Instant Classic, Part 2: Clutch victories by Sakoutis, Falcone send No. 2 CBA past No. 1 Southern
MIDDLETOWN -- The dual meet is an integral aspect of what makes high school wrestling so exciting, and the Shore Conference has been fortunate to experience some thrilling rivalries over the past three decades.
The latest is between Christian Brothers Academy and Southern Regional, and on Tuesday night the top two teams in the Shore delivered another instant classic in front of a raucous sell-out crowd with the No. 1 ranking in the Shore on the line.
Top-ranked Southern won the first four bouts to build an early 18-point lead but the host Colts won seven straight matchups from 106 pounds through 144, keyed by clutch victories from sophomore Will Sakoutis at 132 and junior A.J. Falcone at 138, and turned the tables on the Rams to earn a dramatic 30-28 Shore Conference nondivisional victory.
Trailing 18-0 after the first four bouts at 175, 190, 215, and heavyweight, CBA stormed back to take the lead thanks to victories by freshmen Killian Coluccio and Paul Kenney at 106 and 113, respectively, a decision by sophomore Justin Repetti at 120, a fall by sophomore Bobby Duffy at 126, wins by Sakoutis and Falcone, and a last-second pin from senior star Alex Nini at 144. The Colts led 30-18 with three bouts left but needed to save bonus points against three of Southern's best wrestlers. They did exactly that when sophomore Jimmy Jakub held state champion Matt Henrich to a major decision at 157 pounds in the penultimate bout to all but seal the victory and deal Southern its first conference loss since Jan. 14, 2020.
"It was a whole team effort," Sakoutis said. "It's about fulfilling your role and doing your job, whether that's not getting pinned or squeaking out a tight win. That's what a team win is all about."
"It's awesome to be in a match like that," Falcone said. "We told everyone we have to go out there and have fun. If we do that and wrestle hard the individual bouts and the team score will take of themselves."
The teams split the bouts 7-7 with the difference being CBA's 9-7 advantage in bonus points via falls by Kenny, Duffy, and Nini. They also saved bonus points in key spots with Jakub not getting pinned by Henrich and sophomore Brendan Boyer yielding just a decision to senior region champ Mitch Bivona at 175 to open the match.
The match began to turn at 126 pounds where Duffy, a region champ who reached the fourth round of wrestlebacks at the state tournament as a freshman last season, squared off against Southern sophomore Atilla Vigilante, a returning region medalist. The Rams had opened an 18-0 lead with decisions by Bivona and Bradford Birch at 175 and 190, a pin from freshman Levi Foote at 215, and a win by forfeit from senior Colin French at heavyweight. Coluccio got CBA on the board when he scored a takedown with three seconds left for a 4-2 victory over Anthony Mason at 106 pounds. Kenny won by fall over fellow freshman Cash McVey at 113 and sophomore Justin Repetti blanked Jacob Chambers, 6-0 at 120 pounds, to trim Southern's lead to 18-12 halfway through the dual.
Using his length and reach advantage. Vigilante struck first with a takedown and also forced a stalling warning on Duffy to take a 2-0 lead into the second period. Duffy chose defense and escaped to make it 2-1 before a scramble opened the door for him to lock in a cradle. The hold was tight and Vigilante could not escape as Duffy secured the fall at 2:59 to send a shockwave through the gymnasium and tie the match at 18.
"I'm always looking for cradles in every position so if his head is close to his knee I'm going to lock it up," Duffy said. "Those long guys, once you lock it up there's really no getting out."
Southern was still in a good spot based on the remaining matchups, but that changed quickly thanks to Sakoutis and Falcone.
At 132, Sakoutis, who was 7-9 as a freshman, faced Southern's Scottie Sari, a returning state qualifier. Sari rode out Sakoutis in the second period but a penalty point gave Sakoutis a 1-0 lead entering the third period. Sari escaped in the third to tie the bout 1-1 but Sakoutis scored the go-ahead takedown with 1:32 left in the match and rode out Sari the rest of the way for a massive 3-1 victory that gave CBA a 21-18 lead.
"I knew I needed a takedown; tight score and every match counts in these kinds of duals," Sakoutis said. "I was just waiting for that club high crotch and I saw him step the leg, I kind of pulled it, ripped a club and just want for it. In the moment I wasn't even thinking, I just went back to the basics. That's why in practice you do all the little things right so in matches it just comes natural."
"Will is the hardest worker in the room," Duffy said. "He needed a win like this."
"Will is a workhorse," said CBA head coach Billy Ashnault. "He shows up every day and works as hard as he can."
Ironically, Sari was the hero of last season's dual when he pinned Falcone in overtime for a key victory in Southern's 27-25 win. The two didn't match up head-to-head this time, but Falcone did earn redemption with a crucial victory of his own.
