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JACKSON TOWNSHIP -- Wall's Donovan DiStefano had just escaped from the clutches of Christian Brothers Academy's Tyler Barrett in the tiebreaker period of their 150-pound NJSIAA Region 6 championship bout to tie the score, but he knew that was not going to be enough to win him the title.

"That's exactly what was going through my head," DiStefano said. "I knew he scored first so he's going to get choice (in the ultimate tiebreaker) and I need to push now to score because I'm not going to be able to hold him down for 30 seconds."

After escaping to tie the score, DiStefano kept pushing forward and looking for an opening. He couldn't get to Barrett's legs but what he did do was force a second stalling call on Barrett to secure the go-ahead point that propelled him to a 4-3 victory and the 2023 Region 6 150-pound title.

Tom Smith |
Tom Smith |

"I needed something there," DiStefano said. "I was just shooting and grabbing and trying to make something happen. I was going all out."

DiStefano, a junior, is now a two-time Region 6 champion after also winning the 144-pound title last season. He is the Crimson Knights' fifth multi-time region champion in program history.

The victory also represented redemption for DiStefano. He was hoping to get a crack at Barrett, who was last season's state third-place finisher at 150 pounds, in the Shore Conference Tournament. Barrett was seeded first and DiStefano second, but in the semifinals, Ocean's James Farina knocked him off with a 4-3 win. DiStefano ended up finishing sixth after forfeiting his consolation bouts. The SCT semifinal loss to Farina remained his only defeat of the season heading into regions.

DiStefano reached the championship bout via a 17-7 major decision over Shore Regional's Ty Koch in the quarterfinals and a 5-1 decision over Jackson Memorial's Cael Huxford in the semifinals. Barrett won by 21-7 major decision vs. Jackson Liberty's Jordan Ayyash in the quarterfinals and a 12-1 major decision over Long Branch's Logan Smith in the semifinals.

After a scoreless first period, Barrett took a 2-0 lead when he hit a Granby roll for a reversal early in the second period. DiStefano escaped to make it 2-1, forced a stalling warning on Barrett, then escaped again in the third period to tie the bout 2-2. There was no scoring in sudden victory and the bout headed to rideouts. Barrett escaped four seconds into the first 30-second tiebreaker to take a 3-2 lead. In the second tiebreaker period, DiStefano escaped with 22 seconds left to tie the bout 3-3. The second staling call on Barrett came with two seconds left and the resulting penalty point gave DiStefano the 4-3 advantage as time expired.

Tom Smith |
Tom Smith |

"I knew it was going to be a close bout and I knew what I needed to do was push the pace," DiStefano said. "Tyler is really good at winning close matches and closing them out at the end. From the get-go, I wanted to push the pace and force a stall call - and I did that - and maybe get an early takedown. He's really good, he's won a lot of this stuff. I just really wanted to get out there and show I'm as good as the top guys in New Jersey."

DiStefano is now a three-time state qualifier and the victory over Barrett should vault him even higher on the seeding chart for the NJSIAA State Championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Last season he was one win away from a state medal, falling in the quarterfinals and then again in the blood round at 144 pounds.

"I'm really excited after this weekend," DiStefano said. "I think I'm going to get a nice spot in that bracket and after last year, I'm on a mission."

DiStefano was one of three finalists and two champions for Wall. At 106 pounds, sophomore Michael DiBiase captured his first region title with a 5-4 victory over Point Boro's Joey DeAngelo. It was the eighth meeting between the two wrestlers over the last two seasons. DiBiase is now 6-2 vs. DeAngelo, including a 3-1 mark this season.

Senior Kei'sun Sanders finished second at heavyweight, losing 8-4 to Jackson Memorial's Ryan Fischer.


Brick Memorial's Anthony Santaniello makes history

Less than a dozen wrestlers in the history of the Shore Conference have won four region titles. You can now add Brick Memorial senior Anthony Santaniello to that list.

Santaniello polished off a dominant tournament with a 16-1 victory over Howell's Giovanni Scafidi to win the 132-pound title and become the ninth wrestler in Shore Conference history to win four region championships. He is 33-0 this season and 131-3 for his career entering the state tournament where he will try to win his second state title and close out an all-time great career.

Read more about Santaniello in this separate story. 


Falcone snaps skid, Lawrence flips the switch as CBA crowns seven total champs

CBA sophomore AJ Falcone honed his wrestling craft as a member of the Howell Predator recreational program, one of the top youth wrestling organizations in the Shore that has produced countless championship wrestlers over the years across several different high school programs. At the Shore Conference Tournament, five of the eight wrestlers in the quarterfinals were former Howell Predators.

Heading into the Shore Conference Tournament, Falcone had yet to find success against his former teammates. He was 0-7, to be exact, and you better believe that was on his mind heading into the 126-pound region final versus Howell junior Sebastian Ortega.

"Before the match, I definitely was thinking about that," Falcone said. "That just gave me more motivation. I wanted it more, and it helped out a lot."

Falcone broke that losing streak in a big way on Saturday afternoon, scoring a signature victory by defeating Ortega, 3-1, to win his first region championship. A takedown at the buzzer to end the first period provided the bout's only offensive points as Falcone wrestled a smart, calculated match to defeat the three-time state qualifier and former state medalist.

"We wrestled last year and we drilled over the summer at Fargo camp together," Falcone said of his relationship with Ortega. "I've been friends with him my whole life. Great kid, great competitor."

"I definitely wanted to slow his pace down and get to my attacks more. The plan was to get him on his toes a little bit, snaps, and get to my attacks there."

