HOWELL – The NJSIAA Tournament can be unforgiving, the smallest mistakes turning the tide in a quest for a state championship. Losing a toss-up bout or two is going to leave a team in a precarious position. Losing bouts where a win was expected and, in this particular case, having three of your best wrestlers suffer defeats usually spells disaster.

Toms River North wrestled with heart and tenacity, giving Howell all it could handle in the South Jersey Group 5 semifinals. But it still wasn’t enough. The Rebels are just too good, too deep and too resilient.

Pins by junior Shane Reitsma and senior Christian Murphy during a four-bout winning streak from 170 to 220 pounds keyed the second-seeded Rebels’ rally from an eight-point deficit to a 34-26 victory over the third-seeded Mariners on Wednesday night, sending the two-time defending Group 5 champions back to the sectional final. Evan Richard and Jake Nase each won by decision, Darby Diedrich and Joe Sardina earned six team points in winning by forfeit and disqualification, respectively, and Ethan Liptzin clinched the match with a major decision in the penultimate bout at 106 pounds.

“Toms River North is a great program and they have some studs in their lineup, but no matter what, win or lose, our teammates pick each other up,” Nase said. “It was a total team effort.”

Howell will travel to Southern in the South Jersey Group 5 final at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.

Top-ranked Howell’s depth and balance were on display against the Class A South champion Mariners, who entered the match ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and unbeaten against Shore Conference teams. Toms River North had three huge wins with Nick Reilly defeating Shore Conference Tournament champion Neiko Malone at 126, Nick Boggiano beating Paul Jakub in a matchup of SCT champions at 152 and Jack Oleske using a late takedown to edge two-time state qualifier Xavier Kelly at 160 pounds. The Mariners also won toss-up bouts at 138 and 285 with Mark Fedeli and John O’Donnell winning close bouts and received a technical fall from Ryan Rosenthal at 120 pounds. There wasn’t much more they could do. It was first-hand proof why Howell is ranked No. 3 in New Jersey and has won 78 straight matches.

“It’s our balance and how much they all believe in each other,” said Howell head coach John Gagliano. “Nobody thought those guys were all going to lose but they each picked each other up and they never had a doubt.”

After Rosenthal’s 16-1 technical fall over James McGee at 120 to start the match, Reilly used a five-point second period and an escape with 17 seconds left in regulation to beat Malone, 6-5, at 126 pounds. After a scoreless first period, Reilly escaped and then took Malone down off a scramble to go up 3-0. Malone scored a reversal to make it 3-2 but Reilly answered with a reversal to go up 5-2 heading to the third. Malone escaped and then took down Reilly off another scramble in the third before Reilly got back to neutral for the winning point.

Toms River North forfeited to Diedrich at 132 and bumped Fedeli up to 138 where he scored a 4-2 victory over Pierce Gomez to extend the Mariners’ lead to 11-6 through four bouts. Richard gave the Rebels’ a win at 145 pounds when he defeated Sergio Borda, 6-1, to cut TRN’s lead to 11-9.

Boggiano weighed in at 145 and bumped up to 152 pounds to square off against Jakub in a marquee matchup between Shore Conference Tournament champions. After a scoreless first period, Boggiano escaped and then hit a four-point move to go up 5-1 entering the third. Jakub scored a takedown to make it 5-3 but Boggiano added another takedown off a scramble to win 8-3 and give the Mariners a 14-9 lead.

Oleske weighed in 160 pounds for the first time this season and the move paid off for the Mariners when he scored a takedown with 19 seconds left in regulation for a 3-2 win that pushed Toms River North’s lead to 17-9 halfway through the match.

The Mariners had all the momentum but Howell had two of its hammers coming up with Reitsma and Murphy. They needed to come through.

“I was nervous for the team aspect because everything was not in our favor at the time,” Reitsma said. “Everyone was coming up to me saying you have to get six and as a leader on this time I just tried to go out and do my job.”

Reitsma built a 6-2 lead on Matt Spalletta in the second period before taking him to his back for a fall 21 seconds into the second period, cutting Howell’s deficit to 17-15.

“Shane is very confident and knows what has to be done,” Gagliano said. “He went out there and got the ball rolling.”

Nase followed with an 8-1 decision over Alex Murillo at 182 pounds to give Howell an 18-17 lead and Murphy pinned Alex Vargas in just 32 seconds at 195 pounds to make it 24-17. At 220 pounds, Sardina won by disqualification over Vinny Palmieri, who was banged for stalling five times. Despite the big wins early by Toms River North, it never felt like Howell was in trouble because of what lurked around the corner. After trailing by eight midway through the match, the Rebels now led 30-17 with three bouts left.

O’Donnell defeated Justin Wright, 2-1 in double overtime at heavyweight to keep Toms River North alive but the Mariners still needed two wins with bonus points to win the match. Liptzin squashed that possibility by opening a 6-0 lead on Jake Rosenthal in the first period on his way to an 8-0 win that made it 34-20 going into the last bout, which Howell forfeited.

“Toms River North, we knew they were very good, no doubt about it,” Gagliano said. “It’s not a fluke. They’re a very well-coached team. We had a couple setbacks and had to pick each other up. It’s all 14 guys.”

Now it’s onto Manahawkin on Friday for a matchup everyone figured would happen at some point. The Rebels defeated Southern in last season’s Group 5 final while Southern beat Howell in the 2016 Group 5 championship.

“Us and Southern, it’s one of the best rivalries in New Jersey,” Nase said. They have some legends there and we’ve had great matches over the years. I’m looking forward to being a part of the rivalry on Friday.”

“I’m really excited,” Reitsma said. “It’s always a great atmosphere between the two teams.”


Box Score

Howell 34, Toms River North 26

Ryan Rosenthal (Toms River North) over James McGee (Howell) (TF 16-1 5:50)
Nick Reilly (Toms River North) over Nieko Malone (Howell) (Dec 6-5)
Darby Diedrich (Howell) over Unknown (For.)
Mark Fedeli (Toms River North) over Pierce Gomez (Howell) (Dec 4-2)
Evan Richard (Howell) over Sergio Borda (Toms River North) (Dec 6-1)
Nick Boggiano (Toms River North) over Paul Jakub (Howell) (Dec 8-3)
Jack Oleske (Toms River North) over Xavier Kelly (Howell) (Dec 3-2)
Shane Reitsma (Howell) over Matt Spalletta (Toms River North) (Fall 2:21)
Jake Nase (Howell) over Alex Murillo (Toms River North) (Dec 8-1)
Christian Murphy (Howell) over Alex Vargas (Toms River North) (Fall 0:32)
Joe Sardina (Howell) over Vinny Palmieri (Toms River North) (DQ, stalling)
John O`Donnell (Toms River North) over Justin Wright (Howell) (TB-1 2-1)
Ethan Liptzin (Howell) over Jake Rosenthal (Toms River North) (MD 8-0)
Alex Danelson (Toms River North) over Unknown (For.)


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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