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JERSEY CITY — Cippy Apicelli knew exactly what his team had in store for itself when it ventured to St. Peter’s Prep to take on the No. 2 team in the state. For a team with multiple championship aspirations, this was a chance for Ocean to see exactly what it was made of just a few weeks into the season.

The host Marauders pulled away for a 49-21 nonconference victory at ‘The Barn’ on Wednesday night, winning the final six bouts to snap a 21-all tie for their fifth win of the season. The Spartans showed plenty of fight, though, and received some clutch performances that serve as an encouraging reminder of what it will take to win titles in February and March.

“It’s our fifth match of the year, they’re No. 2 in the state, and we have nothing to lose,” Apicelli said. “I thought we could hang with them, and we did for a little bit. This will give our kids some confidence.”

The Spartans won just four of 14 bouts, but it was the little things that pleased Apicelli. Things like Carter Marquette and T.J. Saldutti staying off their backs and limiting bonus points against the talented Burkert twins, Connor and Ryan. Things like Max Rallo tenaciously earning a takedown late in the third period to secure a major decision. Things like Costa Poniros and Andrew MacNeille getting their opponents on their backs, and not letting them escape.

Ocean senior Max Rallo won by major decision over St. Peter's Prep's Nicholas Santos at 120 pounds.
Ocean senior Max Rallo won by major decision over St. Peter's Prep's Nicholas Santos at 120 pounds.

“Those kids (Rallo, Poniros and MacNeille) are going to be counted on to get bonus points for us all year long,”Apicelli. “If you have a kid on his back you have to stick him. And I thought Saldutti (losing by major decision) did a good job against (Ryan) Burkert, and Marquette (losing by technical fall) did a good job against the other one. At some point this year saving those three points is going to win us a match, and it’s important for them to see that.”

Spartans junior Zach Hertling won by fall at 160 pounds to give Ocean a 22-18 lead. Stephen Kellner would outlast Jason Lawhon, 6-4, at 170 pounds, and the victory coupled with a team point being taken away from Ocean because of a bench misconduct tied the match at 21. A pin by Danny Sblendorio at 182 and a major decision by Christian Colucci at 195 pounds opened up a 31-21 lead for St. Peter’s Prep (5-3) with three bouts to go, and consecutive pins by Jordan Fox at 220, Armond Cox at heavyweight and Michael Simonetti at 106 closed out a 28-point victory for a team as deep and balanced as any in the state.

Just as Ocean has a gauntlet of a schedule in front of itself, St. Peter’s Prep has arguably the state’s toughest slate of matches. Both head coaches had the same purpose in mind when they drew it up in the offseason.

“We put the schedule together for individuals getting the competition day after day so they’re used to that come individual postseason time, and as a team getting in dual meets like this against really solid teams like Ocean where different kids have to pull through is going to help us come sectional time,” said St. Peter’s Prep head coach Anthony Verdi.

The Spartans started the dual in a hole, but quickly dug out to take the lead and put the home team on its heels until its powerful upperweights could take over. Alec Kelly, who finished third at the Beast of the East at 106 pounds, won by technical fall, 16-0 in 3:58, over Ocean sophomore Dave Tieto at 113 pounds. Rallo followed with a 10-2 major decision over Nicholas Santos at 120 to cut St. Peter’s lead to 5-4. Rallo opened up an 8-1 lead in the second period with two sets of two near-fall points and a takedown. He chose top position in the third period and came close to turning Santos, but couldn’t get him parallel. He cut Santos loose with under 15 seconds left and immediately secured a takedown near the edge of the circle for the 10-2 victory.

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In the blink of an eye, Poniros and MacNeille pushed Ocean’s lead to 16-5. Poniros took James Handy down immediately at 126 pounds and quickly worked for a turn with a head-and-arm, getting Handy flat for the fall 45 seconds into the first period.

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Before the dust could settle, MacNeille drove Jericho Martinez directly to his back at 132 pounds and squeezed him for a pin in just 31 seconds. Ocean’s bench was alive and the momentum was squarely on the side of the Spartans.

“I think (MacNeille) is kind of overlooked,” Apicelli said. “He was in the region tournament as a sophomore and won 20 matches again last year but got picked off by a good wrestler (Keansburg’s Carlos Fontanez) in the district (22) quarters. His name isn’t out there but the kid works his tail off every single day and he’s going to make some noise this year. He’s a key guy in our lineup.”

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Sonny Simonetti would steal the mojo back from the Spartans, however, with a 9-1 major decision over Grant Brown at 138 pounds. Simonetti, the District 16 runner-up at 126 pounds last season, held a 2-0 lead after the first period and pushed it to 5-0 through two periods. In the third, Simonetti scored a reversal to take a 7-0 lead and then cut Brown free. He secured one last takedown for the 9-1 major decision that cut Ocean’s lead to 16-9.

“Having a couple guys out of the lineup, I’ll be honest, we looked at a few matchups tonight,” Verdi said. “A kid like Sonny Simonetti steps up big time. He has a tough kid in Brown and winds up majoring him. That took the wind out of their sails and brought a lot of momentum to our side of the mat.”

Brown, a junior, was the Region VI fourth-place finisher at 106 pounds when he was a freshman at Christian Brothers Academy.

Connor Burkert followed with a 26-11 technical fall over Marquette in 5:10 at 145 pounds and Ryan Burkert majored Saldutti, 10-2 at 152, to give St. Peter’s Prep an 18-16 lead. Hertling, who weighed in at 152 but bumped up to 160, pinned Gerard Gomilla in 2:18 to put Ocean back in front, 22-18. He took Gomilla down right away in the first period and built a 9-0 lead after one. He chose top position to start the second and ran double arm bars on Gomilla to record the fall.

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St. Peter’s Prep would win out from 170-on for the comfortable win, but that wasn’t unexpected. The Spartans came to Jersey City less looking for the shocking upset and more hoping to learn a few things about their team and prepare themselves for the many challenges that lie ahead in the Shore Conference and state tournaments. They what they were looking for.

“This isn’t a knock against anyone on our schedule, but no one else is ranked No. 2 in the state, so this is the best we’re going to see,” Apicelli said. “I thought we gave a pretty good effort. We have to minimize bonus points and some things like that, but those guys are very good.”

“We have a bunch (of tough teams) coming up so we can say we’ve been there. We’ll be prepared for it and nobody is going to be intimidated.”

Box Score


St. Peter's Prep 49, No. 8 Ocean 21
113: Alec Kelly (SPP) tf. Dave Tieto 3:58 (16-0)
120: Max Rallo (O) md. Nicholas Santos 10-2
126: Costa Poniros (O) p. James Handy 0:45
132: Andrew MacNeille (O) p. Jericho Martinez 0:31
138: Sonny Simonetti (SPP) md. Grant Brown 9-1
145: Connor Burkert (SPP) tf. Carter Marquette 5:10 (26-11)
152: Ryan Burkert (SPP) md. T.J. Saldutti 10-2
160: Zach Hertling (O) p. Gerard Gomilla 2:18
170: Stephen Kellner (SPP) d. Jason Lawhon 6-4
182: Danny Sblendorio (SPP) p. Viet Le 3:10
195: Christian Colucci (SPP) md. Tyler Thompson 18-5
220: Jordan Fox (SPP) p. Dan Loizos 1:46
Hwt: Armond Cox (SPP) p. Michael Rodriguez 0:53
106: Michael Simonetti (SPP) p. Nicholas Villapiano 2:47

Records: at St. Peter's Prep (5-3): Ocean (4-1).

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