Tom Smith |
Tom Smith |

Ortega was the aggressor in the first period but Falcone played the edge well and limited the angles for Ortega. Then, with time winding down in the first period, Falcone shot and scored a takedown on the edge for a 2-0 lead.

"That gave me a lot of confidence," Falcone said. "Second period 0-0 would have been a lot tougher but being up 2-0, I knew if I kept moving and dictated the pace I would win."

Falcone's belief in himself never wavered despite the lack of success against his former youth teammates. Now he has a tangible result to deepen his conviction in his abilities.

"That definitely helps, but I knew from yesterday, I kept telling myself in 48 hours I'm going to be a Region 6 champ," Falcone said. "I know in my heart I'm good enough to compete with the guys at 126 (at the state tournament). It's definitely a stacked weight class with everybody dropping down but I'm a competitor and I know if I keep these kids on their toes I'm going to go out and win."

Several bouts later, teammate Anthony Lawrence continued his dominant individual postseason by securing his first region title. The No. 1 seed at 165 pounds, Lawerence won by fall over Jackson Memorial's Luke Hamann in 2:43. In six bouts between the District 21 and Region 6 tournaments, Lawrence has won by fall in all six. None of the bouts have reached the third period.

"I went into that match knowing I had to get the job done," Lawrence said. "It was my last chance to become a region champion so I went out and did everything I could to finish the job."

Lawrence spent his first two seasons at Toms River East where he finished third in District 25 as a freshman and qualified for the Central Region Tournament during the Covid-altered season of 2021. He transferred to CBA last season.

"I just wanted more from wrestling," Lawrence said. "It's a great sport and keeps me disciplined and I needed more. I knew CBA was the best shot and I just kept working hard to get to this moment."

Last season, Lawrence won his first district title, placed third at regions, and reached the second round of wrestelbacks at the state tournament. His 13-10 record this season does not tell the story of how different he has looked. CBA's daunting schedule has put blemishes on everyone's record but has clearly prepared everyone for a successful postseason run.

"I told myself I'm just gonna take it all and go because it's my last year, it's all I got," Lawrence said. "100 percent, it's about mindset. I was able to flip the switch."

Heading into his second and final state tournament, Lawrence is wrestling as well as ever.

"From going last year and knowing how it is and how it goes, I'm more prepared for it," Lawrence said. "I'm ready to go out there and give it my all."

CBA's seven region champs tied a program record it originally set last season and the Colts set a program record with 10 medal winners, eclipsing the nine medal winners from last season. Senior Julian George won his third region title with a 19-3 technical fall in 4:42 over Howell senior Kieran Bruen. He joins Dave Santamaria and Rich Koehler as three-time region champs at CBA.

Winning their second titles were seniors Zander Silva (157) and Rob Canterino (215) and junior Alex Nini (138). Silva rolled to the 157-pound title with two pins and one major decision. He won by fall in 1:48 over Point Boro's Jack Thompson in the championship bout. Canterino was the overwhelming favorite in both the District 21 and Region 6 tournaments and took care of business Saturday with a 16-0 technical fall in 3:50 over Ewing's Collin Elam to win the 215-pound title. Canterino has five wins by fall and one technical fall in six postseason bouts. Nini won the 138-pound title with a 3-0 decision over Long Branch's Joe Giordano. Neither wrestler was able to score on their feet and it was Nini's two-point near-fall exposure in the second period and an escape in the third that provided all the points.

At 113 pounds, freshman Bobby Duffy continued his outstanding season by winning the region title with a 5-1 victory over Jackson Liberty junior Anthony Urso. Duffy also won the Shore Conference Tournament title earlier this season.

Finishing second were senior Tyler Barrett at 150, senior Nick Stump at 175, and junior Tyler Venet at 120. Senior Peter Grippo was sixth at 190 pounds.


Harvey Ludington & Xavier Ortega repeat as region champs; DJ Henry, Ryan Fischer claim first region crowns

Brick Memorial sophomore Harvey Ludington, the defending 175-pound state champion, was predictably dominant en route to his second straight region title. He won by fall in the first period in both the quarterfinals and semifinals before winning by 19-4 technical fall in 3:50 over CBA's Nick Stump in the championship bout.

Howell sophomore Xavier Ortega repeated as Region 6 champion with a 4-0 decision over CBA junior Tyler Venet, who was last year's 106-pound Region 6 champion. Ortega had a takedown and two back points in the first period to build a lead that would remain until the final buzzer of the 120-pound title match. Ortega won by fall in his first two bouts. He is the eighth wrestler in Howell's history to win multiple region championships.

Ortega's Howell teammate, senior DJ Henry, won the 190-pound championship with a 3-0 victory over Jackson Liberty's Jake Klein. It is Henry's first region title after finishing second to Ludington at 175 last year. Henry scored a takedown in the first period and an escape in the second period before riding out Klein in the third.

Closing out the Region 6 Tournament was the heavyweight battle between Jackson Memorial senior Ryan Fischer and Wall senior Kei'sun Sanders. It was a rematch from the Shore Conference Tournament when Fischer won the SCT title with a 1-0 decision. Points figured to be at a premium, so when Sanders scored a takedown with 42 seconds left in the first period he looked to be in prime position. Fischer escaped seven seconds later, however, and in the second period, he escaped again and followed with a takedown for a 4-2 lead. Sanders chose neutral to begin the third period and Fischer secured another takedown 22 seconds into the period to go up 6-2. Sanders escaped at 1:11 but Fischer added another takedown with 51 seconds left to seal region gold.



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