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COLTS NECK — Down by 15 points with just three bouts to go, it certainly appeared Long Branch was going to come up just short in its Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal match against Colts Neck.

Then, some magic.

Senior Hunter Marhan completed a dramatic comeback with a pin in the final bout at 220 pounds as the fifth-seeded Green Wave closed the match with three straight pins to stun fourth-seeded Colts Neck, 31-28, on Thursday night and advance to the semifinals of the Shore Conference Tournament.

Senior Justin Navarro got the rally started with a pin at 182 pounds, and junior Peter Wersinger, ranked No. 7 at 182 pounds by theshoreconference.com, shocked Colts Neck senior Steven Barsky (ranked No. 2 at 195) with first-period pin to set up Marhan for the walk-off win by fall.

“I can’t say anything more about this team, we always have each other’s backs,” Marhan said. “We had to go big or go home, so we went big.”

Long Branch will wrestle top-seeded Howell in one of the SCT semifinals at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Jackson Liberty High School. The winner will face the winner of the other semifinal pitting second-seeded Raritan and third-seeded Middletown North. Long Branch last reached the SCT semifinals in 2014 and its last title came in 2010 to cap a run of three straight SCT championships.

“This was our biggest win in a while and great for all the young kids to see,” said Long Branch head coach Danny George. “2008, 9 and 10 are long gone, and even 2012 when we won a sectional title is long gone. These guys haven’t experienced this excitement. (After the 170-pound bout) they’re kind of looking at each other like it’s over, but the next think you know it, boom! Our big dogs came through for us.”

Colts Neck (25-2) appeared to have taken a commanding 28-13 lead with three bouts to go when freshman Kenny Koenig beat Danny Santos-Silva, 6-4 at 170 pounds, with a buzzer-beating reversal. That left Long Branch needing three straight wins with bonus points to pull out the win. Even a tie wouldn’t do because Koenig’s win gave Colts Neck eight bouts won for the first tie-breaking criteria.

George also had some thinking to do about who to send out at 182 pounds. Colts Neck had standout sophomore Michael Jannucci weighed in, but Jannucci has a cast on his broken hand and it was determined by the officials prior to the night’s matches he could not wrestle with it.

“Their boy couldn’t wrestle because of the cast, but they said they would cut it off so he could wrestle,” George. “That’s something Dan George might have done in 1988, but I don’t think you can do that today. I took a gamble putting out Navarro and holding Wersinger, because if they can put Jannucci out there the match is probably over.”

Jannucci did not wrestle and Colts Neck instead had to send out sophomore Tristan McMerty. Navarro built a 9-0 lead after the first period and turned McMerty midway through the second period for the fall, cutting Colts Neck’s lead to 28-19. Long Branch’s slim chance at the win still had life.

“Navarro is just so aggressive and attacks so hard that he had a great chance to get the pin,” George said.

The heavy lifting still had to be done at 195 with Barsky taking the mat for Colts Neck. The senior has battled an injury all season and appeared in just six bouts prior to Thursday, but was 5-1 with five pins and had his only loss come via injury default. Thursday’s match was also the first time he had wrestled since January 14.

The bout was scoreless for the first 90 seconds until Wersinger countered a shot by Barsky and threw him right to his back. With the clock ticking toward zero in the first period, Barsky fought to keep his shoulders off the mat, but with one second left Wersinger secured the fall to pull Long Branch to within 28-25 heading to the final bout.

“He tried to hit the fireman's (carry) on me,” Wersinger said. “This was a revenge match because last year he stuck me in the first period. He was ranked second at 195 in the Shore and I knew I could make a real statement here.”

“We didn’t draw that up, Wersinger is just a gamer,” George said. “We needed bonus, but I’ve wrestled for coaches that have said, ‘I need you to win by this, you need to get four points’, but I’ve never done that. I didn’t say a word to him other than ‘go get ‘em’. He knew that kid was a stud. He knew that kid was an animal. Peter has been the kid I’ve bumped up all year. He goes after people.”

Marhan was heavily favored over junior T.J. DiMario at 220 and, after building a 5-1 lead, took DiMario straight to his back late in the second period to secure the pin and send Long Branch into the semifinals despite winning just six bouts. The Green Wave (16-5) had four pins and one major decision. George said it’s the first time in his 27-year coaching career he’s won a match winning six bouts.

The score went back and forth over the first six bouts with neither team able to open up a sizable advantage. Senior Vinnie Gargiulo won 5-2 over Kevin Cerruti at heavyweight to give Colts Neck a 3-0 lead, but freshman Ryan Zimmerman won by fall at 106 over Vincent Franzone to put Long Branch ahead, 6-3.

Colts Neck then won the next two bouts as junior Joey King won by 15-2 major decision over Rey Guzman at 113 and junior Dyon Womack clipped Carlos Irizarry, 3-2, at 120 pounds for a 10-6 Cougars lead. Long Branch answered with two consecutive wins as junior Chris Dean won by 18-5 major decision over Anthony Lombardo at 126 and Stiviny Silva defeated Nick Lines, 15-8, at 138. Lines saved bonus points, however, when he hit a five-point move down 15-3 in the third period, nearly pinning Silva in the process.

Long Branch led 13-10 heading to 138 pounds, but that advantage was quickly erased by five straight Colts Neck victories. Steven Kramer cinched a cradle on Ryan Carey for a fall in 1:24 and Ben Sammarco defeated Isaac Shohet, 5-1 at 145 pounds, for a 19-13 lead. Nick Cilea used a third-period takedown to edge Luke Arnold, 3-2, in a crucial bout at 152 pounds and Dominick Esposito held off a late charge by Louie Saez to win 9-6 at 160 pounds.

At 170 Koenig led 4-1 heading to the third period, but an escape and takedown by Santos-Silva knotted the bout at four apiece. Santos-Silva was close to near-fall points late in the bout, but Koenig turned the tables with a last-second reversal for a 6-4 win.

From there Long Branch needed some heroics, and in pulling off an improbable win the Green Wave learned something about their makeup.

“It shows my team you’re never out of it,” George said. “You can only show so many highlight films and talk about tradition so much. They have to experience it.”

The next task will be trying to derail a Howell team that is the consensus No. 1 team in the Shore and a top-10 team in New Jersey.

“We’re just going to go wrestle,” George said. “It’s all about effort and opportunity. We’ll show up and wrestle and go after it, and find out what happens.”

Box Score


5-Long Branch 31, 4-Colts Neck 28

Hwt: Vinnie Gargiulo (CN) d. Kevin Cerruti 5-2

106: Ryan Zimmerman (LB) p. Vincent Franzone 0:53

113: Joey King (CN) md. Rey Guzman 15-2

120: Dyon Womack (CN) d. Carlos Irizarry 3-2

126: Chris Dean (LB) md. Anthony Lombardo 18-5

132: Stiviny Silva (LB) d. Nick Lines 15-8

138: Steven Kramer (CN) p. Ryan Carey 1:24

145: Ben Sammarco (CN) d. Isaac Shohet 5-1

152: Nick Cilea (CN) d. Luke Arnold 3-2

160: Dominick Esposito (CN) d. Louie Saez 9-6

170: Kenny Koenig (CN) d. Danny Santos-Silva 6-4

182: Justin Navarro (LB) p. Tristan McMerty 3:00

195: Peter Wersinger (LB) p. Steven Barsky 1:59

220: Hunter Marhan (LB) p. T.J. DiMario 3:59

Records: at Colts Neck (25-2); Long Branch (16-5).

Pre-quarterfinal results


Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.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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