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TOMS RIVER -- The bright lights of the big stage can do a number on a wrestler if they’re not ready for what lies ahead. But the high stakes of the individual postseason can also bring out the best in them, especially for those who usually do their work on the periphery.

On Friday night at Toms River North's RWJBarnabas Health Arena, the two biggest upsets of the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA Region 6 Tournament came from a pair of unheralded wrestlers from a state power. The No. 2 seed at 126 pounds went down, then the No. 3 seed at 132 fell. In both instances, the name on the singlet of the victor was the same: HOWELL.

Sophomore 126-pounder Sawyer Ostroff and junior 132-pounder Kieran Bruen stole the show on Day 1 of the Region 6 Tournament to move one win away from qualifying for next week's state tournament. First, it was Ostroff, the No. 7 seed at 126, pinning the No. 2 seed, Toms River North's Cole Anderson, with four seconds left in the first period.

Anderson had taken down Ostroff twice in the first period, but that didn't serve as a deterrent. In fact, the early part of the bout told Ostroff not only could he win, but he could get Anderson on his back.

"I was slow on my feet at first but after he took me down I felt I could beat him and that he wasn't better than me," Ostroff said. "I worked for my bar; that's what I've been doing all year and it works on a lot of kids if you get it right. I saw him kind of tilt over my arm a little bit so I just stacked him up real quick and got the pin."

Ironically, it was a loss during the NJSIAA Group 5 state final that instilled some confidence in Ostroff. In that match, Ostroff dropped a 5-4 decision to Phillipsburg's James Day two days after Day handed Southern's Wyatt Stout his only loss of the season. The plan was for Ostroff to prevent bonus points. Instead, he nearly won the bout.

"Going into the match I thought just (saving) team points and trying to keep it close," Ostroff said. "After I got the reversal on him to tie it I thought, 'hey, I can beat this kid'."

Ostroff will face Ocean sophomore James Farina, a returning state qualifier, in the semifinals on Saturday morning. A win there puts him in the region final and punches his ticket to Atlantic City.

"I've never wrestled him before," Ostroff said. "I know he's a tough opponent but he's definitely beatable. Everyone is beatable."

Even though Ostroff's win was technically the bigger upset given the seeds, Bruen's victory was even more impressive considering the previous result between him and his opponent. In the District 22 final, Bruen didn't just lose to Colts Neck's Michael Lyristis, he was blown out of the water via a 17-2 technical fall. The rematch was completely different.

Bruen, seeded sixth at 132 pounds, turned the tables on third-seed Lyristis with a 12-8 victory to advance to the region semifinals. After repeatedly falling victim to the 6-foot-1 Lyristis's cradle in the district final, Bruen came in with an entirely new game plan on Friday. Lyristis nearly got him in the second period when he turned him for three near-fall points, but Bruen scored a reversal to tie the bout 4-4. In the third period, Bruen stayed on his feet and scored four takedowns to take control of the bout.

"I feel like I came into the match last time a little too cocky. I wasn't thinking about the match, I was thinking about how I was going to do at regions," Bruen said. "That loss definitely humbled me. I had to put in the work. Ever since the seeds came out I've trained to wrestle that match again."

The loss to Lyrisits was a blessing in disguise in that it helped Bruen re-focus and also gave him a roadmap to victory if they ever wrestled again.

"Last time all he did was cradle me so I knew I had to seal myself on the whistle and be the aggressor because all he had was that slide-by," Bruen said. "Every time I put my left arm on his shoulder he would slide me by and I knew from practice that when he can't get that he does to a desperation shot. I had my left arm down the whole time ready to catch that shot and I capitalized off it."

Bruen will wrestle Shore's Gabe Scalise (41-2) in the semifinals.

