Brick Memorial’s Vincent Santaniello places third with late heroics to lead Shore Conference consolation winners
ATLANTIC CITY – Wrestling back for third place often seems as difficult as winning a state championship. Even for those who reach the semifinals, two more wins against elite opponents are the requirement to finish in the top three. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Brick Memorial’s Vincent Santaniello accomplished just that on Saturday at Boardwalk Hall, and boy did he do it in style.
At the end of a wild third period that featured three reversals, Santaniello scored a reversal and three near-fall points with five seconds left for a sensational 9-4 victory over Bergen Catholic’s Nick Kayal to finish third in the state at 113 pounds during the NJSIAA Individual Championships.
It was an emotional moment for Santaniello, who spiked his headgear in triumph and pointed up to the crowd where his family and section of Brick Memorial fans were going berserk.
“It felt amazing,” Santaniello said. “I worked so hard this offseason. I don’t know if anyone thought I could but I knew I was going to be one of the top medal winners in this weight class.”
The 113-pound weight class was loaded, including five returning state place-winners and a total of 14 returning state qualifiers among the 24-man field. As confident as Santaniello was, he knew the journey would be extremely difficult. He reached the quarterfinals as the No. 6 seed where he defeated Kayal, 3-2, to reach the semifinals. He was defeated there by Emerson/Park Ridge’s Nick Babin, 3-2, but bounced back in the consolation semifinals with a thrilling 3-1 win in sudden victory over Belvidere’s Quinn Melofchik.
“All these bouts were so tough,” Santaniello said. “We’re all a point away from each other.”
After a scoreless first period, Kayal struck first when he chose defense to start the second period and then reversed Santaniello to take a 2-0 lead. Santaniello answered with a reversal late in the period to knot the score at two and nearly had more with a cradle, but Kayal was narrowly able to avoid giving up any back points.
Then came the nail-biting third period.
Santaniello started on defense and quickly sat where he was able to grab a hold of Kayal’s left foot and start the reversal process. He worked his way around, fighting through Kayal’s grasp of his right leg to finally get two points and take a 4-2 lead with 1:10 remaining. The lead was short-lived, however, as Kayal got free and came out the back while keeping a hold of Santaniello’s right leg. Santaniello tried to rip free but Kayal returned him to the mat to tie the score again, 4-4, with 43 seconds left in the third period.
Off the restart, Kayal tried to insert his leg but Santaniello caught it while grabbing a hold of Kayal’s left wrist and arching his back, nearly exposing Kayal for a defensive pin. Santaniello then reached back and over with his left arm, head-locking Kayal and bringing him to the mat with 20 seconds to go. It took 15 more seconds for the reversal to finally be called, and as it was Santaniello also put Kayal to his back to finish off a fantastic sophomore season.
“It all happened so quick, but I don’t know, I was just going through the motions saying get the points however I can get them,” Santaniello said. “I knew he was going to try to ride and I had to catch that boot. I threw him over and caught a headlock. The ref gave me two later than I was expecting so that was kind of uncomfortable. When I got it, I thought there were 10 seconds left. Man, it was crazy.”
Placing in the top three was a major goal for Santaniello, as was another one: besting his dad, four-time state place-winner Vinnie Santaniello, who finished fourth as a sophomore.
“I always bust his chops saying I’m going to do better than him,” Santaniello said. “I knew it was going to be hard to take better than fourth, so to do it feels amazing.”
Anderson rebounds from injury to place fifth
A month ago, there was doubt whether Middletown North senior Jacob Anderson would even be able to compete in the individual postseason.
He’s dealt with a shoulder injury for the past two years, and during the Shore Conference Tournament 195-pound final against Jackson Memorial’s Kyle Epperly, his shoulder popped out while he had a cradle locked in. He had to injury default, ending his hopes of winning an SCT title and also putting his goal of winning a state medal in jeopardy.
However, on Saturday afternoon, all was right in his world as Anderson defeated Rancocas Valley’s Drew Bowker, 4-2, to finish fifth in the state at 195 pounds.
