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STAFFORD TOWNSHIP – As Toms River North readied itself for Tuesday night’s mammoth Shore Conference Class A South dual against Southern, assistant coach Vin Cosenzo tossed a hypothetical question to head coach Bill Wilbert.

“Right before we were leaving Cosenzo says to me, ‘If you could pick a weight, where would you want to start?’ and I said 132,” Wilbert said. “’That’s an ideal location. Let’s finish with Jake and Ryan (Rosenthal) again’.”

Well, wouldn’t you know how it all played out. Down by eight points with three bouts left, Toms River North had Southern right where it wanted them.

A major decision by Alex Danelson at 113 pounds kept Toms River North alive before brothers Ryan and Jake Rosenthal sealed the deal in the final two weights as the Mariners, ranked No. 3 in the Shore Sports Network Top, rallied to defeat No. 1 Southern, 28-26, in an excellent A-South dual between two of New Jersey’s best teams. At 120 pounds, Ryan Rosenthal scored a 3-0 decision over Southern’s Jayson Scerbo in a matchup of returning state qualifiers before Jake Rosenthal secured a walk-off 8-6 decision over Southern freshman Nick Bennet at 126 pounds.

“Right when it was picked (132 as the starting weight) I had a feeling it was going to come down to me and my brother,” Jake Rosenthal said. “I was going to make sure we were beating Southern.”

“Finishing with those three guys, we knew we were in good shape,” Wilbert said.

Toms River North had taken an 18-17 lead following a 3-0 decision by senior Mike Nakano over Gabe Murry at 220 pounds, but Southern went back in front when JT Cornelius blanked John O’Donnell, 2-0, in a matchup of two of the Shore’s best at 285 pounds. Then at 106 pounds, Southern freshman Conor Collins nearly blew the roof off the building with a clutch pin over Toms River North sophomore Cole Anderson late in the second period. The Rams now led 26-18 with three bouts left. The math was simple for Toms River North: win out.

With no margin for error, Danelson delivered a 14-3 major decision over Southern sophomore Pat Iacoves on the strength of seven points in the third period. Danelson scored two takedowns in the final period and added a set of two near-fall points to close the gap to 26-22.

“The two Rosenthals are ranked in the Shore and everybody knows who they are and Danelson kind of gets lost in the mix and you forget how tough he is,” Wilbert said. “You see it on a night like tonight where he comes out and outpaces a guy and is on him relentlessly for three periods. We know we’re going to get that out of Danelson.”

Toms River North won the ever-important pre-match flip and was able to dictate certain matchups, one of which ended up being getting Ryan Rosenthal on Scerbo whether it be at 120 or 126. Scerbo reached the third round of wrestlebacks at last year’s state tournament while Rosenthal reached the fourth round of wrestlebacks, one win short of a state medal. When Southern sent out Scerbo at 120, Ryan Rosenthal immediately followed. After a scoreless first period, Scerbo took defense and Rosenthal was able to use a tilt to turn him or two near-fall points. He added an escape in the third and expertly worked through a couple of scrambles to earn a 3-0 decision and set up his brother to win the match.

“The tilt is my go-to and I’m most comfortable on top,” Ryan Rosenthal said. “I believe in the hard work I put in and I went out there and wrestled my match and got the job done.”

The match was now in the hands of Bennet and Jake Rosenthal, and the Toms River North sophomore came out strong with a takedown on the edge and another later in the period to lead 4-1. Bennet escaped in the second to make it 4-2 and nearly had the tying takedown but Rosenthal slipped out and got two of his own, taking a 6-3 lead into the third. Rosenthal chose neutral to start the third period and took Bennet down again to go up 8-3. Bennet escaped and scored a late takedown on the edge of the circle, but Rosenthal was able to hold on for the 8-6 match-clinching victory.

“(Wilbert) was like, ‘Let’s do it again. You did it last year and you can do it again’, and I was like ‘Yeah, I’m doing this. Nobody is taking it from me’,” Jake Rosenthal said.

With wins over Southern and fifth-ranked Jackson Memorial, Toms River North has the inside track to repeat as Class A South champion, which is something it has never done. A match with No. 4 Brick Memorial on Jan. 22 represents the last major obstacle in the Mariners’ path.

