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BRICK TOWNSHIP — With a crucial bout coming up late in an important match, there’s no one Southern would rather have on the mat than senior Jesse Bauta.

“He’s just that guy for us,” said Rams senior Nick Racanelli. “We have so much confidence in him, and we know he’s going to do his job. He picks it up when we put it down.”

In the biggest Shore Conference match of the season, it was Bauta who once again delivered in the clutch. With the Rams leading host Brick Memorial, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, by three with two bouts left, Bauta bumped up to heavyweight and secured a 10-7 win over standout freshman Nick Rivera to clinch the No. 2 Rams’ eventual 25-22 Class A South victory on Thursday night.

When Nick Costa won by major decision over Pat Ferraro at 195 pounds to cut Southern’s lead to 22-13, Rams head coach John Stout decided to forfeit to Region VI runner-up Tyler Poling at 220 and bump Bauta to heavyweight for the win. Southern had already won seven bouts, so all Bauta had to do was win by decision to clinch the match.

“I felt confident,” Bauta said. “There weren’t any big moves I had to make. All I had to do was go out there and win. It was cut and dry, so that’s what I went out there trying to do.”

Bauta was giving up 63 pounds to Rivera, who entered with a 9-1 record. He secured the first takedown with a head-outside single, then countered a shot by Rivera to spin behind him and take a 4-2 lead after the first period.

“I liked that I got a takedown early because it put more pressure on him and forced him to try and take more shots,” Bauta said. “That’s where I got a lot of my points off.”

In the second period with Bauta starting on defense, Rivera tried to ride Bauta with with one leg in while working a head-and-arm, but got too high on Bauta’s hips and Bauta was able to pop out the back for the reversal. Bauta then turned Rivera with a half-nelson for two near-fall points and an 8-3 lead after two.

Bauta slowed a bit in the third period as Rivera pushed forward trying to close the gap. An escape to start the third made it 8-4, and the second and third stalling calls against Bauta made it 8-6. Rivera had a chance to tie the bout with a takedown when Bauta shot a double-leg, and he sprawled to avoid it. He reached for a double-leg of his own, but Bauta defended it and quickly spun around his prone opponent for a 10-6 lead. Rivera got to his feet to make it 10-7, but Bauta was able to hold on and deliver Southern the victory.

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Earlier in the season Bauta came through with a clutch pin of Kyle Cocozza to help the Rams defeat No. 3 Howell, 28-19.

“I like wrestling under pressure because I feel like there are people depending on me, and I don’t want to let them down,” Bauta said. “If the pressure is off me I guess in my brain I feel like I have more leeway, and I would try to get away with more things. When I know the pressure is on me I’m not going to let anyone else down.”

Rivera is a very good heavyweight, and not just for a freshman. His only loss prior to Thursday came against Paulsboro’s Davontae Randall, 2-1, in the quarterfinals of the Mustang Classic. He delivered a crucial overtime win during Brick Memorial’s win over Jackson Memorial this season, and has the physical build of an upperclassman.

“In wrestling it’s not like football, you have to go with the technique factor and we figured we had an edge there,” Stout said. “We felt Bauta had more mat savvy and mat presence. Rivera is going to be a phenomenal heavyweight when his time comes. That kid’s going to be unbeatable in a couple years. But for right now, I felt as though we had a slight advantage there.”

“(Technique) was my best bet because there was no way I was going to outmuscle him,” Bauta said. “He had the weight and he had the strength (advantage) against me. But there are other ways you gotta win the match.”

Thursday night’s victory moved the Rams to 11-0 and 4-0 in A South, and was a major step toward the A South division title. If Southern can defeat No. 4 Jackson Memorial on Monday, it will have all but clinched its seventh division title and first since 2005. But more importantly, the win gave this specific group tangible evidence they could beat Brick Memorial. The Mustangs had won the last three meetings, including a 35-13 win during the regular season last year and a 34-27 win in the 2013 Group IV final.

“This was an experience you can only imagine,” Racanelli said. “They beat us twice last year - almost embarrassed us - so it feels good to get them back and get a little revenge.”

“It’s really big,” Bauta said. “Now they know and we know they’re beatable. We proved today we could beat them and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do it again.”

Southern will not participate in the Shore Conference Tournament, so if the two teams were to meet again this season it would have to come in either the Group IV semifinals or final.

Brick Memorial senior Joe Ghione, a two-time state medalist and two-time region champ who has been out with an elbow injury since Dec. 21, weighed in at 138 pounds but did not wrestle. That was but one of many, many twists and turns that could have had the match end differently.

Andrew Tonneson nearly had Jose Bocalman pinned at 126 pounds, but the Mustangs junior avoided the pin to lose by 9-3 decision. Brick Memorial sophomore Anthony Mitchel nearly came back from a 6-0 deficit to pin Bryan Brown at 132, but Brown held on for an 8-7 win that gave Southern a 12-0 lead. Alec Donovan nearly pinned Zach Wilhelm with a spladle at 145.

Brick Memorial's Rob Ruggiero had a major decision in hand against Joe Toci at 160, but some confusion with the official scorebooks and scoreboard led the Mustangs to believe Ruggiero was up by nine when he was only up by eight. He cut Toci loose late in the bout and ended up winning 12-5, losing out on a team point.

Connor Owen came close to pinning Southern's Peyton Blauvelt with a cradle at 182. A couple inches in either direction could have changed the entire complexion of the match. But that’s the case with two teams as even as Brick Memorial and Southern. To go back and look at the what-ifs would only serve to drive Brick Memorial head coach Mike Denver mad, or Stout for that matter if Southern had lost.