While Howell wrestlers performing well at the Region 6 Tournament is nothing new, the same can't be said for Freehold Boro. The Colonials haven't had a lot of postseason success in their history. They went 54 years in between region champions spanning state champion Carlos Fontanez's 1964 region title to Nico Messina winning in 2018. Messina went on to re-write the Freehold record book with three region crowns, a state medal, and 143 career wins and is currently a wrestler at Rutgers University. He has been the exception, however.

02/25/2022 - NJSIAA Region 6 Quarterfinals
Freehold's Joe Berryman vs. Howell's Nick Acque. (Richard E. O'Donnell)
02/25/2022 - NJSIAA Region 6 Quarterfinals
Freehold's Angelo Messina vs. Brick Memorial's Lucas Torre. (Richard E. O'Donnell)

This year has been different on Robertsville Road. The Colonials, led by 17th-year head coach Matt Shepherd, went undefeated in Class B North competition to win the first division title in program history. And now, they will enter Saturday with five region semifinalists and one more still going in the consolation bracket after a banner Friday night.

Junior Angelo Messina at 126, junior Michael Connelly at 138, junior Joe Berryman at 157, senior Brandon Smith at 165, and senior Alberto Pantoja at 215 each won their quarterfinals bouts to continue Freehold's breakout season.

Messina, the No. 4 seed, won by injury default over Brick Memorial's Lucas Torre in a bout he was winning. Connelly, seeded fifth, used a takedown in the first period and another in the second period to defeat Ocean's Gio Poniros, 4-3. Berryman reversed a district final loss to Howell's Nick Acque with a 10-7 decision. Smith pinned Hamilton West's Elston Peralta in 3:17. Pantoja scored a 9-2 victory over Ewing's Collin Elam.

"I thought if we wrestled to our potential this is what we could do," Shepherd said. "This comes from our middle school, from our rec, from my staff, and from the 45 kids in the room who come to work every day. What we preach is: score the next point, don't get too high, don't get too low, and don't make a match too big. You go around this arena and we haven't been here (for regions). We were at Jackson Liberty and Brick Memorial but we haven't been here for this and when there's this many people your eyes can get real big, real quick. I thought we did a great job settling down and focusing on what we do."

The difficulty will rachet up several notches for Freehold on Saturday morning. Messina faces the No. 1 seed. Christian Brothers Academy senior and two-time state medalist Garrett Totten. Connelly gets CBA's Julian George, the No. 1 seed, a returning state medalist, and the No. 1-ranked 138-pounder in the state. Berryman also faces the No. 1 seed in the form of CBA's Zander Silva. Smith is the No. 2 seed but has a tough matchup with Colts Neck's Ford Zajac, who he defeated, 8-6, in the District 22 semifinals. Pantoja will square off against CBA's Robert Canterino, who is also the No. 1 seed.

Additionally, senior heavyweight Jonathan Johnson will try to win two bouts in the wrestlebacks to qualify for the state tournament. Shepherd's message to those six wrestlers will be to seize the moment and don't settle.

"I have confidence in all my guys," Shepherd said. "It's going to be a tough road. We're in the deep end of the pool but we belong in that pool. Don't look around and say this is pretty cool because we're Freehold and we won a couple matches. Act like you belong here, because you do. And if you lose get though the 'backs and get to the state tournament. Nobody cares how you get there, just get to the state tournament."

Other notable bouts included a pair of thrillers at 106 pounds. Wall freshman Michael DiBiase put Point Boro freshman Joey DeAngelo to his back in the third period on his way to a 6-3 decision. Jackson Liberty sophomore Anthony Urso avoided an upset bid by scoring a takedown in the final seconds to defeat Brick Memorial freshman Gavin Martin, 5-4.

At 132, Toms River North sophomore Joe Dolci won 2-1 over CBA freshman AJ Falcone in a rematch of their District 21 semifinal bout won by Dolci, 6-1. The bout was tied 1-1 in the third period when the second stalling call against Falcone provided Dolci the go-ahead point.

At heavyweight, Brick Memorial senior Sam Azzaretti defeated Freehold's Johnson, 6-2, to avenge two losses to Johnson this season.




