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POINT PLEASANT BOROUGH – Lacey senior Michael Angelo Santiago had yet to win a bout this season entering Wednesday night’s match. He had just four wins last season and he’s only been wrestling for a total of three years.

There are several more talented and experienced wrestlers on Lacey’s roster, but in a huge spot, head coach Justin Bonitatis was more than happy to send out a wrestler he knew would refuse to let his team down.

With four bouts remaining and Lacey trailing Point Boro by two points, Santiago delivered a crucial victory at 160 pounds by rallying for a 12-9 victory over Connor Robinson, giving the Lions the lead for good on their way to a critically-important 36-22 Class B South victory that put them in the fast lane for the division title.

Down 6-2 midway through the second period, Santiago scored the final 10 offensive points of the bout, including eight in the third period. His takedown with 46 seconds left in the third period gave him a 10-8 lead and he added another takedown with six seconds left to clinch the win.

After taking down the four-time defending division champion Panthers, Lacey is now the frontrunner to claim the division title for the first time since 1999.

“I’ll tell you right now, no one on this team has worked harder than Michael Angelo since we got him his sophomore year,” Bonitatis said. “He’s a three-year wrestler, period, but no one will outwork him in the room and no one has as much toughness as that kid. He saved a lot of duals last year by not getting pinned and staying solid for our team. Tonight was his opportunity to showcase that and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

“The team, I was just thinking of them and that they needed me,” Santiago said. “It pushed me through.”

Santiago’s victory gave Lacey a 23-22 lead and began a run of four straight wins to close the match. James Circle followed with a major decision at 170 pounds, Matt Coon scored a takedown with four seconds left to win 3-1 at 182 pounds and clinch the match and senior Vin Ceglie punctuated the huge win with a pin at 195 pounds. Lacey won nine of the 14 bouts and secured bonus points in four of them.

While the Lions still have work to do to officially claim the division title, the major hurdle has been cleared. Championships have eluded Lacey in recent years, from down-to-the-wire clashes with Point Boro for the B-South title to heartbreaking defeats at the hands of Delsea in the South Jersey Group 3 final. On Wednesday night they finally put it all together and finished off a major team victory.

“These kids have continued to work hard day-in and day-out despite the challenges and adversity, and there’s a lot of that going on this year,” Bonitatis said. “They’re a resilient group of kids. We have some great young wrestlers and some upperclassmen and seniors who are buying in. When we work together as one unit and wrestle with one common goal we’re going to accomplish great things.”

“I feel like it's just a different atmosphere (this year),” Santiago said. “With COVID and everything we’re grateful to be on the mat right now and to be able to wrestle. This was our opportunity to make it big and that was something that pushed us.”

Lacey received two significant boosts to their lineup with the season debuts of junior Brady Carter and senior Vin Ceglie. Carter was a state qualifier as a freshman but was limited to just five bouts last season because of an injury and had yet to take the mat this season. Ceglie was a Shore Conference champion last season and was a state qualifier as a sophomore. Carter won by decision at 120 pounds and Ceglie won by fall at 195.

“We’ve been a team that has been missing hammers in previous years and we’re still missing some, but it’s next man up,” Bonitatis said. “But yeah, Ceglie and Brady bring a different aura to the team. Overall, we just came together as a team and that’s what got the job done.”

Point Boro started fast when senior Patrick Frawley, ranked No. 6 at 220 pounds in the SSN individual rankings, scored five points in the third period to win by 9-1 major decision over Mark Aquirre. At heavyweight, Luke Wilson ran a half-nelson to turn John Dodaro in the second period and finished off the fall to give the Panthers a 10-0 lead.

Lacey freshman John Downs used a big size advantage over Jared Drewes at 106 ponds to secure a 17-1 technical fall and cut Point Boro’s lead in half. Point Boro then forfeited the 113-pound bout to Aidan Ott and the Lions took an 11-10 lead. Carter followed with an 8-6 decision over Lucas Sabo at 120 pounds, scoring four takedowns to lead 8-4 before Sabo scored on a late takedown.

At 126 pounds, junior Mason Heck had a takedown in the first period and another in the second to blank Nate Fletcher, 4-0, and give Lacey a 17-10 lead. Point Boro answered at 132 when freshman Ryan Acquisto won 6-2 over fellow freshman Matt Gauthier on the strength of a takedown and three near-fall points late in the first period. Andre Ferrauiolo then won a key toss-up bout at 138 pounds with a 6-3 win over Charlie Latendorf to give the Lions a 20-13 lead halfway through the dual.

Point Boro was able to pull an upset at 145 pounds when sophomore Jack Thompson defeated Collin Rolak, 7-4. Rolak was ranked No. 8 at 145 pounds and is a two-time district medalist. Senior standout Jack Bailey, ranked No. 7 in a loaded 152-pound weight class, then gave Point Boro a 22-20 lead when he pinned Kevin Fazio in 2:26.

That’s where Santiago came through with the biggest win of his career and set the Lions up to win their first division title in 22 years.

“You need guys to rise to the occasion, to believe in their preparation and their work,” Bonitatis said. “Today we had kids that did that, and that’s a good feeling.”

Lacey wrestles Donovan Catholic on Thursday and Jackson Liberty on Saturday in Class B South duals and will still have Barnegat and Manchester the following week. But in defeating Point Boro, a program with 29 division titles and 14 since Lacey won its first and only outright division crown, the Lions are certainly the heavy favorite.

“(Point Boro) is a tough team and is always going to be a tough team,” Bonitatis said. “They’re well-coached and the program has a tradition they’re proud of. We showed up today and got it done, but it’s not over yet. We still have to stay low and forward and hopefully at the end of the season we win that B-South title.”

Check back for a photo gallery by Richard O'Donnell


Box Score

Lacey 36, Point Boro 22

No. 6 Patrick Frawley (Point Boro) over Mark Aguirre (Lacey) (MD 9-1)
Luke Wilson (Point Boro) over John Dodaro (Lacey) (Fall 4:47)
John Downs (Lacey) over Jared Drewes (Point Boro) (TF 17-1 0:00)
Aidan Ott (Lacey) over Unknown (For.)
Brady Carter (Lacey) over No. 8 Lucas Sabo (Point Boro) (Dec 8-6)
No. 9 Mason Heck (Lacey) over Nate Fletcher (Point Boro) (Dec 4-0)
Ryan Acquisto (Point Boro) over Matt Gauthier (Lacey) (Dec 6-2)
Andre Ferrauiolo (Lacey) over Charles Latendorf (Point Boro) (Dec 6-4)
Jack Thompson (Point Boro) over No. 8 Collin Rolak (Lacey) (Dec 7-4)
No. 7 Jack Bailey (Point Boro) over Kevin Fazio (Lacey) (Fall 2:26)
Michael Angelo Santiago (Lacey) over Connor Robinson (Point Boro) (Dec 12-9)
James Circle (Lacey) over Vinny Acquisto (Point Boro) (MD 13-5)
Matt Coon (Lacey) over Gavin O`Connor (Point Boro) (Dec 3-1)
No. 2 Vincent Ceglie (Lacey) over Andrew Witkowski (Point Boro) (Fall 5:54)


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