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HOWELL — The Shore Conference Class A North division title goes through Howell, and once again the Rebels have a clear path to another championship.

Howell, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, took a major step to securing a 12th straight division title by beating No. 5 Colts Neck, 48-21, on Friday night. The Rebels won 10 of 14 bouts and secured bonus points in eight victories to hand the Cougars (16-1) their first loss of the season.

Jesse Liptzin (106), Shane Reitsma (170) and Joe Sardina (182) each won by fall while Eric Keosseian at 220 and Xavier Kelly at 145 delivered technical falls. Dan Esposito won by major decision at 132 pounds, as did Christian Murphy at 160 with a late takedown. Jake Nash picked up a crucial win at heavyweight and Darby Diedrich won by decision at 120 pounds.

Colts Neck received pins from Steven Barsky at 195, Joey King at 113 and Steven Kramer at 138 pounds, plus a win by decision at 152 pounds by Dominick Esposito.

“Colts Neck comes in with a perfect record in a big A North match and our guys are battle-tested,” said Howell head coach John Gagliano. “They know in a big match what they have to do.”

“We wanted to be there at the end but unfortunately it didn’t happen,” said Colts Neck head coach Brett Jankos. “Some of our bigger guys - King, Barsky and Kramer - went out and got six and those are the matches you need bonus points. If you’re going to beat a team like Howell you have to get bonus points and win close matches.”

Colts Neck was without four starters once again as two wrestlers did not weigh in stemming from a violation of team rules. Also, junior 145-pounder Liam Hoagland is out for the remainder of the season after suffering an eye injury last Saturday and sophomore 182-pounder Michael Jannucci has a broken hand. Jannucci did weigh in but did not wrestle in the final bout since the team score was not close.

“I’m always looking forward but you can’t not (think about missing starters),” Jankos said. “We had a great team with everyone coming back. I was very optimistic but injuries are unavoidable. Disciplinary issues are avoidable but you make a decision and you stick by it.”

If Colts Neck had a full lineup it still would have been a tall order against the powerful Rebels. Last season Colts Neck won its first NJSIAA sectional match in program history, beating Jankos’ alma mater, Brick Memorial. The Cougars returned all 14 starters plus several depth wrestlers and had high expectations for this season. Across the gym Friday night was a Howell team that is everything Colts Neck is trying to build toward.

“Our kids have never wrestled in an atmosphere like this and have not wrestled a team as tough as Howell. On our schedule we have some decent teams but nothing at this level. Howell is Howell. I coached here and know what goes on: the tradition, the coaching, tough kids. They have a culture here and we’re trying to get our program to something like that.”

Even though Colts Neck wasn’t at full strength it didn’t change Howell’s approach.

“We didn’t take them lightly,” Gagliano said. “They are a well-coached, solid team. We went out there with our best.”

Despite the dominance on the scoreboard, Gagliano saw plenty of room for improvement.

“We left too many (points) on the board,” Gagliano said. “The only way to fix that is to refocus and practice. I saw good things tonight, but not great things. We have a lot to improve on.”

Barsky staked Colts Neck to a 6-0 lead with a 52-second pin at 195 pounds, but Howell came right back with bonus points of its own as Keosseian, the eighth-place finisher in the state tournament at 220 pounds last season, won by 17-2 technical fall over T.J. DiMario. At heavyweight, Nash won a key bout against Vinnie Gargiulo with two takedowns in the third period to win 5-2 and give Howell an 8-6 lead.


Liptzin’s pin over Vincent Franzone at 106 stretched the Rebels’ lead to 14-6, but King picked up a huge fall for Colts Neck when he built an 8-0 lead on Howell standout freshman Luke Rada before pinning him in 3:24, pulling Colts Neck within two points at 14-12.  

Diedrich was down at 120 pounds for the first time since opening day and scored a 12-5 decision over Dyon Womack. Colts Neck then forfeited to Kyle Slendorn at 126 pounds to make it 23-12. A 20-7 major decision by Dan Esposito at 132 pounds where he scored eight takedowns extended Howell’s edge to 27-12.

Colts Neck stuck around thanks to Kramer cinching in a cradle and pinning Evan Richard in 50 seconds at 138 pounds, but the any momentum was quickly halted by Xavier Kelly’s 19-3 technical fall over Ben Sammarco at 145 pounds.  

Esposito won 14-8 over Nick Sulkowski at 152 pounds for Colts Neck’s final win as Howell closed the match with three straight victories. Murphy got takedowns with under 10 seconds left in the first, second and third periods, the final score giving him an 11-3 major decision over Nick Cilea at 160 pounds. Reitsma, who is undefeated as a freshman, stuck Michael Sherman in 47 seconds at 170 pounds and Sardina pinned A.J. Royle in 3:30 in the final bout.


Box Score

No. 1 Howell 48, No. 5 Colts Neck 21

195: Steve Barsky (CN) p. Danny Schick 0:52

220: Eric Keosseian (H) tf. T.J. DiMario 17-2

Hwt: Jake Nash (H) d.  Vinnie Gargiulo 5-2

106: Jesse Liptzin (H) p. Vincent Franzone 2:42

113: Joey King (CN) p. Luke Rada 3:24

120: Darby Diedrich (H) d. Dyon Womack 12-5

126: Kyle Slendorn (H) by forfeit

132: Dan Esposito (H) md. Anthony Lombardo 20-7

138: Steven Kramer (CN) p. Evan Richard 0:50

145: Xavier Kelly (H) tf. Ben Sammarco 4:00 (19-3)

152: Dominick Esposito (CN) d. Nick Sulkowski 14-8

160: Christian Murphy (H) md. Nick Cilea 11-3

170: Shane Reitsma (H) p. Michael Sherman 0:47

182: Joe Sardina (H) p. A.J. Royle 3:30

Records: at Howell (12-1, 4-0); Colts Neck (16-1, 2-1).


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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