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BRICK TOWNSHIP — The mantra all year for Brick Memorial has been 14 wrestlers simply “doing their jobs.” Senior Connor Owen says he was just doing his part Friday night, but his latest task was no simple request.

Brick Memorial needed one win over the final three bouts to lock up the South Jersey Group V championship, and Owen represented the best hope at 195 pounds. He delivered in dramatic fashion, using an escape and a takedown with under a minute left in the third period to win 4-3 over Sean Silverstein and clinch the match as the Mustangs took down Howell, 28-25, to win the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V title.

“The coaches talked to me and said go out there and set the pace, and I just went out there and did my job,” Owen said. “Just because I wrestled last doesn’t mean I wrestled the best. I did what I had to do. This was about all 14 guys.”

Brick Memorial senior Connor Owen won by 4-3 decision over Howell senior Sean Silverstein at 195 pounds to clinch the Mustangs' 28-25 victory over the Rebels that won the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V title. (Photo by Ray Richardson).
Brick Memorial senior Connor Owen won by 4-3 decision over Howell senior Sean Silverstein at 195 pounds to clinch the Mustangs' 28-25 victory over the Rebels that won the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V title. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

What he did was give Brick Memorial a nine-point lead with one bout left, securing the program’s 15th sectional title and pulling the Mustangs through New Jersey’s toughest public school state tournament bracket. Owen’s heroics came after Brick Memorial won four straight bouts from 145 to 170 pounds to take a 25-16 lead.

During that stretch a pin by senior Alec Donovan at 152 pounds ignited the Mustangs and gave them the bonus points they desperately needed. After nearly having David Nocks pinned in the first period, Donovan stayed patient and finally secured the fall in the third period, hitting a cement mixer for the pin in 5:23 to give Brick Memorial an 18-16 lead.

“Good things come to those who wait, and I waited until the third period and it was there,” Donovan said. “Last year I didn’t get the pin and we lost, but this year I got the pin and we won.”

The win was also a measure of redemption for Brick Memorial, which lost to Howell in both the Shore Conference Tournament and Central Jersey Group IV finals last season.

"Losing last year was tough for me, but now as a senior I'm having the best time of my life," Donovan said. "These seniors did it as sophomores and we wanted it one more time."

Brick Memorial will next wrestle North Bergen in the NJSIAA Group V semifinals at 10 a.m. on Sunday at Sun National Bank Arena in Trenton. The winner will face the winner of North Hunterdon and Hunterdon Central for the Group V championship at 3:30 p.m.

Howell fell just short in its quest for the program’s second straight sectional title. Freshman Kyle Slendorn won by fall at 106 pounds and junior Kris Lindemann made his return to the lineup after missing two weeks with a knee injury to win by major decision at 138 pounds.

“We win as a team and lose as a team, hats off to Brick Memorial,” said Howell head coach John Gagliano. “We knew they were going to make their run and it would be tough in the middle. We knew what we had to do.”

The Mustangs had their plan of attack laid out entering the match, and that involved limiting bonus points and staying patient yet aggressive in bouts where they needed to pick up bonus points. Starting at heavyweight, things went right for Howell early. Ryan Demian held Nick Rivera to a 1-0 decision at heavyweight, Slendorn pinned Wardlaw and Mikey Sisolak held Gianni Ghione to a decision at 113 pounds.

The match went back and forth from there with Howell junior Peter Dee edging Luis Bocalman, 2-1 at 120 pounds, before Jose Bocalman tied the match at nine with an 8-4 win over Nick Ciaccia at 126 pounds. Rebels junior Anthony Gagliano put Howell in front, 12-9, with an 8-3 decision over Luke Vescovi at 132 pounds.

The match started to turn Brick Memorial’s way at 138 pounds. Even though he weighed in and warmed up, plus the fact that on Wednesday Gagliano said he would be in the lineup Friday, it was still up in the air if and at what weight Lindemann would wrestle. When Howell sent him out at 138 pounds, the Mustangs countered with senior Ricky Davis. He had one job: don’t get pinned.

As he did in the Shore Conference Tournament final, Davis saved bonus points for Brick Memorial, fighting off his back several times in keeping Lindemann to a 10-1 major decision. The victory gave Howell the largest lead for either team at that point, 16-9, but in bumping up their lineup Brick Memorial was now in position to dictate the match.

“I definitely had faith Davis would go out there and not get pinned,” said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Denver. “He’s a tough kid and we see that in the (wrestling) room.”

“Davis has been busting his (butt) all year and so have the rest of us,” Owen said. “You depend on your guys to make something happen and put it on the line, and they definitely did that tonight.”

