BRICK TOWNSHIP -- In a battle of powerhouse programs, it was the depth and balance of Southern that got the best of Brick Memorial.

The Rams, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, won eight bouts and survived a late scare to fend off the seventh-ranked Mustangs 37-27 in a Shore Conference Class A South match on Friday evening.

Leading by four heading into the final bout at 106 pounds where sophomore Owen Kretschmer was heavily favored, the Rams escaped with a hard-fought win when Kretschmer broke out of a cradle from Liam Rivera and eventually recorded a pin of his own. The victory pushed Southern's division record to 5-0, and with wins over Jackson Memorial and Brick Memorial already in the bank, the Rams are on track to claim their eighth division title and second in the last three seasons.

"It's very important to us," said senior Joe Toci about winning a division title. "It's a very well respected division, obviously, so any time we can be in the hunt it's a great opportunity. It's been a goal of ours."

Kretschmer, Toci (182) and Gianni Bennett (132) each won by fall, junior Nick Suriano (195) recorded a technical fall and sophomore Matt Barnett (126) and senior Pat Mooney (152) won by major decision to fuel Southern's fifth straight victory.

"We're winning on balance, there's no doubt about it," said Southern head coach John Stout. "That's how we're going to pay our bills."

"We have a big senior group and a close group, and we understand there's not that one guy," Toci said. "We all have to contribute on a daily basis if we want to win these matches."

Southern sophomore Owen Kretschmer won by fall in the final bout to clinch a 37-27 victory over Brick Memorial. (Photo by Robert Badders).
Southern sophomore Owen Kretschmer won by fall in the final bout to clinch a 37-27 victory over Brick Memorial. (Photo by Robert Badders).

This year's version of Brick Memorial isn't the juggernaut it was last season when it won A South, the Shore Conference Tournament, the NJSIAA Group V title, finished No. 1 in the Shore and No. 2 in New Jersey and had four individual state finalists. The Mustangs (6-5, 4-2) are still plenty dangerous, however.

Sophomore Matt Wardlaw (113) and junior Gianni Ghione (120) won by fall to open the match and give Brick Memorial a 12-0 lead. Junior heavyweight Nick Rivera also won by fall, and senior Anthony Mitchell defeated Peyton Blauvelt 4-1 in a matchup between top-five 170-pounders (as ranked by

"Those kids are tough, and it's all about matchups," Stout said. "Numbers don't always tell the truth. I knew the match would go something like this but I didn't think they could score enough points on us to beat us. They can hang. They're good enough to beat anybody."

"They're a great program and have been a great program since before I was born," Toci said. It's great to come in here and win as a team."

Wardlaw opened the match by locking in a cradle and pinning Dylan Cardell in 3:34 to give Brick Memorial a 6-0 lead. Wardlaw, who got down to 113 pounds for the first time this season in Wednesday's match against Jackson Memorial, improved to 12-6 on the season. Wardlaw has already eclipsed his win total from last season when he finished 10-15. He caught fire last season to win an improbably District 24 title at 106 pounds and is now among the most improved wrestlers in the Shore this season.

"Matt Wardlaw's improvement is a direct correlation to coach (Tim) Brennan," said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Denver. "They see eye-to-eye on things and coach Brennan has basically taken him under his wing and brought him up through the ranks. He has definitely come on strong and is one of the top guys in the program now."

Ghione, the state runner-up at 113 pounds last season, followed with a 49-second pin over freshman Nick Pepe to make it 12-0. Sophomore Matt Barnett got Southern (6-1, 5-0) on the board with a 12-4 major decision in which he recorded three takedowns and a reversal in the third period. At 132, Bennett twisted Justin Intile up with a spladle to record a fall in 1:10 and pull Southern to within 12-10.

Southern senior Gianni Bennett locked in a spladle to pin Justin Intile at 132 pounds. (Photo by Robert Badders).
Southern senior Gianni Bennett locked in a spladle to pin Justin Intile at 132 pounds. (Photo by Robert Badders).

Mustangs senior Luke Vesoci used an escape and a takedown in the second period to beat Mike Racanelli 3-2 and push Brick Memorial's lead to 15-10, but the Rams would go on to win the next two bouts to take the lead for good. Senior Teddy Caporino held off a late charge by Chris Richardson to win 8-6 at 145 pounds, and senior Pat Mooney used six takedowns and a pair of turns against Casey Wines to record an 18-6 major decision and put Southern up 17-15.

Seon Bowker's 11-5 decision over Ean Mueller made it 20-15 before Mitchell clipped Blauvelt at 170. Known for his judo, Mitchell launched Blauvelt with a throw for a four-point move in the first period. That was all he needed to take the bout and improve to 15-3 on the season.

Toci picked up his teammate by pinning Dakota Wade in 1:59 at 182 pounds to put Southern up 26-18, and Suriano's dominating 15-0 technical fall in 4:27 over Ron Hopping put the Rams up 31-18 with three bouts left.

Senior Chris Hayes brought Brick Memorial closer with a 9-4 decision over Joe Miele at 220 pounds and Nick Rivera, the state runner-up at heavyweight last season, pinned Dan Lynch in 1:39 to cut Southern's lead to 31-27 heading into the final bout.

Brick Memorial's starting 106-pounder, sophomore Joe Rotundo, remains out with an injury suffered Jan. 9 against St. Peter's Prep. That left sophomore Liam Rivera with the task of trying to shock Kretschmer and give Brick Memorial the win. He almost did it, too, when he locked in a cradle early in the second period and was a second away from blowing the roof off the building. Kretschmer was able to roll out of the hold and into a pinning hold of his own. He eventually finished off the Rams' victory with a win by fall in 4:42.

"Our 106-pounder almost getting stuck made it a little more interesting than it needed to be," Stout said. "But in the end a (win) is a win."


Box Score

No. 1 Southern 37, No. 7 Brick Memorial 27

113: Matt Wardlaw (BM) p. Dylan Cardell 3:34

120: Gianni Ghoine (BM) p. Nick Pepe 0:49

126: Matt Barnett (S) md. Ryan Andrus 13-5

132: Gianni Bennett (S) p. Justin Intile 1:10

138: Luke Vescovi (BM) d. Mike Racanelli 3-2

145: Teddy Caporino (S) d. Chris Richardson 8-6

152: Pat Mooney (S) md. Casey Wines 18-6

160: Seon Bowker (S) d. Ean Mueller 11-5

170: Anthony Mitchell (BM) d. Peyton Blauvelt 4-1

182: Joe Toci (S) p. Dakota Wade 1:59

195: Nick Suriano (S) tf. Ron Hopping 4:27 (15-0)

220: Chris Hayes (BM) d. Joe Miele 9-4

Hwt: Nick Rivera (BM) p. Dan Lynch 1:39

106: Owen Kretschmer (S) p. Liam Rivera 4:42

Records: at Brick Memorial (6-5, 4-2); Southern (6-1, 5-0).


Wrestling 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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