“The what-ifs tend to go away when you put in the time, put in the effort and put in the hard work,” Denver said. “I think these guys wrestled very tough tonight. To be down and come back, they demonstrated a lot of heart, and I’m really proud of them.”

“It’s A South,” Stout said. “As a coaching staff we’ve been dealing with it as long as we’ve been coaching together. You have to grind and you get used to that.”

Southern won the first five bouts of the match to take a 16-0 lead. Junior James Knoeller (17-2) took a 4-0 decision from sophomore Luke Vescovi (10-7) with a first period takedown and third period reversal at 113 pounds. At 120, junior Chris Crane (14-2) held off a late charge by Luis Bocalman (10-4) for an 11-7 decision. Tonneson (16-3) and Jose Bocalman (12-4) were tied at three entering the third period before Tonneson turned Bocalman twice for two sets of three near-fall points, nearly getting the pin each time, to win 9-3.


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Brown (13-3), a senior, build a 6-0 lead on Mitchel (12-5) with a takedown and two near-fall points with a cradle in the first period and another takedown in the second. Brown chose top to start the third period, but Mitchel threw him to his back with a headlock and was a fraction of an inch away from what would have been a match-turning pin. The gap was closed to 6-5, but Brown scored a reversal to take an 8-5 lead. Mitchel would get those two points back with a late reversal, but there wasn’t enough time left for any more offense as Brown held on for the 8-7 win.


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With Ghione out of the lineup, junior Matt Wilhelm (14-3) won by major decision, 12-0, over junior Joe Stowers (8-6) at 138 pounds to give Southern a 16-0 lead.

Brick Memorial got on the board when Donovan (16-0) edged Zach Wilhelm (14-3), 4-2. A first period takedown by Wilhelm had him leading 2-0 heading to the second before Donovan cut the lead in half with a late escape. Wilhelm started the third on defense and Donovan not only rode him out, but locked in a spladle for three near-fall points to pull out the win. Southern knew it had to win one of the bouts at 145 and 152, and Racanelli (14-2) delivered that with a 3-1 decision over Cliff Ruggiero (8-4) at 152 pounds to extend the Rams’ lead to 19-3.

“That was huge because we knew we needed to split there,” Stout said. “Donovan is a tough, tough guy to beat and a great competitor, and he’s beaten just about everyone we’ve put out against him. Zach can beat him, but we knew we had to get a split there. We thought we could, but obviously there were no guarantees.”

Southern senior Nick Racanelli edged Brick Memorial junior Cliff Ruggiero 3-1 at 152 pounds in another crucial toss-up bout.

“I had to keep it going for my team,” Racanelli said. “You have to be cautious around (the Ruggiero twins, who are known for their judo throws). You don’t go for a big move, just wrestle safe and pull out a win.”

Then came Rob Ruggiero’s 12-5 decision over Toci at 160 that would have most likely been a major decision if not for some clerical confusion. Southern’s lead was down to 19-6 before senior Gerardo Jorge (13-4) topped Bob Mitler (7-8), 9-3 at 170, to give the Rams a 22-6 advantage with five bouts remaining.

The Mustangs were still in good shape, but needed Owen to win at 182. The junior came through with a  7-1 decision over Blauvelt, but nearly had more when he locked up a near-side cradle with 45 seconds left in the second period. Owen got the three near-fall points to build a 5-0 lead, but Blauvelt was able to avoid getting pinned to keep the Rams in front by double digits, 22-9. Costa’s major of Ferraro, 11-3, made it 22-13 to set up the forfeit to Poling and Bauta’s heroics at heavyweight. Brick Memorial freshman Gianni Ghione closed out the match with a 7-1 decision over Frank Amiano at 106 pounds.

As monumental as Southern’s victory was, it is still just a regular-season match. Both teams have ultimate goals of winning the NJSIAA Group IV title. The other accolades will either be gravy or slight consolation prizes. Although Brick Memorial will have to get through either or both Jackson Memorial and Howell in the Central Jersey Group IV bracket, the Mustangs and the Rams seemed destined to meet at Pine Belt Arena in three weeks, just as they have in four of the last six seasons.

And if it again comes down to one winner-take-all bout, Southern knows exactly who it can count on with the match on the line.


Box Score

No. 2 Southern 25,  No. 1 Brick Memorial 22
113: James Knoeller (S) d. Luke Vescovi 4-0
120: Chris Crane (S) d. Luis Bocalman 11-7
126: Andrew Tonneson (S) d. Jose Bocalman 9-3
132: Bryan Brown (S) d. Anthony Mitchel 8-7
138: Matt Wilhelm (S) md. Joe Stowers 12-0
145: Alec Donovan (BM) d. Zach Wilhelm 4-2
152: Nick Racanelli (S) d. Cliff Ruggiero 3-1
160: Rob Ruggiero (BM) d. Joe Toci 12-5
170: Gerardo Jorge (S) d. Bob Mitler 9-3
182: Connor Owen (BM) d. Peyton Blauvelt 7-1
195: Nick Costa (BM) md. Pat Ferraro 11-3
220: Tyler Poling (BM) by forfeit
Hwt: Jesse Bauta (S) d. Nick Rivera 10-7
106: Gianni Ghione (BM) d. Frank Amiano 7-1

Records: at Brick Memorial (10-1, 6-1); Southern (11-0, 4-0).