1-Tyler Venet (CBA) p. 8-Michael Hynes (Freehold Township), 2:27

5-Michael DiBiase (Wall) d. 4-Joey DeAngelo (Point Boro), 6-3

3-Jason Seda (Jackson Memorial) p. 6-Charles Case (Allentown), 0:16

2-Anthony Urso (Jackson Liberty) d. 7-Gavin Martin (Brick Memorial), 5-4


1-Ryan Dubnik (Freehold Township) tf. 8-Colin Cote (WWPS), 2:00 (15-0)

4-Frankie Burgio (Point Boro) p. 5-James Renna (Long Branch), 3:28

3-Anthony Viscido (Robbinsville) d. 6-Cameron Williams (Bordentown/Florence), 3-1

2-Xavier Ortega (Howell) p. 7-Galiano Zeppadoro (Northern Burlington), 5:10


1-Evan Tallmadge (Brick Memorial) tf. 9-Kyle Hill (Northern Burlington) 1:35 (16-1)

5-Jonathan Espinosa (Jackson Memorial) d. 4-Alexander Grant (Freehold Township), 4-3

3-Sebastian Ortega (Howell) p. 6-Zack Kerico (Toms River North), 3:22

2-Alex Nini (CBA) tf. 7-Michael O'Connor (Manasquan), 2:14 (21-6)


1-Garrett Totten (CBA) p. 8-Lucas Lipari (Jackson Memorial), 2:40

4-Angelo Messina (Freehold) by injury default over 5-Luas Torre (Brick Memorial)

3-James Farina (Ocean) md. 6-David Kanner (Robbinsville), 13-2

7-Saywer Ostroff (Howell) p. 2-Cole Anderson (Toms River North), 1:56


1-Anthony Santaniello (Brick Memorial) tf. 8-Andrew Cennamo (Jackson Memorial), 2:12 (17-2)

4-Joe Dolci (Toms River North) d. 5-AJ Falcone (CBA), 2-1

6-Kieran Bruen (Howell) d. 3-Michael Lyristis (Colts Neck), 12-8

2-Gabe Scalise (Shore) p. 10-Nick Vetrano (Wall), 1:13


1-Julian George (CBA) tf. 8-Nicholas Franzen (Notre Dame), 4:43 (21-6)

5-Michael Connelly (Freehold) d. 4-Gio Poniros (Ocean), 4-3

3-Braden Scott (Brick Memorial) tf. 6-Logan Smith (Long Branch), 3:55 (15-0)

2-Giovanni Scafidi (Howell) d. 7-Tyler Russ (Colts Neck), 6-2


1-Donovan DiStefano (Wall) d. 9-Cole Cifrodelli (Robbinsville), 10-4

4-Anthony Profaci (Monroe) d. 5-Kael Huxford (Jackson Memorial), 4-1

3-Jake Rosenthal (Toms River North) d. 6-Ryan Acquisto (Point Boro), 7-1

2-Nico Punzi (CBA) p. 7-Brody Elk (Brick Memorial), 2:33


1-Tyler Barrett (CBA) by injury default over 8-Ty Koch (Shore)

4-Nick Benner (Ocean) md. 5-Jack Rosta (Northern Burlington), 8-0

3-Jack Thompson (Point Boro) md. 6-Gavin Merkel (Howell), 15-5

2-Ryan Smith (Brick Memorial) p. 10-Davon Esdaile (Wall), 0:13


1-Zander Silva (CBA) p. 8-Isaiah Thornton (Hightstown), 2:33

5-Joe Berryman (Freehold) d. 4-Nick Acque (Howell). 10-7

3-Angel Bonano (Long Branch) d. 6-Sebastian Andujar (Freehold Township), 5-1

2-Shane Cartagena-Walsh (Ocean) tf. 10-Joe Layton (Colts Neck), 5:30 (26-11)


