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Red Bank Catholic may be thinking "what if" following their 42-31 defeat to Pope John on Sunday morning in the NJSIAA Non-Public B state championship match.

The Caseys, sectional champions for the first time in program history, were underdogs against the Lions but came through with some huge wins in the first half of the dual to take a 25-6 lead through nine bouts. But a mistake on the scale left them without their starting 106-pounder, which resulted in a likely 9-point swing. Pope John won the final five bouts of the match with a forfeit at 106 pounds and four straight pins to close out the program's ninth state group title.

Starting 106-pounder Noah Michaels weighed in half a pound over, according to the official weigh in sheet. Michaels would have been favored at 106 pounds against Pope John's Jake Holly. Assuming a win by decision at 106 for RBC, the score would have been 34-30 RBC going into the final bout, drastically changing the strategy for Isaiah Nash in the final bout. Nash needed a pin, went for a throw, and ended up being pinned when Pope John's Jack Nauta countered.

"We had a hiccup at the scale and we've never had that issue before," said proud yet frustrated Red Bank Catholic head coach Joe Gallagher. "We're a young team and we have to learn. I believe if he is in the lineup we win that match. I always believe you give yourself an extra pound for other scales. I don't care if you're under on our scale, you have to allow for that."

Michaels was coming off a big 3-1 overtime win over Holy Spirit's Carter Pack that helped the Caseys win the Non-Public South B sectional final on Friday. The sophomore was 7-1 with his only loss coming to St. John Vianney's Patrick O"Keefe, who is ranked No. 2 in the state.

Gallagher said he had no thought of putting Michaels out at 113.

"I love the kid. He's an awesome additional personally to this team, but you don't make, you don't wrestle," Gallagher said of Michaels, who was a transfer from Manalapan. "Could he have helped us there (113)? Sure. But you don't make weight, you don't wrestle. If I can't stick to my guns now, when am I going to do it?"

RBC started off the match strong with Marco Conry scoring a 14-0 major decision at 138 and Dan Conroy gutting out an 8-7 win in ultimate tiebreaker. Pope John got on the board at 150 pounds when region medalist Collin Neal won by fall, making the score 7-6 RBC through three bouts.

The Caseys then won the next four bouts to take a 25-6 lead halfway through the dual. VJ Muscillo won 8-3 at 157 and Rob Muscio scored a quick fall at 165 pounds. Then came junior returning state runner-up Sabino Portella at 175, and the RBC hammer did his job with a first-period pin to put RBC up 22-6. Then, at 190, Michael Palmieri scored 6-1 decision over Luke Brown to give Red Bank Catholic a 19-point lead with six bouts left.

Pope John's comeback started at 215 where returning state sixth-place finisher Jack Stoll won by fall and also took out one of RBC's top wrestlers when he pinned Davin Brewton in 45 seconds. Sophomore heavyweight Lorenzo Portella got those points right back with a clutch pin over Pope John region qualifier Jake Rubin.

RBC now led 31-12 with five bouts left, but the looming forfeit at 106 put the Caseys behind the eight ball. The forfeit made it 31-18. Pope John was heavily favored at 113, 120, and 126 and came through with three first-period pins to take a 36-31 lead.

Nash's only option on the final bout at 132 was to go for a pin. Nauta knew it, caught the gator roll attempt, and scored the fall of his own to end the match.

"That's an impossible spot for Isaiah Nash," Gallagher said. "We told him to go for the gator roll, we need six. We're not getting here just to keep it close, You go for the win."

It was a disappointing loss for RBC, especially considering the circumstances, but for a program that has never been on this stage before it is the hopeful start of something special.

"On paper, this was supposed to be a rear-end kicking, we were not supposed to be able to hang in that match," Gallagher said. "I'm very proud of the fact that this was not too big a stage for them. The bottom line is that there are far more positives than negatives but I'm not going to lie, this stings. We're beyond the point of just trying hard and getting close. That being said, I'm super proud of the way these guys competed today."


Box Score

Pope John 42, Red Bank Catholic 31

138: Marco Conroy (RBC) md. Spencer Moser, 14-0

144: Dan Conroy (RBC) d. Joseph Rozynski, 8-7 UTB

150: Collin Neal (PJ) p. Christian Ungemah, 3:30

157: VJ Muscillo (RBC) d. Angelo DeAngelis, 8-3

165: Rob Muscio (RBC) p. Kevin Wilson, 0:42

175: Sabino Portella (RBC) p. Justin Fontana, 1:37

190: Michael Palmieri (RBC) d. Luke Brown, 6-1

215: Jack Stoll (PJ) p. Davin Brewton, 0:45

285: Lorenzo Portella (RBC) p. Jake Rubin, 2:50

106: Jake Holly (PJ) by forfeit

113: Carson Walsh (PJ) p. Anthony DeGaetano, 1:04

120: Jason Athey (PJ) p. Michael Milke, 1:13

126: Zachary Hentschel (PJ) p. Trevor Learn, 1:31

132: Jack Nauta (PJ) p. Isaiah Nash, 2:48



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