Six-bout Winning Streak Keys No. 3 Raritan’s Win over No. 10 Long Branch
HAZLET — A.J. Erven did his best to treat Wednesday night’s matchup with heated rival Long Branch the same as any other match on the schedule, but the Raritan junior had unfinished business in his bout and the Rockets were out for revenge against the Green Wave.
Erven won by 9-1 major decision over Carlos Irizarry at 126 pounds to start at six-bout winning streak that propelled Raritan, ranked No. 3 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a 41-19 Shore Conference nondivisional win over No. 10 Long Branch.
Last season Irizarry defeated Erven, 6-5, in the NJSIAA District 22 third-place bout at 120 pounds, and Long Branch won the regular-season battle between the two teams, 37-24.
“I was looking forward to it a lot, I couldn’t wait to get revenge,” Erven said. “He ended my season last year and if I want to prove I'm a state-caliber kid that’s a kid I have to beat. The goal was to get a major and I did.”
Erven’s victory erased an 8-7 Long Branch lead after four bouts and began a run through the lower and middle weights where the Rockets (13-1) scored six consecutive victories to take a 35-8 lead and put the match away. Juniors Christian Sookdeo and Russell Benson each won by fall at 132 and 138 pounds, respectively, as did sophomore Anthony Aquilano at 160 pounds. In between junior Andrew Bohal at 145 and senior Jimmy VanFechtmann at 152 each delivered one-point wins.
Raritan also received a pin from sophomore George Burdick at 170, a major decision by junior Ethan Wolf at heavyweight and a 2-1 decision by sophomore Charles Barrale at 113 pounds to take nine of 14 bouts from Long Branch (7-2).
“We say it every year but these guys have been battling each other in rec and in middle school, and at the high school level it’s intense,” said Raritan head coach Rob Nucci. “It’s gone back and forth; they’ve had some good runs and we’ve had some good runs. No matter what it’s always a good match.”
“Throughout the years it’s been a battle with them,” VanFechtmann said. “We knew, in front of the home crowd, we had to bring the juice.”
Wolf continued his breakout season with a 9-1 major decision over Kevin Cerrutti at heavyweight to begin the match. After going 16-13 last season Wolf is already 14-1 splitting bouts between 220 pounds and heavyweight. Long Branch evened the score when standout freshman Ryan Zimmerman (12-3), fresh off his selection as Shore Sports Network Wrestler of the Week, used a set of three near-fall points in the third period to win by 9-0 major decision over Robert Taddeo at 106 pounds.
The back-and-forth opening continued at 113 where Barrale’s first-period takedown was the difference in a 2-1 victory over Rey Guzman that kept him undefeated (12-0). At 120 pounds it was Chris Dean (12-2) giving Long Branch the lead with a 10-2 major decision over Cameron Rafalko. Dean had a three takedowns and a reversal to go along with two back points in the first period.
That was the last time Long Branch would lead, however, as the meat of Raritan’s lineup took over. Erven (13-3) nearly had Irizarry pinned on the edge of the mat in the first period, but had to settle for a 5-0 lead after the first two minutes. He stretched the lead to 8-0 in the second period with an escape and a takedown, and received a penalty point in the third when Irizarry used an illegal hold (head scissor).
“A.J. Erven coming up with a major to a kid he loses to in a consolation match last year, that's a great win,” Nucci said.
Long Branch inserted junior Joel Astacio at 132 pounds for his first match of the season, and he did a good job frustrating Sookdeo and holding him to a 2-0 advantage heading to the third period. But with time winding down in the third Sookdeo got Astacio to his back and finally finished off the pin with six seconds left, giving Raritan a 17-8 lead.
At 138 pounds it was Benson (15-1), the Region VI runner-up at 126 pounds last season, building an 8-3 lead in the second period before pinning Ryan Carey in 3:58 to push the Rockets’ lead to 23-8.
Bohal edged Isaac Shohet, 3-2 at 145 pounds, on the strength of a takedown in the first period. VanFechtmann led 3-2 after the first period and 5-2 heading to the third. A set of two near-fall points gave him a 7-2 lead and enabled him to hold off Luke Arnold for a 7-6 win. Arnold nearly rallied with a reversal and two back points late.
Aquilano followed with quick pin over Louie Saez at 160, countering a shot and throwing the Long Branch junior to his back for the fall in 1:07.
Daniel Santos-Silva broke the streak and got Long Branch back on the board when he scored four points in the third period, including a buzzer-beating takedown to beat Justin Acevedo, 6-5, at 170 pounds.
Burdick (15-1) came right back with another fall for Raritan, pinning Justin Navarro in 1:30 to cap a short but wild 182-pound bout. No one was going to get called for stalling in this one, as both came out aggressive. Navarro took Burdick down right away, but Burdick escaped and took Navarro to the mat for a 3-2 lead. A brief scuffle followed after Burdick was called for an illegal hold, and Navarro responded with a shove that resulted in a penalty point. After the penalties were sorted out and the bout resumed, Burdick countered a shot with an underhook to get Navarro to his back and score the fall.
Long Branch won the final two bouts as Pete Wersinger used five near-fall points in the third period to blank Ryan Dickens, 6-0, at 195, and Hunter Marhan scored a 15-0 technical fall in 2:19 over Matt Spirko at 220.
After losing to Phillipsburg on Jan. 3, Raritan has won six straight matches as it continues to build toward a run at a team state championship.
“Take nothing away from Phillipsburg, but we were very flat and we didn’t perform,” Nucci said. The next night against North Hunterdon (a 29-21 win) I thought we were still a little flat. This was the first time I’ve seen us with some energy and some spark. Sometimes the rivalry brings that out. I hope our guys continue to wrestle with that fire.”
No. 3 Raritan 41, No. 10 Long Branch 19
Hwt: Ethan Wolf (R) md. Kevin Cerruti 9-1
106: Ryan Zimmerman (LB) md. Robert Taddeo 9-0
113: Charles Barrale (R) d. Rey Guzman 2-1
120: Chris Dean (LB) md. Cameron Rafalko 10-2
126: A.J. Erven (R) md. Carlos Irizarry 9-1
132: Christian Sookdeo (R) p. Joel Astacio 5:54
138: Russell Benson (R) p. Ryan Carey 3:58
145: Andrew Bohal (R) d. Isaac Shohet 3-2
152: Jimmy VanFechtmann (R) d. Luke Arnold 7-6
160: Anthony Aquilano (R) p. Louie Saez 1:07
170: Daniel Santos-Silva (LB) d. Justin Acevedo 6-5
182: George Burdick (R) p. Justin Navarro 1:30
195: Pete Wersinger (LB) d. Ryan Dickens 6-0
220: Hunter Marhan (LB) tf. Matt Spirko 2:19 (15-0).
Records: at Raritan (13-1); Long Branch (7-2).
Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.