“I’m just loving it right now,” Anderson said. “Three weeks ago, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to come back because of my shoulder and coming down here and getting on the podium was always a goal of mine. I’ve been coming here since I was little, watching all these crazy wrestlers like Anthony Ashnault, and I never thought I’d be on these mats. But something happened in my high school career, where freshman-sophomore year I said I can be good enough to be on these mats. I didn’t get my goal of getting to the final but fifth place feels pretty good right now.”
Anderson was the No. 6 seed and, in the quarterfinals, defeated the No. 3 seed, Montville’s Joe Daddario, 4-3 on a late reversal to reach the semifinals. After finishing one win short of a top-eight finish as a junior, he had now secured a spot on the podium. He fell to Paramus’s Kyle Jacob, 3-0, in the semifinals, and from there winning at least once more was paramount.
“I definitely didn’t want to hit the semis slide – lose two and get sixth – and have people say it was just a lucky run,” Anderson said. “I wanted to prove I’m one of the top guys.”
Epperly digs out from hole to finish seventh.
For much of the season, Jackson Memorial junior Kyle Epperly was undoubtedly one of the best 195-pound wrestlers in New Jersey. But then, during the Region 7 Tournament, Epperly started to fall apart.
Entering region week undefeated, Epperly lost in the region semifinals and then in the consolation finals to finish fourth. He entered the state tournament as the No. 26 seed and lost his first bout to Pitman’s Zane Coles. He now had to win four straight bouts to finish in the top eight, and the way he was wrestling that seemed highly unlikely.
“I had a bad week,” Epperly said. “I was having some mentally unstable thoughts, thinking I wasn’t as good as I was. But I got my mind straight and got ready to wrestle.”
Starting in the first round of wrestlebacks, Epperly ripped off four straight wins to clinch a state medal. He fell in the fifth round of wrestlebacks, but ended his season with a victory by majoring Eastern’s Anthony Franden, 12-4, to finish seventh in the state.
“I knew I could place in this tournament, so I talked to myself, got my mindset right and I didn’t give up,” Epperly said.
In the process, he broke Jackson Memorial’s single-season wins record with 43, eclipsing the previous mark of 40 held by Scott Winston, Dallas Winston and Sean Byrnes. He also learned a little something about his own heart and resolve.
“It’s just hard work and dedication,” Epperly said. “I’m satisfied for my season but I definitely want to come back strong and place higher in the state next season.”
The Shore Conference finishes with 16 total place-winners
In addition to Wall’s Rob Kanniard (160) and St. John Vianney’s Dean Peterson (113), 14 other wrestlers left Boardwalk Hall placing in the top eight in their respective weight classes.
Middletown North junior Tyler Klinsky finished second at 106 pounds, suffering his only loss of the season in the final, 13-6, to Hunterdon Central’s Brett Ungar. He was the Lions’ first state finalist since 1974.
Southern senior Nick O’Connell placed second at 152, falling to Pope John’s Robert Garcia, 13-5, in the final. O’Connell was Southern’s first state finalist since 2011.
Howell junior Shane Reitsma lost to Paulsboro’s Brandon Green, 13-9, in the 170-pound state final. It was a rematch of the Region 7 final won by Reitsma, 6-4.
At 182 pounds, Rumson-Fair Haven Nick Addison finished fourth for the second straight year. Addison is Rumson’s third two-time state medalist and tied for the highest state tournament finish in program history.
Shore sophomore Jack Maida finished sixth at 106 pounds to become the Blue Devils’ second state medalist in program history. Also finishing sixth was Manalapan junior Matt Benedetti at 160 pounds.
Finishing seventh were Jackson Memorial senior Vin Scollo at 120 pounds, Howell senior Christian Murphy at 182 and St. John Vianney senior Paul Liseno at St. John Vianney.
Finishing eighth were Toms River North senior Louie Gagliardo at 106 pounds and Toms River North junior Nick Boggiano at 145 pounds.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.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.