Where Eagles Dare: No. 4 Middletown South Outwrestles No. 2 Howell, Moves Closer to First Division Title Since 1987
FARMINGDALE -- Matt Cody was fairly sure he knew the answer when asked if any of his class's Middletown South wrestling teams, from youth through middle school to high school, had ever beaten Howell. He turned to fellow senior Robert Generelli, who was already shaking his head sideways. A certain 'No".
That all changed on Tuesday.
On a night Middletown South's program has been building toward for several seasons, the Eagles, ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, outwrestled No. 2 Howell from start to finish and came away with a well-earned 31-27 Shore Conference Class A North victory. Cody delivered a match-altering pin at 215 pounds, Generelli won a top-five battle at 138 pounds, senior Jack Willi won in overtime at 190 pounds, and Middletown South saved bonus points at three critical weights. The Eagles won eight of the 13 contested bouts and only trailed once during the match.
Middletown South's win over Howell is its first in at least 20 years and believed to be its first since 1997, according to Frank D'Esposito at ShoreConferenceWrestling.com. There are still division matches left to wrestle, but the results of Tuesday night will most likely result in a three-way tie for the Class A North division title with Middletown South, Howell, and Christian Brothers Academy. It will be the Eagles' first division title since 1987.
"We've been wrestling together since middle school and have been working toward this since then," Cody said. "Six years all leading up to this moment here. Howell is a great program but we came out and we were ready to wrestle."
"To win an A-North championship for the first time since 1987 is pretty remarkable," Generelli said. "We've had our eyes on this since sixth grade. Freshman year and sophomore year were learning years and now we're at the top of the hill."
Generelli has been excellent this season for Middletown South and delivered another important win on Tuesday when he defeated Howell sophomore Giovanni Scafidi, 6-4, in the match's opening bout at 138 pounds. Generelli, ranked No. 3 at 138 pounds in the SSN rankings, rallied from a 2-0 deficit after the first period with a takedown in the second period and two more in the third, including the go-ahead takedown with 26 seconds left to defeat No. 4 Scafidi, who was a state qualifier last season.
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"I started the match off vs. CBA last week so I knew it was important to get that first one and get the guys rolling," Generelli said. "It shushed the crowd down a little bit. It was a little hectic and that quieted them down pretty quick."
Generelli was the initiator throughout the bout but Scafidi's counter-attacking style was tough to crack. It even yielded him the bout's first points when he fought off a takedown attempt and scrambled in position for a takedown of his own. But Generelli was undeterred, sticking with his plan even though he knew it played into Scafidi's strength, as well.
"I expected that," Generelli said. "He beat my guy David Hussey twice last year so we've been studying the tape. He's very defensive and wants you to come to him, but I still went to him because I have so much confidence in my shot and my attack. I feel I can take anybody down with my sweep single so I just kept going after it."
"The fact we pulled 138 first with Rob in one of the potential toss-up matches, we felt more than comfortable," said Middletown South head coach Anton Atterbury. "If there's anyone we want to start with, it's him."
Middletown South's flexibility in the middle weights then showed up as senior Jason Desanctis went out at 144 pounds (where he is ranked No. 7) and delivered a 10-2 major decision over Rob Wiessel. Hussey, ranked No. 1 at 144 pounds, then won by 18-3 technical fall in 4:26 over Gavin Merkel at 150 to give Middletown South a 12-0 lead through three bouts.
The early lead from Generelli's victory and bonus points from Desanctis and Hussey were crucial. Even though the Eagles had some more ranked wrestlers taking the mat in the coming weights, Howell's firepower was lurking.
No. 5 Nick Acque got Howell on the board at 157 when he eked out a 6-5 win over Alex Quintano, who is ranked No. 4 at 150 pounds. Quintano tied the bout at 5-5 on a takedown with 27 seconds left in the third period but Acque was able to get out for an escape with six seconds left.
Reigning state champion Hunter Mays, ranked No. 1 at 165, then pinned No. 5 Nick Holland in 1:03 to pull the Rebels within 12-9. At 175, No. 3 DJ Henry was dominant with a 19-5 major decision over No. 8 Jack Reiter to give Howell a 13-12 lead, but in not getting pinned and avoiding a technical fall, Reiter saved two critical bonus points for the Eagles.
The match began to turn at 190 pounds where Willi, another senior, scored a takedown early in sudden victory to win 3-1 over Ian Soutar and give Middletown South a 15-13 lead. The turning point came at 215 where Cody, ranked No. 7, opened up a 5-0 lead on Dane Colfer in the second period. Colfer took Cody down to make it 5-2 in the third period before Cody escaped to make it 6-2. A decision victory was well in hand as the clock ticked toward zero, but Colfer leaned heavily into Cody and went for a bull-rush takedown. Cody used the leverage to his advantage, rolling through and putting Colfer to his back for a pin with just two seconds left on the clock. Just like that, Middletown South was up 21-13.
