Key wins by freshmen Mike Napolitano and Trey Tallmadge send Brick Memorial back to Central Jersey Group 4 final
BRICK TOWNSHIP -- Thanks to an optimal lineup and clutch victories by a pair of freshmen, Brick Memorial is heading back to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 final.
Freshman 106-pounder Mike Napolitano started off the match with a gutsy rideout to win a toss-up bout, and freshman 165-pounder Trey Tallmadge halted a Long Branch surge with a seismic pin as the top-seeded Mustangs defeated the Green Wave, 39-30, in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 semifinals on Monday night.
The Mustangs won nine of the 14 bouts to survive a scare from a Long Branch team that secured six points in all four of its victories in contested bouts. Brick Memorial forfeited the final two weights at 215 and 285 after taking a 39-18 lead with two bouts left. Brick Memorial, which reached the Group 4 final last season and has won the last two Central Jersey Group 4 sectional titles, will host second-seeded Jackson Memorial on Wednesday in the championship match.
The lineup that head coach Mike Kiley envisioned in December finally took the mat on Monday night for a 71-6 throttling of Steinert in the quarterfinals before the victory over Long Branch. Junior Jack Torre made his debut at 126 pounds in his first action since Jan. 11, state champion Anthony Santaniello and district champ Brody Elk were down to 132 and 138 pounds, respectively, and junior Tommy Prince was able to take the mat at 144 pounds. The new lineup gives the Mustangs a formidable stretch in the first seven weights.
"We had two first-year wrestlers at 126 and 132 and now you're replacing them with Jack Torre and Anthony Santaniello, plus getting Brody Elk down to 138," Kiley said. "Tommy Prince is someone we've been dying to get into the lineup, it just didn't fit until now. We've been talking about this lineup since Week 1, it just took time for people to descend down."
Long Branch dispatched Princeton, 55-12, in the quarterfinals to set up the showdown between two of the Shore Conference's great programs. And with the match starting at 106 pounds, a massive toss-up bout was underway immediately between Napolitano and Long Branch senior Josh Renna, who was a Region 6 qualifier last season and entered with a 24-7 record.
Napolitano scored quickly to take a 2-0 lead before Renna escaped to make it 2-1 heading into the second period. Renna deferred his choice and Napolitano took the down position where he hoped to extend his lead. Renna, however, executed a great rideout despite several near escapes and reversals by Napolitano. Now, Renna had the chance to escape and tie the bout. Mikely signaled for Napolitano to award an intentional escape to Renna and allow the freshman to work on his feet where he had scored the bouts only offensive points, but Napolitano had another idea.
"I was only up by one and I thought about going neutral, but I wanted to ride him out and try to get points on top," Napolitano said.
"He must have felt something there that he felt confident with on top because he was pretty stern with it," Kiley said.
Kiley's faith in his freshman's decision-making paid off as Napolitano returned the favor and rode out Renna for the entire third period to secure a crucial 2-1 victory and give the Mustangs a 3-0 lead.
"Mikey comes up in big spots and he's a gamer," Kiley said. "We work on top a lot and it's where you win big matches like that. We talk about situations like that where you have to keep a guy down and you have to work."
"Everyone was excited, the crowd was going crazy; the best feeling ever," Napolitano said.
Sophomore Gavin Martin, a returning district champ and Region 6 medalist, followed with a 6-0 win over Ryan Beharry at 113 pounds to put the Mustangs up 6-0. Long Branch, however, equaled those victories in an instant when James Renna locked up a cradle and pinned Ryan Henderson in 1:17 at 120 pounds to tie the match 6-6.
At 126 pounds, Torre turned a close bout into a 5-0 shutout with a pair of turns in the third period to win over Javier Guzman and put Brick Memorial back on top, 9-6. After a scoreless first period, Torre escaped in the second period and then titled Guzman twice for two near-fall points each in the third.
