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LONG BRANCH – One mark of a good team is the ability to overcome a major mistake by doing the little things correctly, and that’s precisely how Raritan overcame adversity to take down its biggest rival.

Despite a stunning pin by Long Branch’s La’Qym Morris at 220 pounds three bouts into the match, Raritan, ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, found a way to rally and eke out a 27-26 Shore Conference nondivisional victory over No. 6 Long Branch on Wednesday night.

Trailing 17-9 after six bouts and 20-12 through eight bouts, the Rockets (10-1) picked up four straight wins and 15 points from 132 through 152 pounds and avoided giving up any bonus points in the final two bouts. Seniors Russell Benson and A.J. Erven and junior George Burdick supplied crucial bonus points in wins at 132, 138 and 182, respectively, while Ethan Wolf, Mike Lonnay, Christian Sookdeo and Nick Polaco won by decision in a match where every sequence carried the utmost importance.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Raritan head coach Rob Nucci. “That 220 match we’re on the verge of a major and we give up a headlock, and that’s a 10-point swing. He was wrestling great but he ended up getting caught, and it is what it is.”

“The 120 bout was a huge toss-up and Mikey Lonnay stepped up and got a huge win there, but it was a lot more than that. Charles Barrale up a weight at 195 after being a 113-pounder last year and holds his kid to a major. We got (pinned) at 106, 113 and 126 (by Long Branch) at the Hawk Classic and here we come back and give up less than pins, which was the difference in the match.”

“We knew all along we could beat them and even with the setback we were still able to keep our mind in it,” Benson said. “We buy into the Wrestling Mindset (training), we do a lot of that stuff and it set us up for success here.”

Burdick began the match with a quick pin, decking Edgar Padilla in 1:02, to give Raritan a 6-0 lead. Long Branch came back with a 13-4 major decision by Pete Wersinger over Charles Barrale at 195 pounds, but Raritan considered limiting Wersinger to a less than a fall or technical fall to be a win. Everything changed at 220 pounds, however, where Justin Acevedo took on Morris.

Acevedo entered with a 13-4 record and while Morris was unbeaten in a small sample size since making his season debut on Jan. 3, the edge was in Raritan’s favor. Acevedo looked well on his way to at least a major decision after he tossed Morris to his back in the first period for a 5-0 lead, then did it again in the second period to go up 11-2. But as Acevedo was trying for a third takedown midway through the second period, Morris clamped on a headlock and launched Acevedo to the mat. Acevedo tried to fight off his back, but Morris had his arm trapped and secured the fall in 3:04 to give the Green Wave a 10-6 lead. Long Branch’s bench was going bonkers, knowing Morris had turned the tables in their favor.

“He came off the mat and I took him aside and calmed him down,” Benson said. “He said, ‘dude, it’s my fault, I’m sorry’ and at that point, we were only three matches in. I told him it wasn’t over. We just had to overcome it and had to pick him up.”

Now Raritan had to dig in its heels and do the dirty work in order to get back in the match. It began with Wolf bumping up from 220 to heavyweight to score a 4-1 decision over Kevin Cerruti. Wolf entered with a 14-0 record while Cerruti was 11-1, but Wolf was giving up 68 pounds to one of the Shore’s best heavyweights. Cerruti scored first with an escape in the second period and Wolf tied it up with an escape of his own in the third. A second stalling call against Cerruti in the second period gave Wolf a 2-1 edge and he added a late takedown to earn a must-win decision.

“We majored Cerruti with Wolf last year so we were confident we could get the win, but Cerruti is pretty damn good,” Nucci said. “We just have a lot of confidence in Wolf.

Long Branch would win the next two bouts and three of four to take an eight-point lead more than halfway through the match. Freshman Joe Conlon won by 12-1 major decision over Jordan Rafalko at 106 pounds, hitting a pair of tilts in the second and third periods. Saving some bonus points at 106 was key for Raritan, but an even bigger effort came at 113 pounds where Robert Taddeo held Long Branch standout Ryan Zimmerman to a 6-0 decision. Zimmerman had takedowns in each of the first two periods and a reversal in the third, but Taddeo stayed off his back to save critical bonus points.

