Clutch Pin by La’Qym Morris Helps Long Branch Top Ocean to Tighten Grip on B North Race
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LONG BRANCH — Long Branch head coach Danny George has been eagerly awaiting the season debut of La’Qym Morris, and the junior showed why in a crucial Class B North match against rival Ocean on Wednesday.
Morris went from owning a big lead to nearly being pinned to then turning the tables on Ocean’s Christian Wilson to produce a critical fall at 220 pounds that helped the Green Wave, ranked No. 6 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a 36-23 win over the No. 10 Spartans that tightened their stranglehold on the division. With wins over No. 7 Middletown North and Ocean already in the books, Long Branch is now in line to secure its first division title since 2015.
Morris’s pin 44 seconds into the third period of a bout he was leading 11-3 was part of a four-bout winning streak from 182 pounds through heavyweight where Long Branch (5-1, 3-0) turned a 10-9 deficit into a 30-10 lead.
Morris is also the starting fullback and a linebacker on Long Branch’s football team for which George is also the head coach. The Green Wave captured the Central Jersey Group IV sectional title on Dec. 2.
“He’s a tremendous athlete who has wrested through middle school, but this year was tough because we played deep into the (football) season,” George said. “You’re trying to get those guys to commit and all of the sudden two weeks later the season starts, then you have a week and it’s the holiday break. We’ve just been trying to get him in the room and get him going. He’ll just keep getting better, and I think the sky’s the limit fo him.”
“It was like watching a (TV show), very suspenseful,” said senior Pete Wersinger of Morris’s wild win. “But La’Qym goes at it in the room and does the right stuff, and it paid off.”
Wersinger and junior Kevin Cerruti bookended Morris with falls at 195 pounds and heavyweight, respectively, to give the Green Wave a 20-point advantage as the lineup turned over to 106 pounds. Sophomore Ryan Zimmerman at 113 and senior Chris Dean at 126 then produced wins by decision to clinch the match.
“It’s not very often anybody in this series wins two in a row,” George said. “Winning B North was our first goal so this one was very important to us, plus it’s Long Branch vs. Ocean, a rivalry with a lot of tradition that goes back a long time. We’ve had some great matches over the years.”
Louie Saez at 152 and Dan Santos-Silva at 182 also won for Long Branch while junior Luke Arnold received a forfeit at 160 pounds in his first action since suffering an injury at the season-opening Neptune Classic.
Jake Benner, last season’s 138-pound state champion, won by major decision at 145 pounds to lead Ocean. Sophomore Alex Poniros also secured a major decision at 132 pounds while Saif Ali (138), Anthony Esposito (170) and Blake Tarnowski (106) each won by decision.
Ali and Benner staked Ocean to a 7-0 lead with wins at 138 and 145 pounds to start the match. Ali had two takedowns in the third period to defeat Ryan Carey 7-1. Benner dominated Isaac Shohet from start to finish, but could only turn him once despite spending most of the match trying to work a power-half. He settled for a 12-0 major decision.
Saez got Long Branch on the board with a 7-2 decision over Emerson Derose at 152 pounds and Arnold’s forfeit win at 160 put the Wave up 9-7. The back-and-forth nature of the match continued with Esposito’s 5-2 victory over Edgar Padilla at 170 pounds.
Long Branch started the run that would put the match away when Santos-Silva used an escape and a takedown in the second period to defeat Ryan Moran, 3-0, and put Long Branch up 12-10. Wersinger, a state qualifier last season, was heavily favored against Ruan Faria at 195 pounds and did his job by securing a fall in the third period. Wersinger opened up a 13-3 lead in the second period, then scored a reversal and put Faria to his back in the third period.
“Coach didn’t have to say a word, I knew what the situation was,” Wersinger said. “Ocean started off better than I expected and I thought I had to step up for my team.”
“That was big. He’s a captain, bearing down on 100 wins and he realized that was a big moment,” George said. “I was hoping after Luke’s forfeit to get two more, and Peter and Kevin had to be pins because I could see it being a 7-7 split in bouts and I wanted to have the bonus points.”
Morris’s pin at 220 let George breathe a sigh of relief, and when Cerruti pinned Joe Teresi in 3:20 at heavyweight he knew his team was in good shape. As big as getting crucial pins was for Long Branch, avoiding getting pinned was just as big. Shohet managed to not get pinned by Benner, Edgar Padilla fought out of a few dangerous positions against Esposito at 170 and Pabone avoided anything worse than a major decision against Poniros, a state qualifier last season.
“If we want to win a sectional title, which is our goal, we’re going to run into state champs, we’re going to run into state place-winners, and when we’re outmatched we have to wrestle like that,” George said. “I thought we wrestled great (at 145), thought we wrestled well at 138, wrestled well at 132 against Poniros. That’s what makes the Shore Conference so special because you get tested like that. Those are the matches that make the difference.”
No. 6 Long Branch 36, No. 10 Ocean 23
138: Saif Ali (O) d. Ryan Cary 7-1
145: Jake Benner (O) md. Isaac Shohet 12-0
152: Louie Saez (LB) d. Emerson Derose 7-2
160: Luke Arnold (LB) by forfeit
170: Anthony Esposito (O) d. Edgar Padilla 5-2
182: Dan Santos-Silva (LB) d. Rya Moran 3-0
195: Pete Wersinger (LB) p. Ruan Faria 4:43
220: La’Qym Morris (LB) p. Christian Wilson 4:44
Hwt: Kevin Cerruti (LB) p. Joe Teresi 3:20
106: Blake Tarnowski (O) d. Joe Conlon 7-3
113: Ryan Zimmerman (LB) d. Will Tisony 3-0
120: Adam Manzo (O) by forfeit
126: Chris Dean (LB) d. Jack Nies 7-2
132: Alex Poniros (O) md. Steve Pabone 17-4
Records: at Long Branch (5-1, 3-0); Ocean (5-3, 3-1).
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.