As is usually the case in tight dual-meet wins of this magnitude, there were several heroes in addition to the closers. Toms River North won eight of the 14 bouts – all of them critical – but none turned the tide like Justin Burkert’s 11-6 win over Ben LoParo at 182 pounds. LoParo is a two-time district medalist and a literally strong presence in the Rams’ lineup. Burkert has no postseason accolades to speak of and is in his first year at Toms River North after transferring from Jackson Memorial.

LoParo got in on a shot in the first period, picked Burkert up high and brought him down to the mat, momentarily to his back. But before LoParo could even secure the takedown Burkert turned the tables and put the Southern senior to his back for a five-point move. He was mere inches from securing the fall but LoParo got free to survive into the second. The bout was even from that point on, but the big move was enough for Burkert to secure the upset.

“Unexpected, didn’t think we’d get that one,” Wilbert said. “LoParo is a stud. I know Burkert is tough and he’s got a real good hold and he can find it on people, but I wasn’t sure we’d find it on a big, strong guy like LoParo. Burkert did his job and pulled one out for us. That was huge.”

The other victories started with O’Neil Forbes getting North on the board with a 5-1 decision over Jason Sari at 145 pounds. Standout senior Nick Boggiano, the state eighth-place medalist at 145 pounds last season, delivered crucial bonus points in winning by fall at 152 pounds. At 195, senior James Elias defeated Stephen Jennings, 8-4, in a must-have toss-up bout.

“That’s a pretty even matchup with those two and we were pumping up Elias,” Wilbert said. “He hasn’t been with us the last two years; he came out as a freshman and missed his sophomore and junior seasons working on football. We convinced him to come out for his senior year and we’re glad he did.”

In many ways, Toms River North did to Southern what the Rams have done to countless opponents over the years.

“We’ve been watching Southern for a long time, they break people late, they out-condition people, they work hard in the third and score points when they need to, and we’ve been going off that mentality,” Wilbert said. “After grinding one out against them last year we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Pushing the pace, going hard in the third period, being tough on top; us doing the little things right and everybody playing their part.”

“We’re battle-tested and we’ve been in these situations having Howell on the schedule early, being in a dogfight with Kingsway, wrestling teams like South Plainfield and Paulsboro, we know how to win, I think. We’re in those situations a lot now and these guys are feeding off that energy and expecting to win.”

There’s a decent shot these two teams meet again. Three of the best teams in the state are once again in the same state bracket with Howell, Toms River North and Southern – the top three teams in the Shore Conference – all in the South Jersey Group 5 section. Earning the No. 1 seed will be gigantic because it means having to defeat only one of the other two juggernauts. The Mariners did their part on Tuesday night.

“This is an awesome step and we want to win A-South, but our biggest goal is Group 5,” Ryan Rosenthal said. “That’s been our goal since the beginning of the season. We beat them last year and then they ended up winning it. This is just one step.”

“I’m hoping we don’t have to see them both but we’ll see how the power points shake out,” Wilbert said. “I don’t know who the No. 1 seed is going to be with us, Southern and Howell but it’s three evenly-matched teams and it’s going to be an exciting finish.”


Box Score

No. 3 Toms River North 28, No. 1 Southern 26

132Eddie Hummel (Southern) over Lucas Iovino (Toms River North) (Fall 2:26)
138Matt Brielmeier (Southern) over Mark Fedeli (Toms River North) (MD 9-0)
145O`Neil Forbes (Toms River North) over Jason Sari (Southern) (Dec 5-1)
152Cole Velardi (Southern) over Sergio Borda (Toms River North) (Dec 9-3)
160Nick Boggiano (Toms River North) over Brock Lefkus (Southern) (Fall 0:21)
170Robert Woodcock (Southern) over Matt Spalletta (Toms River North) (MD 20-7)
182Justin Burkert (Toms River North) over Ben LoParo (Southern) (Dec 11-6)
195James Elias (Toms River North) over Stephen Jennings (Southern) (Dec 8-4)
220Michael Nakano (Toms River North) over Gabe Murray (Southern) (Dec 3-0)
285JT Cornelius (Southern) over John O`Donnell (Toms River North) (Dec 2-0)
106Conor Collins (Southern) over Cole Anderson (Toms River North) (Fall 3:49)
113Alex Danelson (Toms River North) over Pat Iacoves (Southern) (MD 14-3)
120Ryan Rosenthal (Toms River North) over Jayson Scerbo (Southern) (Dec 3-0)
126Jake Rosenthal (Toms River North) over Nick Bennet (Southern) (Dec 8-6)


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at 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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