At 120 pounds, Lonnay won 7-5 over Rey Guzman in the best bout of the match to trim Raritan’s deficit to 17-12. Lonnay led 2-1 after one and 5-3 after two periods in a matchup that featured several great scrambles. Lonnay scored two near-fall points in the third period to take a 7-3 lead but Guzman quickly reversed him to get it back to a two-point bout at 7-5. Guzman came close to turning Lonnay over the final minute, but Lonnay stayed off his back to come away with the victory.

Long Branch senior Chris Dean came back with an 11-4 win over Cameron Rafalko at 126 pounds to give the Wave a 20-12 lead, but Raritan was once again able to avoid giving up bonus points.

“You need matches like this,” Nucci said. “Our boys grinded it out whether it was wins or losses, and that’s what it’s about.”

Raritan’s run started with Benson, a returning Region 5 champion, winning by 26-10 technical fall over Stivini Silva. Benson scored a whopping 12 takedowns while picking up two points via stalling calls on Silva. Benson’s win pulled Raritan to within 20-17 and also gave the Rockets a criteria edge with the only tech fall up to that point (pins were even at one at that point).

Erven followed with a 16-8 major decision over Ryan Carey at 138 pounds, producing four takedowns in the first period, two more in the second and a reversal in the third. Carey actually cut his deficit to 14-8 with a takedown in the second period, but Erven was able to regain control and secure the all-important bonus point to put Raritan on top, 21-20, for its first lead since Burdick’s pin in the first bout.

Another tossup bout went Raritan’s way when Sookdeo clipped Isaac Shohet, 5-2, at 145 pounds to give Raritan a 24-20 lead. Sookdeo had the only offensive points in the bout with a takedown in the first and another in waning seconds of the third period.

Polaco gave the Rockets a bit of breathing room with an 8-5 win over Louie Saez at 152 pounds in that it meant Long Branch would need bonus points in either of its final two bouts to win the match. Polaco nearly won by fall early in the first period when he put Saez to his back with a five-point move, and that sequence was the difference in a three-point victory.

With Raritan up 27-20 with two bouts to go, Long Branch needed bonus points out of either Luke Arnold or Dan Santos-Silva to pull ahead. And with Benson’s technical fall serving as the tie-breaking criteria if the match finish tied, Long Branch needed either two bonus-point victories or a fall (a technical fall was unlikely against Dylan Lonnay or Anthony Aquilano at 160 and 170, respectively).

Arnold won 6-2 over Lonnay at 160 to keep Long Branch alive, but without bonus points, it made the hill much tougher to climb. Santos-Silva and Aquilano were evenly matched so a major decision – which still would not have won Long Branch the match – or a technical fall were pretty much out of the question. Santos-Silva needed a fall and Aquilano never let him get in position to hit a big move. Santos-Silva ended up winning 3-2 un ultimate tiebreaker, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the Rockets’ late surge.

“Any time Long Branch and Raritan wrestle it’s always a dogfight,” Nucci said. It’s a rivalry at the rec level, a rivalry at the middle school and a rivalry here. It’s always nice to beat Long Branch, especially in their own gym.”

Box Score

No. 2 Raritan 27, No. 6 Long Branch 26

182: George Burdick (R) p. Edgar Padilla 1:02

195: Pete Wersinger (LB) md. Charles Barrale 13-4

220: La’Qym Morris (LB) p. Justin Acevedo 3:04

Hwt: Ethan Wolf (R) d. Kevin Cerruti 4-1

106: Joseph Conlon (LB) md. Jordan Rafalko 12-1

113: Ryan Zimmerman (LB) d. Robert Taddeo 6-0

120: Mike Lonnay (R) d. Rey Guzman 7-5

126: Chris Dean (LB) d. Cameron Rafalko 11-4

132: Russell Benson (R) tf. Stivini Silva 5:20 (26-10)

138: A.J. Erven (R) md. Ryan Carey 16-8

145: Christian Sookdeo (R) d. Isaac Shohet 5-2

152: Nick Polaco (R) d. Louie Saez 8-5

160: Luke Arnold (LB) d. Dylan Lonnay 6-2

170: Dan Santos-Silva (LB) d. Anthony Aquilano 3-2 UTB

Records: at Long Branch (7-2); Raritan (10-1).


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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