Red Bank Catholic Makes History with First Wrestling State Sectional Championship
Of the 24 NJSIAA state sectional championships won this week, the one secured inside the Eck Center on Friday night may be the sweetest of them all.
Trailing by 18 points through nine bouts, Red Bank Catholic surged to the finish line with wins in the final five bouts, punctuated by a walk-off pin from sophomore 215-pounder Davin Brewton, to give the Caseys a 39-30 win over Holy Spirt in the Non-Public South B sectional championship match.
It is the first sectional title in program history for RBC and the first team title of any kind for the Caseys' wrestling squad. The Caseys will take on Pope John at 9 a.m. on Sunday at Franklin High School in the Non-Public B state championship match.
When Holy Spirit three-time state qualifier Ken Sherman won by fall at 144 pounds and Jack Morely won by fall with 11 seconds left in the third period of a bout he was losing at 150, the Spartans held a 30-18 lead with five bouts left. RBC had work to do, but the strength of its lineup was about to take the mat.
Coming in, I thought if things went right we could win, 34-32," said RBC head coach Joe Gallagher. "We thought if we could limit them to 32 points we would win. I was sweating a little bit. We knew who we had left but all they needed was one decision and we would have been in a bad spot."
The rally began at 157 when sophomore VJ Muscillo won by fall in 2:56 and junior Rob Muscio followed with a must-have 3-1 decision at 165. Gallagher then had a decision to make at 175. He had state runner-up Sabino Portella, one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in New Jersey, plus freshman Frankie Romeo. He decided to bump Portella up to 190 and insert Romeo at 175. Holy Spirit surprisingly forfeited to Romeo at 175 and to Portella at 190, giving RBC a 33-30 lead with one bout remaining.
All Brewton needed to do was win to cement the historic sectional title and he delivered in emphatic fashion with a pin at the 2:51 mark to clinch the championship.
The dual started with standout sophomore Lorenzo Portella winning 11-6 at 285 and sophomore Noah Michaels coming through with a huge 3-1 overtime win over Carter Pack at 106 pounds.
"Carter Pack is very good and I was absolutely jacked up for that win," Gallagher said. "For Noah to win like that in overtime; he rode like a fiend in that match. The only point he allowed was a penalty point for a figure four to the head."
Holy Spirit won the next four bouts with region sixth-place finisher Max Elton winning by technical fall at 113, Bryce Manera winning by fall at 120, region qualifier Gavin Paolone scoring a major decision at 126, and Chase Calhoun delivering a victory by decision at 132 to give the Crusaders an 18-6 lead. Sophomore Marco Conroy got some of those points back at 138 with a first-period pin to cut the deficit to 18-12.
Holy Spirit then won the next two bouts by fall to open an 18-point cushion before RBC's comeback secured the sectional crown.
While Non-Public B is not the strongest group in the state, Red Bank Catholic winning a sectional title is an incredible accomplishment when you consider how far the program has come under Gallagher. The Caseys had never won any team title in the history of its wrestling program, not even a regular-season tournament. Since 2005 they have finished with a winning record just a handful of times and before Gallagher took over in 2008 there was discussion about potentially folding the program.
Along the way, the Caseys have had a smattering of individual standouts, most notably Portella, who is a serious state title contender. This season, their standout football program, for which Gallagher is an assistant coach, has a major presence on the wrestling team and that has helped them form a very good group of upper weights. Down low, there are program kids who are developing nicely.
"We're tough and we're definitely getting better," Gallagher said. "It's taken us a long, long time. Last night in the stands we had Tom Meer, Shawn McCord, Andrew Dorsi; Andrew LaMura is one of our assistants. I promised those guys we would get to a point where they could come back on a regular basis and be proud of a team that could compete."
"Are we really good. Not yet but we are tough and we are heading in a direction where can be and wrestle against the top programs. We're not there yet, but we will be. The kids believe in it, and that is the most satisfying thing."
Having more individual talent in the wrestling room is certainly a prerequisite for team success, but it goes beyond that. Learning how to win as a team, doing your specific job, is what puts teams over the top. That switch flipped for the Caseys as the season went on.
"What has been really satisfying these last couple weeks is kids learning how to battle, having mat awareness," Gallagher said. "It's just us competing hard, limiting bonus points. You can't be a good team if you're kids don't know how to lose close. It's not conceding victory, it's knowing you can help a team just by fighting."
On Sunday morning, RBC will take the mat with a chance to win an overall state title against a very tough Pope John team that has six returning region qualifiers, including state sixth-place finisher Jack Stoll at 215 pounds. It will be a tall order, but the Caseys won't be making the drive to Franklin just for the sake of it.
"The matchups are not great for us but if we can limit some bonus and get some wins where we do, normally, we can make it interesting," Gallagher said. "It's not a happy-to-be-here thing. We are past that. The expectations have to be more."
Non-Public South B
1-Red Bank Catholic 39, 2-Holy Spirit 30
Lorenzo Portella (Red Bank Catholic) over Philip Docteur (Holy Spirit) (Dec 11-6)
Noah Michaels (Red Bank Catholic) over Carter Pack (Holy Spirit) (TB-1 3-1)
Max Elton (Holy Spirit) over Anthony DeGaetano (Red Bank Catholic) (TF 20-5 5:50)
Bryce Manera (Holy Spirit) over Michael Milke (Red Bank Catholic) (Fall 1:44)
Gavin Paolone (Holy Spirit) over Trevor Learn (Red Bank Catholic) (MD 11-2)
Chase Calhoun (Holy Spirit) over Isaiah Nash (Red Bank Catholic) (Dec 8-1)
Marco Conroy (Red Bank Catholic) over Talon Fischer (Holy Spirit) (Fall 1:49)
Ken Sherman (Holy Spirit) over Dan Conroy (Red Bank Catholic) (Fall 4:18)
Jack Morely (Holy Spirit) over Christian Ungemah (Red Bank Catholic) (Fall 5:49)
Vincent Joseph Muscillo (Red Bank Catholic) over Jaylen Glover (Holy Spirit) (Fall 2:56)
Rob Muscio (Red Bank Catholic) over Colton Calhoun (Holy Spirit) (Dec 3-1)
Frankie Romeo (Red Bank Catholic) over Unknown (For.)
Sabino Portella (Red Bank Catholic) over Unknown (For.)
Davin Brewton (Red Bank Catholic) over Robert McDevitt (Holy Spirit) (Fall 2:51)