1-Hunter Mays (Howell) p. 8-Aidan Harrington (Freehold Township). 1:19

4-Nick Stump (CBA) p. 5-Luke Hamann (Jackson Memorial), 2:28

3-Ford Zajac (Colts Neck) tf. 11-Spencer Gangel (Northern Burlington), 5:22 (22-6)

2-Brandon Smith (Freehold) p. 7-Elson Peralta (Hamilton West), 3:17


1-DJ Henry (Howell) md. 8-Owen Drake (Lawrence), 12-3

5-Nick Migliaccio (Robbinsville) d. 4-Amir Shakhnavazov (Colts Neck), 5-4

3-Anthony Lawrence (CBA) p. 6-Owen Weigle (Ewing), 1:38

2-Harvey Ludington (Brick Memorial) tf. 7-Dontae Bryant (Hamilton West), 4:00 (20-5)


1-Jared Tracey (Ocean) p. 8-Matthew Melchior (Lawrence), 0:26

5-Ian Soutar (Howell) d. 4-Mike Rauch (Jackson Memorial), 4-3

3-Deiondre Mcculers (Long Branch) d. 11-Richard Esterly (Robbinsville), 3-1 in sudden victory

2-Jamie Mazzacco (Shore) p. 10-Cory Martin (Brick Memorial), 1:12


1-Robert Canterino (CBA) p. 8-Mike Owusu (Brick Memorial)

4-Alberto Pantoja (Freehold) d. 6-Collin Elam (Ewing), 9-2

3-Chris Stavrou (Hightstown) p. p. 6-Mohamed Abdelatty (Lawrence), 3:48

2-Jake Klein (Jackson Liberty) p. 7-Justin Krosnick (Point Boro), 0:17


1-Matt Jannucci (Colts Neck) p. 8-Jacob Howland (Hamilton West), 2:17

5-Sam Azzaretti (Brick Memorial) d. 4-Jonathan Johnson (Freehold), 5-2

3-Brendan Hansen (Hightstown) p. 6-Stevens Cajulus (Asbury Park), 1:19

2-Jule Dolci (Northern Burlington) p. 7-Ryan Fischer (Jackson Memorial), 3-2




8-Michael Hynes (Freehold Township) d. 9-Joshua Renna (Long Branch), 11-7

4-Joe DeAngelo (Point Boro) d. 13-Nick Sousa (Monroe), 9-2

6-Charles Case (Allentown) p. 11-Angel Gonzalez (Ewing), 4:56

2-Anthony Urso (Jackson Liberty) p. 15-Sam Sheridan (Freehold), 2:29


8-Colin Cote (WWPS) d. 9-Morris Acevedo (Monmouth), 5-3

5-James Renna (Long Branch) p. 12-Luke Bruch (Hamilton West), 0:28

3-Anthony Viscido (Robbinsville) p. 14-Alex Provines (CBA), 5:55

6-Cameron Williams (Bordentown/Florence) md. 11-Luis Espinosa (Jackson Memorial), 12-4


