Rockets Redemption: Raritan upends Holmdel in sectional quarterfinals
HOLMDEL – Jacob Spirko had surrendered five straight nearfall points and was trailing by four in the third period.
He had his opponent right where he wanted him.
With under a minute left in the 126-pound bout, Spirko pulled off a rare defensive pin against Holmdel’s Brandon Ericksen to spark fifth-seeded Raritan to a 39-22 victory over the rival fourth-seeded Hornets in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 2 sectional tournament on Monday night.
Spirko built a quick 4-0 lead and led 5-2 after the first period but Ericksen scored a reversal and three back points in the second period to take a 7-5 lead. Spirko chose defense in the third period and Ericksen turned him once more for two points and a 9-5 lead. But during that scoring sequence, Spirko felt an opportunity to hit a big move.
“I did feel like his hips were dropping a little low and I could just flatten him out by laying there,” Spirko said. “I was trying to hit a Peterson, then he fell to his hips, then I recovered and he went to turn me and grabbed around my throat. I put my hands out and his back was flat. I grabbed his head and pulled it tight.”
“Usually you don’t want to see a defensive pin but if you know anything about Jake that’s the style he wrestles,” said Raritan head coach Rob Nucci. “It’s not the first defensive pin he’s had in his career and he was looking for it. Not many people look for defensive pins. Jake happens to look for that stuff. It was huge.”
The fall occurred at the 5:21 mark and the resulting nine-point swing gave Raritan a 12-6 lead four bouts into the match. Although not as dramatic, the Rockets made a habit of scoring late in the third period to secure bonus points. Mike Lonnay scored a takedown with 20 seconds left for a major decision at 138 pounds. Vin Mangano scored a takedown and three back points late in the bout for a major decision at 145 pounds. Cole Bailey hit a five-point move in the closing seconds for a major decision at 160 pounds. At 182, Juan Banos scored a third-period takedown in a match-clinching victory.
“I preach to the guys you have to get your Hazlet blue collar out this week,” Nucci said. “We had a few bouts that were close and then in the third period we really turned it on.”
Raritan won eight of 14 bouts with bonus points seven of those wins, including a forfeit at 106 pounds. It was a stark contrast to the regular-season meeting between the border rivals where Holmdel won eight bouts with three falls in a 34-27 victory.
“I’ll be honest, the Hazlet wrestling community does not like losing to Holmdel,” Nucci said. “I heard a lot of stuff back in January so it’s nice to get this one back.”
The match began with Ryan Mansueto receiving a forfeit at 106 pounds for a 6-0 Raritan lead. Holmdel got on the board when Nick Ammirati won by 13-7 decision over Alex Auletta at 113, but it was a net win for Raritan thanks to Auletta scoring five points in the third to wipe out a major decision against the two-time region qualifier. Holmdel’s Zach Rabkin won by 8-2 decision over Jordan Rafalko at 120 to tie the match at six, but takedown in the third by Rafalko cut into Rabkin’s eight-point lead and erased another would-be major decision.
Spirko followed with the defensive pin at 126 before Tom Ammirati won by 16-8 major decision over Quinn Peters at 132, cutting Raritan’s lead to 12-10. The Rockets began to pull away at 138 pounds when Lonnay scored five takedowns, the last of which coming with 20 seconds left, for an 11-3 major decision over Matteo Pinnero. At 145, Mangano scored 10 times in the third period, including a five-point move late, for a 14-4 major decision victory over Luke DuPont.
Ian Flanagan won by 13-6 decision over Nick Cadoo at 152 to pull Holmdel within 20-13 but Raritan won the next three bouts to clinch the match. Sophomore Cole Bailey was up 7-2 on Thomas Clearly late in the third period before securing a takedown and three back points to earn a 12-2 major decision at 160, pushing Raritan’s lead to 24-13. At 170, senior Anthony Bailey pinned John Podesta in 2:32 to open a 30-13 advantage.
Bailey missed four weeks with a broken ankle suffered in early January so having the returning district runner-up back in the lineup had been important. He returned on Jan. 29.
Holmdel needed to win the remaining bouts to win the match but Banos spoiled that with his 6-3 win over Chris Bell at 182 pounds. Bell scored the first takedown of the bout to lead 2-1 after the first period but Banos had an escape and a takedown in the second period and took Bell down again in the third to send Raritan to the semifinals.
Holmdel won the next two bouts as Victor Wladika, a returning region qualifier, pinned Nick Aquilano at 4:31 at 195 pounds. Michael Pavlinetz, a district champion last season, won 9-3 over Nick Burns at 220 pounds. Raritan closed out the match with Kevin Lind winning by fall over Lake Leroux in 1:35 at heavyweight.
Raritan will go on the road Wednesday night when it travels to top-seeded South Plainfield. The Tigers are one of New Jersey’s premier programs but are, like Raritan, having a down year by their standards. The ups and downs of the regular season can all be erased with a memorable run in February, however, and both teams know that as well as anybody.
“It’s been a frustrating year. We’ve been very good for a very long time and this year’s been tough,” Nucci said. “We’ve had a couple injuries and we just couldn’t get on track; tonight was the first time we’ve had our full lineup. But our goals never change and our goal year in and year out is to win a sectional championship. We have a tough team in South Plainfield come Wednesday night but if we wrestle like we did tonight, who knows what can happen?”
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