Santaniello followed with a 58-second pin over Nick Miller at 132 and Elk held off a late comeback attempt by Daniel Ramirez to win 7-6 and give Brick Memorial an 18-6 lead through six bouts. At 144 pounds, Prince had a takedown in each period to win 7-0 over Devon Smith and extend the Mustangs' lead to 21-6 halfway through the dual.
Long Branch's ability to come up with pins when it needed them most kept it in the match despite Brick Memorial's advantage in bouts won. At 150 pounds, senior Joe Giordano, a two-time state qualifier who reached wrestleback round four last season, worked for a cradle and needed just 42 seconds to win by fall over Mason Pirnik. Brick Memorial's lead was now down to 21-12 with six bouts left.
Logan Smith and Max Wright were scoreless after the first period at 157 pounds. Smith deferred his choice, Wright chose defense, and Smith ran an armbar for the fall at the 3:35 mark. Despite having won just three bouts, Long Branch was now just three points behind at 21-18 with five bouts left.
On paper, the 165-pound bout between Tallmadge (12-8) and Long Branch junior Christian Cunalata (14-10) was a clear toss-up. Brick Memorial had state champion Harvey Ludington and standout sophomore Ben Szuba still to wrestle, but they needed a win to stop the rising Wave.
Tallmadge took a 2-0 lead on a takedown with 18 seconds left in the first period and deferred his choice in the second period. Cunalata selected neutral, and Tallmadge went for the knockout.
"In the first two periods when they waved off the two takedowns out of bounds I knew I had him on my feet," Tallmadge said. "After the takedown when he picked neutral, I felt I could throw him. He was leaning forward, heavy-footed. I knew the headlock would be there after the inside trip."
Tallmadge tied up Cunalata up top, tripped him to the mat, and immediately cinched a headlock. Cunalata fought for over 40 seconds but eventually, Tallmadge pressed his shoulders to the mat to secure the fall in 2:51 and give Brick Memorial a 27-18 lead with four bouts left.
"After 157 I was nervous," Kiley said. "You can't give up pins like that in big matches. For Trey to fire back like that was huge."
"I haven't been starting all year, been mostly an alternate, so it means everything to me," Tallmadge said. "Close match, state semifinals, under the lights with the fans here and my family; it was awesome. I was really nervous but I just had to do my job for the team."
Brick Memorial was in control now, and Ludington and Szuba put the lock on for good with pins at 175 and 190 to clinch the match. Ludington overpowered Long Branch freshman Tornick Kajaia to win by fall in 42 seconds and Szuba secured a fall over Matheus Marco Santana with just 0.2 seconds left in the first period to give the Mustangs an insurmountable 39-18 lead with two bouts left.
A familiar foe will head to town on Wednesday with a championship up for grabs. The latest chapter in the Brick Memorial vs. Jackson Memorial rivalry will feature two teams peaking at the right time with a lineup that is finally whole. For the Jaguars, they welcomed back state qualifier Cael Huxford last week after he missed all of January with an injury suffered on opening weekend.
"We have a different lineup, they have a guy back; I'm excited for it," Kiley said "It's going to be a classic Brick Memorial vs. Jackson match."
1-Brick Memorial 39, 4-Long Branch 30
106: Mike Napolitano (BM) d. Josh Renna, 2-1
113: Gavin Martin (BM) d. Ryan Beharry, 6-0
120: James Renna (LB) p. Ryan Henderson, 1:17
126: Jack Torre (BM) d Javier Guzman, 5-0
132: Anthony Santaniello (BM) p. Nick Miller, 0:58
138: Brody Elk (BM) d. Daniel Ramirez, 7-6
144: Tommy Prince (BM) d Devon Smith, 7-0
150: Joe Giordano (LB) p. Mason Pirnik, 0:42
157: Logan Smith (LB) p. Max Wright, 3:35
165: Trey Tallmadge (BM) p. Christian Cunalata, 2:51
175: Harvey Ludington (BM) p. Tornick Kajaia, 0:42
190: Ben Szuba (BM) p. Matheus Marco Santana, 1:59
215: Tyler Taylor (LB) by forfeit
285: Mark Godsil (LB) by forfeit