OCEAN TOWNSHIP – Long Branch has its fair share of hammers, but a solid wrestling team is about more than just the individuals with gaudy accolades. Dual meets are won and lost on the backs of the role players, the wrestlers who worked tirelessly to be ready when their name is called.

For senior Stiviny Silva and junior Isaiah Gonzalez, Wednesday was their chance to shine.

With Long Branch in win-or-go-home mode with three bouts left, Silva scored a takedown in the closing seconds for a 4-3 double-overtime win over Nick Benner at 138 pounds to keep the Green Wave alive. Then, in the final, winner-take-all bout, Gonzalez held off Jared Tracey for a 4-3 victory at 152 pounds as Long Branch, No. 9 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, rallied for a dramatic 30-28 walk-off victory over rival Ocean in a Shore Conference nondivisional match.

Wrestling for the first time since the Mustang Classic on Dec. 28 and in its first dual since Dec. 22 because of a team-wide skin issue, Long Branch trailed 24-12 through nine bouts but closed with victories in four of the last five matchups to win their sixth straight against Ocean.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been on the mat so I was a little concerned with getting some rust off,” said Long Branch head coach Dan George. “I was going to find out what kind of team I had. We called on some kids and they earned their stripes tonight.”

A 12-2 major decision by Ocean’s Jack Nies gave the Spartans their seventh win of the match and a 28-18 lead with three bouts remaining, but Long Branch viewed that result as a win for them since freshman Angel Bonnano was able to limit bonus points against Nies, a district runner-up and 30-bout winner last season. Making up 10 points in three bouts was doable, but there was no margin for error when Silva stepped on the mat. A win by Benner would have clinched the match for Ocean.

“I told them before it don’t matter who they put me out against,” Silva said. “Going up against Benner, he’s a tough kid from a great family. I just had to battle it out.”

“Stiviny Silva is a kid that is a key to high school wrestling,” George said. “He’s a soccer player who also wrestlers and he’s the hardest working guy in the room – first guy in, last guy to leave. He said, ‘Coach, I’ll get him’.”

Silva scored a takedown in the first period to grab an early lead before Benner escaped to make it 2-1 heading into the second period.  Benner chose defense in the second and escaped once more to knot the score at two heading to the third. Conventionally, Silva would have chosen defense to start the third, escaped for a lead and tried to hold on for the win. But Silva and George knew Benner’s strength is on top and the possibility of not getting out was significant, so the choice was instead neutral.

Silva worked for the takedown in the third but didn’t get it, sending the bout to overtime. In the one-minute sudden victory period there was also no scoring, so the bout moved to rideouts. Benner had choice in the first 30-second tiebreaker period and quickly escaped to take a 3-2 lead. Next came Silva’s turn and another decision: down or neutral. He chose neutral. Now the stakes were even higher with just 30 seconds to score a takedown and extend the match.

With three seconds left in double overtime, Silva whipped Benner to the mat and secured the takedown for a thrilling 4-3 win that kept Long Branch alive and trimmed Ocean’s lead to 27-21 with two bouts left.

“In the third period I also chose neutral because I was afraid I was going to get ridden out the whole period,” Silva said. “I knew I was going to have three minutes [third period plus overtime] to take him down, but I couldn’t get it. He would have rode me out on top [in double overtime] so I knew I had to go neutral. I only had 30 seconds but I got the take. You work hard for moments like this.”

“He didn’t panic there,” George said. “He’s been in the room for four years, been through the program. He wasn’t a starter freshman and sophomore years, rotated between weights last year but stayed in the program. He basically wrestled JV for two years but this was his time. He’ll never forget this for the rest of his life.”

With junior state medalist Alex Poniros out with a shoulder injury, Ocean has a significant hole in its lineup at 145 pounds. Long Branch took full advantage when senior Steven Pabone pinned sophomore Hugo Cota Domingues in 1:24 to pull Long Branch within 28-27 and set the stage for the final bout.