"You can never settle," Willi said when asked about the idea of staying conservative late in the bout. "He was pushing in and I was looking for my over/under."
"Momentum is huge in the match and that definitely swung even more momentum in our favor," Atterbury said.
Howell's Thomas Richards did a good job holding the strong and athletic Dante Miranda (ranked No. 7) to a 2-0 decision at 285 pounds, but the victory extended Middletown South's lead to 24-13 with five bouts left. Howell had a big advantage at 106 and 113 with sophomore Liam Clark and freshman Xavier Ortega, but once again the Eagles were able to earn a net victory by limiting bonus points.
No, 7 Clark put Zach Venisky to his back in the first period and again in the second period for near-fall counts but couldn't get Veniseky completely over and threaten with a pin. Clark ended up winning by 13-0 major decision to cut Howell's deficit to 24-17, but Veniskey had done his job by saving bonus points. The same scenario played out at 113 where No. 2 Ortega went up 7-0 after the first period over No. 10 Ryan Madden but couldn't turn him for a pin. He piled up eight points in the third period chasing a technical fall but Madden was able to keep it at a 17-3 major decision. A dominant win for Howell but another net win for Middletown South, which led 24-21 with three bouts left and two-time state medalist Jack Zaleski waiting in the wings.
"We went up and down and talked about it all week, the importance of everyone doing their job," Atterbury said. "Even saving one team point is a huge win for us in certain positions and the guys knew what their job was and they each did their job."
"We wanted to slow them down and I think we did a good job of that tonight," Generelli said. "More than that, guys tying them up when they were down by 14. We lost back-to-back matches by 13 and 14 and that's huge team points. It made a big difference."
Howell was again without standout sophomore Sebastian Ortega, who was fifth in the state at 113 pounds last year and is the Rebels' starting 120-pounder. He weighed in and was introduced during the Lehigh introductions, but did not wrestle. He has not wrestled since the Powerade Tournament on Dec. 30. That void obviously was a big boon for Middletown South, and senior Kaden King took advantage when he delivered a 6-0 win over Mike Edmunson at 120 to put the Eagles up 27-21 with two bouts left.
At 126 pounds, Zaleski put the finishing touches on one of the biggest wins in program history, cruising to a 13-2 major decision over Sawyer Ostroff to officially clinch the match. The Eagles then forfeited the final bout at 132 pounds.
"We thought we matched up well with them," Generelli said. "Technically we're better than them, they're just more of a physical known team. If everybody did their job we knew we were going to come out on top."
"Howell is a tremendous program; everybody knows what Howell's got so to beat them is something special," Cody said. "
Middletown South is most certainly a senior-laden team with senior starters at 10 of its 14 weights. The days of pointing toward the future are over. This is the year they have to put it all together and do things Middletown South teams of the past have either rarely or never accomplished. Goal No.1 was a division title, and although it will be a tri-championship, it will still go down as a title.
"We talked about how this is a special group that has worked hard for a long time and this is their year," Atterbury said. "All the work they've put in, it comes to a culmination this year for those seniors."
The win over Howell proves that the rest of the Eagles' goals are attainable, as well. Next up is the Shore Conference Tournament. Then it's the state tournament where Middletown South has never won a state sectional title. Right now, they are the favorites in Central Jersey Group 4.
"We plan on being state champs," Generelli said.
No. 4 Middletown South 31, No. 2 Howell 27
138: No. 3 Robert Generelli (MS) d. No. 4 Giovanni Scafidi, 6-4
144: No. 7 Jason Desanctis (MS) md. Rob Wiessel, 10-2
150: No. 1 (at 144) David Hussey (MS) tf. Gavin Merkel, 4:26 (18-3)
157: No. 5 Nick Acque (H) d. No. 4 (at 150) Alex Quintano, 6-5
165: No. 1 Hunter Mays (H) p. No. 5 Nick Holland, 1:03
175: No. 3 DJ Henry (H) md. No. 8 Jack Reiter, 19-5
190: Jack Willi (MS) d. Ian Soutar, 3-1 in sudden victory
215: No. 7 Matt Cody (MS) p. Dane Colfer, 5:58
285: No. 8 Dante Miranda (MS) d. Thomas Richards, 2-0
106: No. 7 Gavin Clark (H) md. Zach Veniskey, 13-0
113: No. 2 Xavier Ortega (H) md. No. 10 Ryan Madden, 17-3
120: Kaden King (MS) d. Mike Edmunson, 6-0
126: No. 2 Jack Zaleski (MS) md. Sawyer Ostroff, 13-2
132: Kieran Bruen (H) by forfeit