On the strength of a second-period rideout, Falcone defeated Bryce Manera, 1-0 at 138 pounds, to give CBA a 24-18 lead and completely flip the match in the Colts' favor. Manera is a transfer from Holy Spirit and a returning state qualifier. He awarded an intentional escape to Falcone to begin the third period and that was all the CBA junior needed to earn another huge victory.
"Obviously that rideout was huge," Falcone said. "That was just being mentally tough because if I doubted myself he would have got out because he kept moving the entire period."
"It was really nice for me. I've been thinking about that loss since the match ended last year. That was in the back of my mind for a year straight and I got it back tonight."
"These kids remember all that stuff so for him deep down it's probably a sigh of relief," Ashnault said. "It comes from him believing in us and believing in himself."
Southern won the pre-match coin flip and chose to send out first in the even bouts. That enabled the Rams to control the 144-pound weight class and move junior Wyatt Stout away from Nini. CBA sent Nini out at 144 and Southern countered with Noah Fontana, a transfer from Mainland who was a state qualifier last season. Nini's job was to win by fall, and while it looked like he might have to settle for a technical fall, he took Fontana right to his back while leading 19-6 and secured the pin at the 4:58 mark to give CBA a 30-18 lead with three bouts left.
"Alex is a senior and one of the best wrestlers in the country who understood his position and what he had to do," Ashnault said. "And he went out and did it."
Despite being down by 12, Southern still had a very real chance at winning the match with Stout, Henrich, and senior state medalist Hayden Hochstrasser still left to wrestle at 150, 157, and 165. The path to victory seemed to be decision victories from Stout and Hochstrasser and a pin by Henrich, which would have tied the match at 30. Since both teams won seven bouts, Southern would have won on criteria by having the least amount of forfeits.
Stout, the NJSIAA sixth-place finisher at 132 pounds last season, had to beat two-time region champ Tyler Venet first, however, and that was no easy task. An epic 150-pound showdown featured several intense scrambles and timely takedowns, including Venet scoring with one second left in the second period to take a 4-2 lead and Stout tying the bout 5-5 on a takedown with 30 seconds left in the third period. The match went to overtime and was scoreless after another wild scramble in sudden victory. In the first tiebreaker period, a second stalling infraction on Venet gave Stout a 6-5 lead and he quickly added a reversal to go up 8-5. He rode out Venet in the second tiebreaker period to win by decision and keep Southern alive.
The Rams were down 30-21 when Henrich, last season's NJSIAA 150-pound champion, took the mat against Jakub. Henrich needed a pin and Jakub's job was to avoid getting pinned at all costs. Henrich dominated the bout, as expected, but couldn't turn Jakub to his back at any point. He tried to push forward near the end of the third period for additional takedowns to at least earn a technical fall and five team points but Jakub was able to hold Henrich to a 19-7 major decision that left the Colts with a 30-25 lead with one bout left.
That made the job that much tougher for Hochstrasser and significantly easier for senior Nick Campagna, a South Plainfield transfer making his CBA debut. Hochstrasser needed a tech or a pin for Southern to win, a tall order against a two-time region champion and state medalist. Hochstrasser won 7-4 as CBA held on for the win in a fantastic dual between two New Jersey powerhouses.
"It's a huge win for the program," Sakoutis said. "This brings a lot of life, a lot of eyes to the program. It's just a great win."
It was also huge for Shore Conference wrestling. There are fewer marquee duals than ever, but nights like Tuesday serve as a reminder of how special the sport can be.
"I love dual meets, love battles like this, love going to war, love filling the gym," said Ashnault, who competed in his share of high-powered duals when he wrestled at South Plainfield. "I think it's important to wrestling. Me and (Southern head coach) Dan Roy talked on the phone a few times and it was never about canceling the match. It was always about the time, weigh-ins, canceling JV, whatever we had to do. I give kudos to them for making it work on a day like today, and obviously you saw people still showed up."
No. 2 CBA 30, No. 1 Southern 28
175: Mitch Bivona (S) d. Brendan Boyer, 3-2
190: Bradford Birch (S) d. Brock Oizerowitz, 12-6
215: Levi Foote (S) p. Parker Hughes, 3:40
Hwt: Collin French (S) by forfeit
106: Killian Coluccio (CBA) d. Anthony Mason, 4-2
113: Paul Kenny (CBA) p. Cash McVey, 3:05
120: Justin Repetti (CBA) d. Jacob Chambers, 6-0
126: Bobby Duffy (CBA) p. Atilla Vigilante, 2:59
132: Will Sakoutis (CBA) d. Scottie Sari, 3-1
138: AJ Falcone (CBA) d. Bryce Manera, 1-0
144: Alex Nini (CBA) p. Noah Fontana, 4:58
150: Wyatt Stout (S) d. Tyler Venet, 8-5 (2OT)
157: Matt Henrich (S) md. Jimmy Jakub, 19-7
165: Hayden Hochstrasser (S) d. Nick Campagna, 7-4