“When I saw Steven Pabone get that pin I knew it was up to me now and I had to go pull it out for my team,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez scored first with a takedown before Tracey countered with a reversal to tie the bout at two. Gonzalez escaped before the period concluded to take a 3-2 lead and Tracey escaped in the second period to make it 3-3 heading into the third period. Gonzalez chose defense, escaped with 1:40 left and held off Tracey’s takedown attempts the rest of the way for a 4-3 victory that clinched the win.

“This is one of the most fulfilling moments of my wrestling career,” Gonzalez said. I haven’t had a great season so far so I’ve been getting after it in the room. This win is everything I’ve been striving for.”

“We know how good he can be and his time came tonight,” George said. “It was time for him to earn his stripes in the green and white.”

Ocean (6-4) started strong by winning the first three bouts and taking six of the first nine matchups. Tah-Jay Phillips pinned Jack Friedman at 160 and Anthony Esposito won by fall over Andrew Conklin at 170 to stake the Spartans to a 12-0 advantage. Ryan Moran followed with a 3-2 win over Edgar Padilla in ultimate tiebreaker to make it 15-0.

Long Branch won the next three bouts to cut its deficit to 15-12, starting with La’Qym Morris’s 11-8 win over Dino Poniros at 195 pounds. Tracey Taylor won by injury default over Anthony Perez at 220 pounds and senior state medalist Kevin Cerruti defeated Joe Teresi, 9-3, at heavyweight.

Ocean responded with another three-bout winning streak to take a 24-12 lead. Blake Tarnowski used a takedown in the second period and three near-fall points in the third to beat Dylan Kelleher, 5-1, at 106 pounds. Demetri Poniros opened up a 7-1 lead in the first period on his way to a 9-3 win over Joe Conlon at 113 and Will Tisony turned Rey Guzman twice in the third period to take a 7-4 decision at 120 pounds.

Long Branch began its comeback when junior Ryan Zimmerman, a two-time state qualifier, won by fall over Nick Schneider in 1:38 a 126 pounds, cutting Ocean’s lead to 24-18 with four bouts left.

Long Branch was without two starters as senior Luke Arnold continues to work his way back from a wrist injury suffered during football season and junior Ryan Carey has been out with an illness. Carey was cleared on Wednesday, weighed in at 145 pounds and campaigned to wrestle, but without any recent practice time was held out of action.

“We knew it was going to be a tough match,” Silva said. “We have some injuries right now but we all work hard in the room and we can trust whoever we put out there.”

“Every team has its own identity and, in the past, we’ve done this [comeback win] more than once,” George said. “This team, I didn’t know if we had that in us.”

He does now.


Box Score

No. 9 Long Branch 30, Ocean 28

160: Tah-Jay Phillips (O) p. Jack Friedman, 1:16

170: Anthony Esposito (O) p. Andrew Conklin, 1:45

182: Ryan Moran (O) d. Edgar Padilla, 3-2 UTB

195: La’Qym Morris (LB) d. Dino Poniros, 11-8

220: Tracey Taylor (LB) by injury default over Anthony Perez, 0:57

285: Kevin Cerruti (LB) d. Joe Teresi, 9-3

106: Blake Tarnowski (O) d. Dylan Kelleher, 5-1

113: Demetri Poniros (O) d. Joe Conlon, 9-3

120: Will Tisony (O) d. Rey Guzman, 7-4

126: Ryan Zimmerman (LB) p. Nick Schneider, 1:38

132: Jack Nies (O) md. Angel Bonnano, 12-2

138: Stiviny Silva (LB) d. Nick Benner, 4-3 2OT

145: Steven Pabone (LB) p. Hugo Cota Domingues, 1:24

152: Isaiah Gonzalez (LB) d. Jared Tracey, 4-3

Records: at Ocean (6-4); Long Branch (4-1).


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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.


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