LITTLE SILVER – The big names on Howell’s roster are familiar; they’ve been doing damage around here for a few years now. But throughout the Shore Conference Tournament, fans and opposing wrestlers alike wanted to know who the new kid making moves at 126 pounds was.

Nieko Malone answered all those questions on Saturday at Red Bank Regional High School.

Malone, a sophomore transfer from Rancocas Valley, announced himself to the Shore Conference by defeating the No. 4, No. 1 and No. 2 seeds to author a fantastic run to the SCT 126-pound title. He capped the tournament title with a wild 13-11 decision over Toms River East’s Michael Conklin in the championship bout and was voted as the SCT’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.

“I knew I had to go on a run and this is the time of the season to do that,” Malone said.

Malone knocked off three returning state qualifiers from the quarterfinals on, starting with a thrilling 8-6 win over Central’s Tyler Pepe. Malone was down 4-0 and then 6-4 before rallying for the tying takedown with eight seconds left in regulation and winning with a takedown in sudden victory. In the semifinals, he pinned top-seeded Nico Messina of Freehold, a returning Region 6 champion, midway through the second period.

In the championship bout he squared off with Conklin, who entered the tournament with only one less and has been one of the Shore’s most impressive wrestlers this season. The entire bout felt like one big scramble and it was Malone who kept coming out on top. He led 4-2 after the first period, but Conklin answered with a pair of takedowns in the second period to tie the bout at six. Malone took control in the third period with three more takedowns, beautifully countering shots by Conklin and finding a way to come out with points of his own.

“Our coaches push us hard in the room so my endurance level is really high,” Malone said. “It pays off when you’re on the mat rolling and scrambling.”

“He really fits in good with all our kids and especially his style with (assistant coach) Joey Langel being in there, who’s the kind of the scramblers,” said Howell head coach John Gagliano. It just makes him better with all the competition in the room.”

Malone was the first of four individual champions for the top-ranked and undefeated Rebels, who rolled to the SCT team title with 187.5 points to best second-place Jackson Memorial by 51 points. Howell had six total finalists with Xavier Kelly and Christian Murphy finishing second at 160 and 182, respectively, while Justin Wright placed fourth at heavyweight.

Following Malone’s win at 126, senior Darby Diedrich squared off with Lacey’s Hunter Gutierrez in a battle of former state medalists at 132 pounds. Diedrich struck early when he hit a headlock for a five-point move and survived a tough second period underneath Gutierrez, avoiding a deep power-half that nearly had him turned for back points. Diedrich added a takedown in the third for a 7-1 victory and his second SCT championship.

“Darby loves those big-time matches,” Gagliano said. “What he’s done the past four years had him ready.”

At 152 pounds, sophomore Paul Jakub pinned Jackson Memorial’s Carsten DiGiantomasso at the end of a quick flurry to win his first SCT title. Jakub drove hard into DiGiantomasso with a double-leg but the Jaguars senior rolled out of it and came out with a takedown. Jakub quickly answered with a reversal, putting DiGiantomasso to his back for the fall at the 1:23 mark of the first period.

“He got taken down and that kid’s good, but there was just no panic,” Gagliano said.

Junior Shane Rietsma capped Howell’s championship run with a thorough 9-4 decision over Manalapan’s Matt Benedetti in the 170-pound final. Reitsma had two takedowns in the first period, another in the second and one more in the third and did not allow an offensive point.

While Malone won OW thanks to his great run and who he defeated along the way, no wrestler was more dominant than Middletown North junior Tyler Klinsky.

Klinsky won a deep 106-pound bracket in statement-making fashion when he built a 10-2 lead before pinning Shore sophomore Jack Maida in 4:46 to win a battle of unbeatens. Klinsky was the No. 1 seed in the tournament but Maida, who was seeded second, entered the tournament ahead of him in the state rankings and also ranked nationally.

“It’s tough because I wrestle with him in the room (at Triumph Wrestling Club) and I do well against him but he’s ranked ahead of me and people were picking him to win,” Klinsky said. “It was a match I was looking forward to; just overall more people seeing I’m better and can be at the top of the state.”

Klinsky won by 15-5 major decision over Brick standout freshman Evan Tallmadge in the pre-quarterfinals for his 100th career win, won by 16-6 major decision over Jackson Memorial’s Brett Blaess in the quarterfinals and scored a 22-7 technical fall in just 2:37 over Wall’s Cole Meyer in the semifinals. He was untouchable from start to finish.

“It’s the way he trains and that’s the way he’s been since he was a freshman,” said Middletown North head coach Matt Sirchio. “He wants to be a state champion and he trains at a very high level.”

Klinsky has not been scored on this season, according to Sirchio, and it’s not because opposing wrestlers are standing there like statues. Tallmadge, Blaess, Meyer and Maida all went after Klinsky with everything they had. He just had an answer for all of it.

“I like to come out hard but one thing I think I’m the best at is re-attacks,” Klinsky said. “When they shoot I say low, keep my head up and get right back on their legs.”

Repeating as champions were Wall senior Rob Kanniard and the St. John Vianney tandem of sophomore Dean Peterson at senior Paul Liseno.

Peterson, the second-place finisher at 106 pounds in last season’s NJSIAA Tournament, won a battle of unbeatens by defeating Brick Memorial sophomore Vincent Santaniello, 5-2, to win the 113-pound title. Santaniello was eighth in the state at 106 last season and had scored 50 points in the tournament heading into the final. It was Peterson’s third victory over Santaniello, including last season’s SCT 106-pound final.

Liseno cruised to the heavyweight title with three pins, including a win by fall in 1:46 over Ocean sophomore Joe Teresi in the final.

Kanniard, the state second-place finisher at 160 last season and a top-10 ranked wrestler in the nation, was the prohibitive favorite at 160 and won by fall, fall and technical fall in his first three bouts. He won by forfeit in the final over Howell’s Xavier Kelly, who aggravated an injury in the semifinals.

Right behind Klinsky on the scale of domination was Rumson-Fair Haven senior Nick Addison, who cruised to the 182-pound title. He won by fall in the first period in his first three bouts and then defeated Howell’s Christian Murphy, 11-4, in the championship bout. Addison was fourth in the state at 170 last season and is signed with Stanford University.

Toms River North junior Nick Boggiano won the 145-pound title with a 5-1 decision over Colts Neck junior Luke Rada, who was previously undefeated. Manalapan senior Alex Baran remained undefeated by using a second-period takedown to defeat Shore junior Al DeSantis, 3-1, to win the 138-pound title. Jackson Memorial senior Vin Scollo defeated Colts Neck sophomore Logan Waller, 5-1, to take the SCT title at 120 pounds and Point Boro senior Billy Borowsky topped Toms River North sophomore John O’Donnell, 2-0, in the 220-pound final.

Jackson Memorial junior Kyle Epperly won the 195-pound title by injury default over Middletown North senior Jacob Anderson, prematurely ending what was shaping up to be a fantastic bout. In the second period, Anderson reversed Epperly to take a 4-2 lead and locked in a cradle, but Epperly kicked out before any near-fall points could be counted. As he did that, however, Anderson injured his left shoulder and could not continue. He was able to get up and walk off the mat and the injury did not appear to be serious.


Managing 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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