9-Kyle Hill (Northern Burlington) d. 8-Jose Morfin (New Egypt), 8-1

4-Alexander Grant (Freehold Township) d. 13-Riley Tate (Freehold), 10-6

6-Zach Kerico (Toms River North) p. 11-Christopher Cropanese (Hightstown), 1:03

7-Michael O'Connor (Manasquan) md. 10-PJ Niethe (Point Beach), 11-2


3-James Farina (Ocean) d. 14-Ignacio Guzman (Long Branch), 8-1

6-David Kanner (Robbinsville) p. 11-Andrew Sherry (Brick), 2:41

7-Sawyer Ostroff (Howell) d. 10-Aedan Boyle (Monroe), 6-0

2-Cole Anderson (Toms River North) p. 15-Dave Burden (Northern Burlington), 2:16


5-AJ Falcone (CBA) md. 12-Jack Madigan-Green (Notre Dame), 12-0

6-Kieran Bruen (Howell) p. 11-Jovanny Vera (Monroe), 1:26

10-Nick Vetrano (Wall) d. 7-Edgar Silva (Lakewood), 13-7

2-Gabe Scalise (Shore) p. 15-Nick Miller (Long Branch), 0:55


5-Michael Connelly (Freehold) p. 12-Torey Falkinburg (Manasquan), 3:58

4-Gio Poniros (Ocean) p. 13-James Koonce (Northern Burlington), 1:42

6-Logan Smith (Long Branch) d. 11-Jacob Herschenfeld (Shore), 2-1 2OT

7-Tyler Russ (Colts Neck) d. 10-George Ebid (Jackson Memorial), 14-8


9-Cole Cifrodelli (Robbinsville) p. 8-Jonah Bowers (Point Beach), 3:04

5-Kael Huxford (Jackson Memorial) md. 12-Liam Flanigan (Freehold Township), 13-2

3-Jake Rosenthal (Toms River North) md. 14-Devron Lewis (Hightstown), 10-1

6-Ryan Acquisto (Point Boro) md. 11-Andrew Fata (Freehold), 14-2


8-Ty Koch (Shore) d. 9-Ian Mallon (Brick), 10-4

4-Nick Benner (Ocean) p. 13-Gavin White (Notre Dame), 0:42

3-Jack Thompson (Point Boro) p. 14-Josh Bouchard (Monroe), 1:25

10-Davon Esdaile (Wall) d. 7-Christian Marcus (Colts Neck), 10-4


5-Joe Berryman (Freehold) p. 12-Josh Figueroa (Toms River North), 4:19

6-Sebastian Andujar (Freehold Township) p. 11-Kareem Othman (Monroe), 3:19

10-Joe Layton (Colts Neck) d. 7-Omar Ebrahim (Lawrence), 9-2

2-Shane Cartegena-Walsh (Ocean) md. 15-Josh James (Brick Memorial), 14-6


3-Ford Zajac (Colts Neck) tf. 14-Jake DeDreux (Brick), 2:40 (15-0)

11-Spencer Gangel (Northern Burlington) p. 6-Tommy DeMarco (Lawrence), 0:41

7-Elson Peralta (Hamilton West) d. 10-Jacob Messano (Point Boro), 10-7


8-Owen Drake (Lawrence) p. 9-Joseph Camilleri (Monmouth), 2:43

4-Amir Shakhanavazov (Colts Neck) d. 13-Roberto Neves (Long Branch), 7-3

5-Nick Migliaccio (Robbinsville) md. 12-Caleb Evans (Northern Burlington), 14-1

7-Dontae Bryan (Hamilton West) p. 10-Ryan Winn (Toms River North), 1:14


8-Matthew Melchior (Lawrence) p. Omar Cholula-Conde (Monroe), 2:18

3-Deiondre Mcculers (Long Branch) d. 14-Louis Bilardo (Steinert), 7-3

11-Richard Esterly (Robbinsville) d. 6-Lou Pilla (Wall), 9-2

10-Cory Martin (Brick Memorial) d. 7-Peter Grippo (CBA), 12-7


5-Collin Elam (Ewing) md. 12-Bashaar Ismail (Shore), 11-3

6-Mohamed Abdelatty (Lawrence) d. 11-Dane Colfer (Howell). 6-0)

7-Justin Krosnicki (Point Boro) d. 10-Eric Abbud (Colts Neck), 3-1 in sudden victory

2-Jake Klein (Jackson Liberty) p. 15-Nick Benjamino (Freehold Township), 3:14


4-Jonathan Johnson (Freehold) d. 13-Thomas Richards (Howell), 5-2

6-Stevens Cajulus (Asbury Park) p. 11-Xavion Moore (Lakewood), 1:07

7-Ryan Fischer (Jackson Memorial) p. 10-Luke Wilson (Point Boro), 5:48


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