TOMS RIVER -- Even though he had to wrestle in the win-or-go-home preliminary round of the NJSIAA Region 6 Tournament - and do so as the No. 12 seed at 145 pounds - Toms River North junior Pat O'Donnell never doubted his chances to get on the medal stand.

"I see my bracket as pretty wide open," O'Donnell said. "Anybody can win it."

And why not O'Donnell?

Facing No. 5 seed and last year's fourth-place finisher at the weight, O'Donnell used a third-period takedown to defeat Shore senior Alex Johnson and advance to the Region 6 quarterfinals during Wednesday's prelims at Pine Belt Arena. Trailing 6-5, O'Donnell wiggled out of a takedown attempt by Johnson to score a takedown of his own, then rode Johnson out for the final 1:35 to secure the victory.

Known for his cradle, Johnson almost locked it in on O'Donnell in the first period. O'Donnell's gameplan was to avoid the big move and win the bout in the third period.

Twelfth-seeded Pat O'Donnell defeated fifth-seeded Alex Johnson 7-6 to reach the Region 6 quarterfinals at 145 pounds. (Photo by Doug Bostwick/
Twelfth-seeded Pat O'Donnell defeated fifth-seeded Alex Johnson 7-6 to reach the Region 6 quarterfinals at 145 pounds. (Photo by Doug Bostwick/

"Coach (John) Demarco taught me well," O'Donnell said "He said he's coming strong with the cradle and then he's going to gas. That's exactly what happened. He wrestled my brother last year and it looked exactly like this match, except this time I came out on top."

With the bout tied 5-5 entering the third period and Johnson choosing defense, O'Donnell elected to release him before the period began. He didn't want to give Johnson a chance to find his best hold while on the mat. O'Donnell figured he could win the bout on his feet, and he did when Johnson faltered while working for a high single-leg takedown.

"That was the gameplan, and I stuck to it well," O'Donnell said. "He was holding it a little low by my calf, and it felt a little sloppy so I just winged it down."

Now O'Donnell faces the No. 4 seed, Wall freshman Rob Kanniard. The District 23 champion and that tournament's Outstanding Wrestler defeated O'Donnell 6-0 during the season-opening Colt Classic.

"I've wanted that rematch all year," O'Donnell said. "I feel like I can take him."

Another wrestler that will be getting a rematch in the quarterfinals is Christian Brothers Academy senior Dylan VanSickell, although he won't have to wait nearly as long as O'Donnell. VanSIckell won by 12-0 major decision over Point Beach's Roddy Rupp to reach the quarterfinals in a loaded 132-pound bracket.

VanSickell entered last weekend's District 22 Tournament undefeated, but was stunned by Long Branch's T.J. Conlon, 7-6, in the semifinals. He gets a quick shot at redemption as he will meet Conlon in Friday's quarterfinal round. Conlon won by fall over Toms River North's Omar Farouk.

"I was alerted to the fact I'm going to get that rematch, and I'm stoked about it," VanSickell said.

VanSickell was dominant during the regular season, and everyone anticipated a district finals matchup between him and undefeated Ocean sophomore Jake Benner. Conlon spoiled that scenario, but VanSickell didn't let the loss derail him.

"Coach (Russ) Witt said to me 'don't let one loss beat you twice', and that rang pretty loudly in my head" Van Sickell said. "I moved on and focused on the (district) third/fourth match, because if I lost that one it would have been over."

Wednesday night was the third time VanSickell has had to wrestle in the region prelims, so he wasn't fazed by the pressure.

"Unfortunately it's not unfamiliar territory for me, but I think that helps," VanSickell said. "You put somebody here who hasn't wrestled in those make-or-break situations and that's when you see the emotions get to them. What I benefit from is my experience, and the fact I can stay calm despite the fact my season can be over in six minutes."

The biggest upset in terms of seeds came at 152 pounds where St. John Vianney sophomore Nick Caracappa, the No. 14 seed, bested Lacey junior Matt Garrity, the No. 3 seed. Caracappa rallied from a 4-1 deficit to win 7-5 with a takedown in the third period. Even though he was a heavy underdog on paper, Caracappa had already defeated Garrity, 11-9, when St. John Vianney and Lacey met during the Shore Conference Tournament.

"I love being the underdog," Caracappa said. "Looking at the bracket I knew I was going to upset him again."

Five other wrestlers seeded 10th or lower won their preliminary round bouts.

Barnegat sophomore Sean Foley edged Raritan freshman Charles Barrale, 3-2, in the 10-7 matchups at 106 pounds. At 113, Long Branch sophomore Chris Dean blanked Point Boro's Blake Dale, 4-0, in another 10 vs. 7 bout.

Wall's Chad McClelland, the No. 10 seed at 152 pounds, nipped Red Bank's Tom Hinz 1-0. At 160 pounds, CBA's Garrett Fitzgerald (No. 12) defeated Lakewood's Marco Quintero (No. 5), 6-1. Colts Neck's Vincent Gargiulo advanced as the No. 11 seed at 220 pounds with a 6-1 victory over Brick's Jack Jachim.

Among Friday's quarterfinal bouts will be an intriguing rematch at 132 pounds between Benner and Wall junior Nick Wagner. Benner is 32-0 and defeated Wagner 6-2 when the teams met during the regular season. At 138, Middletown North sophomore Stanley Wojdylak and CBA senior Carl Vasti will meet for the third time this season. Wojdylak has won both bouts.

Southern senior Joe Toci and Pinelands junior Chris Nielsen will square off in the 182-pound quarterfinals. Nielsen defeated Toci to win the District 24 title. At heavyweight, Central senior Darius Marrow will be looking for revenge against St. John Vianney junior Micah Clarke, who knocked him out of the tournament last season.


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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