thomas Hubmaster (High Point) 1:44; 2. Micah Clark (St. John Vianney) d. 3-Cliff Rutter (High Point) 5-2.


Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at 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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