LONG BRANCH – Howell has bigger goals it’s working toward, specifically winning a third straight NJSIAA Group 5 championship next week. But first, the Rebels pulled out the deed and reminded everyone who owns the North.

The undefeated Rebels, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and No. 3 in New Jersey by both statewide polls, piled up bonus points and zoomed past No. 6 Long Branch, 44-14, on Wednesday night to clinch their 14th consecutive Class A North division title. Darby Diedrich, Xavier Kelly, Paul Jakub, Jake Nase, Shane Reitsma, Christian Murphy and Ethan Liptzin combined for 17 bonus points while James McGee and Kyle Nase pulled off dramatic wins as Howell won nine bouts and ran its winning streak to 74 matches.

“Long Branch is a very well-coached team and we knew it was going to be tough,” said Howell head coach John Gagliano. “We had a lot of tough bouts. I want to give a big shout out to our coaches: Rich Gildner, Todd Going, Joey Langel, Jay Brandl, Petey Reilly, Jay Nase, Justin Morello, Mike Verrochi, Rich Famularo. I think they do a tremendous job, not just out here with us on the mat, but in the room and getting the kids ready.”

The Rebels (20-0, 7-0) won nine of the 14 bouts even with Shore Conference Tournament 126-pound champion Neiko Malone losing 6-5 to Stiviny Silva in the final seconds at 132 pounds. The Green Wave wrestled without standout junior Ryan Zimmerman (126), who suffered a minor injury and is expected back when Long Branch begins the Central Jersey Group 4 Tournament on Monday. Silva, Ryan Carey, Tracey Taylor, Kevin Cerruti and Rey Guzman picked up victories for Long Branch.

“Our kids wrestled well against a very good Long Branch team and I’m very proud of them,” Gagliano said. “It gets you ready for those battles.”

The battles Gagliano speaks of are looming.

Howell hosts Rancocas Valley on Monday in the South Jersey Group 5 quarterfinals as its begins its Group 5 title defense. The Rebels are trying to join the Long Branch teams from 2008-2010 as the only Shore Conference program to win three straight NJSIAA group championships. Howell is seeded No. 2 in the section with Southern at No. 1 and Toms River North at No. 3. The Rebels will have to get through both in a two-day span to win a sectional title. If they can do so, Hunterdon Central will likely be waiting in Toms River.

“We’re excited about [the division title] but it’s not something we talk about because they know the big picture, and that’s Group 5,” Gagliano said. “It’s a tough road in South Jersey. We just hope that everything we did from the beginning prepares us for the end.”

McGee began the match with a 3-2 win over Angel Bonanno in ultimate tiebreaker at 126 pounds. Bonanno was close to escaping in the final period but he was ruled to have stepped out of bounds first. McGee completed the rideout following the restart to secure the winning point. Long Branch was deducted a team point for misconduct following the bout, so Howell led 3 to -1.

Long Branch gained a brief surge of momentum at 132 when Silva used a four-point move at the buzzer to stun Malone, 6-5. Malone led 5-2 thanks to takedowns in each of the first two periods, but off a late restart Silva backed Malone to the edge of the circle and threw Malone to his back for a takedown and two near-fall points to win the bout. Malone was coming off a sensational performance at last weekend’s SCT where he knocked off three state qualifiers en route to winning the 126-pound bracket and the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler award.

Silva’s victory got the home crowd into it, but Howell began to flex its muscles and pull away. Diedrich, the SCT 132-pound champion, won by 16-1 technical fall over Steven Pabone at 138 to give Howell an 8-2 lead. Ryan Carey, a returning district medalist for Long Branch, won by 6-3 decision over Pierce Gomez at 145 to cut the deficit to 8-5, but the Rebels would win the next five bouts with bonus points to put the match away.

Kelly needed just 27 seconds to pin Qu’ron Wakefield at 152 pounds and Jakub one-upped him by pinning Jack Friedman in 22 seconds at 160 pounds, giving Howell a 20-6 lead. Nase won by 15-0 technical fall over Edgar Padilla at 170 and Reitsma opened a 13-4 lead before pinning Deiondre McCulers in 2:59 at 182. Murphy capped the 29-point run when he pinned La’Qym Morris in 5:13 at 195 pounds.

Howell essentially has three 170-pounders with Reitsma, Murphy and Nase. Reitsma and Murphy were at 170 and 182, respectively, last season and have wrestled mostly at those same weights this season. Nase has spent a lot of time at 195, but during a win over South Plainfield earlier in the season he weighed in at 170 and earned a huge win. That flexibility up top gives the Rebels plenty of options.

“It does, and the three of them between those three weights do a great job,” Gagliano said.

Long Branch stopped Howell’s run when Taylor edged Joe Sardina, 5-4 in double overtime, at 220 pounds. Cerruti, who was seventh in the state at heavyweight last season and recently committed to the University of Rhode Island for football, won 7-1 over Justin Wright at 285.

Howell answered with two more wins as Liptzin won by 11-3 major decision over Dylan Kelleher at 106 and Kyle Nase clipped Joe Conlon with a late takedown to win a highly-entertaining 113-pound bout, 4-3.

Guzman closed the dual with a 13-3 major decision over Frank Sandull, one of Howell’s backup lowerweights.

Howell received what it expected from its hammers and just as pleasing was the rest of the team limiting bonus points, especially to Carey and Cerruti. Long Branch had only one bonus point, which came in the final bout.

“Matches are won by keeping the bonus down and we stress that a lot,” Gagliano said. “Our good guys are going to win and the other guys have to step up and keep the bonus down or off.”

Box Score

No. 1 Howell 44, No. 6 Long Branch 14

*Long Branch deducted one team point after 126 and one team point after 285*

James McGee (Howell) over Angel Bonnano (Long Branch) (UTB 2-1)
Stiviny silva (Long Branch) over Nieko Malone (Howell) (Dec 6-5)
Darby Diedrich (Howell) over Steven Pabone (Long Branch) (TF 16-1 4:12)
Ryan Carey (Long Branch) over Pierce Gomez (Howell) (Dec 6-3)
Xavier Kelly (Howell) over Qu`ron Wakefield (Long Branch) (Fall 0:27)
Paul Jakub (Howell) over Jack Friedman (Long Branch) (Fall 0:22)
Jake Nase (Howell) over Edgar Padilla (Long Branch) (TF 15-0 4:10)
Shane Reitsma (Howell) over Deiondre McCulers (Long Branch) (Fall 2:59)
Christian Murphy (Howell) over La'Qym Morris (Long Branch) (Fall 5:14)
Tracey Taylor (Long Branch) over Joe Sardina (Howell) (TB-1 5-4)
Kevin Cerruti (Long Branch) over Justin Wright (Howell) (Dec 7-1)
Ethan Liptzin (Howell) over Dylan Kelleher (Long Branch) (MD 11-3)
Kyle Nase (Howell) over Joseph Conlon (Long Branch) (Dec 4-3)
Rey Guzman (Long Branch) over Frank Sandull (Howell) (MD 13-3)


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. 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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