MANALAPAN – Despite a strong start to the season, Manalapan has flown under the radar mostly due to the lack of a signature win.

The Braves took care of that on Tuesday night.

Matt Kovacs, Alex Baran and Paul Santomarco each won by fall and Matt Benedetti delivered a crucial overtime victory as Manalapan won nine of 14 bouts for an impressive 37-25 Shore Conference nondivisional victory over district rival Colts Neck. The Cougars entered the match ranked No. 10 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, undefeated and fresh off a big divisional win over Ocean, but the Braves cooled them off for their first win over Colts Neck since 2014.

“We had this one [circled] on our schedule ever since the match last year,” Benedetti said. “We had a four-year losing streak against them and we really thought last year was our year, but we dropped that one in a close dual [33-25]. We knew this year was the year and we were going to get this one.”

Benedetti, a junior who last season won a district title and qualified for the state tournament, outlasted Kenny Koenig, 5-2 in double overtime, at 170 pounds for a critical victory that gave Manalapan a 33-22 lead with two bouts left. The win, which avenged a 7-5 loss to Koenig in last season’s dual meet, meant Colts Neck needed at least a pin and a technical fall in the remaining bouts to win the match. When Dylan Waller held Michael Jannucci to a 3-2 decision at 182 pounds it clinched the match.

“I was telling myself in the third period I had to get one last good shot in,” Benedetti said. “I couldn’t get it and we went into rideouts, but I knew top and bottom are my game and I was going to pull it out there.”

A reversal in the second period gave Benedetti the lead but escapes in the second and third by Koenig tied the bout. Koenig was close to takedowns late in the third period and sudden victory, but Benedetti was able to fight them off to send the match to the tiebreaker periods. Benedetti rode out Koenig in the first 30-second tiebreaker, then escaped with 20 seconds left in the next period to take a 3-2 lead. He added a late takedown as Koenig was going for a desperation move to win 5-2.

“Staying poised is key,” Benedetti said. “It’s all about positioning and you have to stay calm. I’m comfortable in all positions, and I never really lost sight there. I knew I had to hang on, and I knew I’d pull it out.”

Colts Neck held a 16-10 through four bouts thanks to a 16-7 major decision by Thomas Lidondici at 220, a pin by Michael Lyristis at 106 and a pin by Logan Waller at 120 pounds. Manalapan surged ahead for good, however, by winning the next four bouts. Junior Hunter Konstantoulas used a four-point move in the first period to defeat Nick Moldaver, 6-4, at 126 pounds, and sophomore James Grande won 7-3 over Harry Weber at 132 pounds thanks to a five-point move in the first period.

At 138, senior Kareem Ghaida used two takedowns in the first period and a takedown and two near-fall points in the second to win 8-2 over Ford Zajac. Senior Alex Baran, a two-time state qualifier, capped the four-bout winning streak by pinning Joe LaPorta in 2:37. Manalapan was docked one team point, however, as Baran was called for unsportsmanlike conduct because he left the mat to high-five a spectator following the fall.

The Braves now led 24-16, but that advantage was trimmed to two points when Colts Neck undefeated junior Luke Rada pinned Andrew Keller with a cradle in 3:28. The Cougars were now within 24-22, but that was as close as they’d get. Santomarco needed just 67 seconds to win by fall over Joseph Cilea at 160 pounds to give Manalapan a 30-22 lead, and Benedetti followed with his victory to all but clinch the match.

“We did talk about some of the disappointing performances we’ve had against [Colts Neck] the past couple years,” said Manalapan head coach Scott Pressman. “Today we didn’t do our best, but we performed well enough to beat what I think is a very good team.”

Tuesday’s slate of matches concluded a wild week that saw five teams that were ranked in last week’s Shore Sports Network Top 10 suffer in-conference losses. With the dust settled – for now – Manalapan has proven itself a top-10 team with the criteria to climb up the rankings.

“We feel we’re a top-five team in the Shore, let along top 10, so we wanted to make a statement today,” Benedetti said.

“The kids felt slighted a bit about the rankings, but we know who we are, and with our schedule coming up everything is in front of us,” Pressman said. “Nothing changes. We come back [Wednesday] and get ready to wrestle some good teams this weekend.”


Box Score

Manalapan 37, No. 10 Colts Neck 25

220: Thomas Lidondici (CN) md. George Zavalnik, 16-7

285: Matt Kovacs (M) p. Bryce Blakie, 0:27

106: Michael Lyristis (CN) p. Chris Balzano 2:28

113: Calvin Burke (M) md. Eli Novolesov, 11-3

120: Logan Waller (CN) p. Zach Simmons, 1:14

126: Hunter Konstantoulas (M) d. Nick Moldaver, 6-4

132: James Grande (M) d. Harry Weber, 7-3

138: Kareem Ghaida (M) d. Ford Zajac, 8-2

145: Alex Baran (M) p. Joe LaPorta, 2:37

152: Luke Rada (CN) p. Andrew Keller, 3:28

160: Paul Santomarco (M) p. Joe Cilea, 1:07

170: Matt Benedetti (M) d. Kenny Koenig, 5-2 (2OT)

182: Michael Jannucci (CN) d. Dylan Waller, 3-2

195: Gavin Claro (M) md. Jovani Velazquez-Ruiz, 9-0

Records: at Manalapan (10-1); Colts Neck (7-1).


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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