Mustangs junior Anthony Mitchell started Brick Memorial’s four-bout run with a 5-2 decision over Jake Esposito at 145 pounds. Mitchell launched Esposito to his back in the first period for a five-point move, nearly finishing off the pin that would’ve put Brick Memorial firmly in the driver’s seat. Esposito was able to get off his back and save bonus points by not allowing another point in the bout.

That set up Donovan to secure the pin against Nocks at 152. Donovan has been in this situation before, and while it’s never easy for a wrestler to get a pin when everyone in the building knows he needs one, he came through when the Mustangs needed him most. He nearly hit his “Donovan” roll he made famous in the 2013 Group IV final for a first-period fall, but Nocks was saved by the buzzer.

“As soon as I hit (the Donovan) I knew I broke him,” Donovan said. “From the start of the second period my goal was just to get as many points as I could and then go for the pin.”

Brick Memorial senior Alec Donovan pinned Howell senior David Nocks in the third period for crucial bonus points at 152 pounds that helped the Mustangs win 28-25 in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V championship match. (Photo by Ray Richardson).
Brick Memorial senior Alec Donovan pinned Howell senior David Nocks in the third period for crucial bonus points at 152 pounds that helped the Mustangs win 28-25 in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V championship match. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

Leading just 2-0 heading to the third, Donovan opened up with two takedowns for 7-2 lead. Immediately after letting Nocks get to his feet, Donovan clamped down with a cement mixer and finished off the fall at 5:23.

“That was definitely one of the biggest moments,” Denver said. “For Alec to go out there, especially against Nocks, and get the fall was huge. It just shows the kind of character and the type of kid he is.”

Senior Rob Ruggiero followed with an 11-0 major decision over Anthony Pozsonyi at 160 pounds, using a takedown and two near-fall points in the second period and a takedown and three more near-fall points on a merkle in the third period. Twin brother Cliff Ruggiero then produced a 13-6 major decision over Nick Lurski at 170. Brick Memorial was in control, but Howell did not go down without a fight.

It started with Lurski saving bonus points at the end of his bout by not allowing Ruggiero to win by major decision. That left Howell with the chance to win the final three bouts by decision and send the match to the tie-breaking criteria. Senior Austin Silverstein then kept Howell alive by winning 6-4 in double overtime over Joe Stowers at 182 pounds.

Stowers’ third-period takedown forced overtime, and after a scoreless sudden victory period Silverstein won the flip and chose defense in the first round of rideouts. He scored a reversal to go up by two, then rode Stowers out for the clutch overtime decision.

That put the match in Owen’s hands, where he came through to bring the Mustangs one step closer to their ninth overall Group championship. Silverstein hit a reversal in the second period for the bouts’ first points, but Owen escaped to make it 2-1 heading to the third period. He then escaped to tie the score at two, then secured the sectional championship-clinching takedown with under 60 seconds remaining. Silverstein escaped to make it 4-3, but Owen was able to hold on for the win to give Brick Memorial an insurmountable lead.

“It’s definitely one that I’m going to remember, but I couldn’t have done it without my team,” Owen said.

Whether wrestling is a team or individual sport at its core is always up for debate, but in Brick Memorial’s world it’s team first and team always. Donovan and Owen were painted as the heroes this time, but they were spot-on in saying it was a 14-man win. You don’t win at this time of the year without being a solid and complete unit.

“They are the toughest, most hard-nosed group of kids I have ever seen,” Denver said. “They’re one of the best teams I’ve ever seen, the most coachable, and I ‘m just blessed to be a part of it.

“I was a three-time All-American (at The College of New Jersey) and a national champ, but I’ve never felt as proud and happy as I do at this very moment. I’m proud for the kids because I see how much work they put in, and they deserve this. The way they won it, I’m speechless.”


Box Score

South Jersey Group V Final

1-Brick Memorial 28, 2-Howell 25

Hwt: Nick Rivera (BM) d. Ryan Demian 1-0

106: Kyle Slendorn (H) p. Matt Wardlaw 1:23

113: Gianni Ghione (BM) d. Mikey Sisolak 13-6

120: Peter Dee (H) d. Luis Bocalman 2-1

126: Jose Bocalman (BM) d. Nick Ciaccia 8-4

132: Anthony Gagliano (H) d. Luke Vescovi 8-4

138: Kris Lindemann (H) m. Ricky Davis 10-1

145: Anthony Mitchell (BM) d. Jake Esposito 5-2

152: Alec Donovan (BM) p. David Nocks 5:23

160: Rob Ruggiero (BM) md. Anthony Pozsonyi 11-0

170: Cliff Ruggiero (BM) d. Nick Lurski 13-6

182: Austin Silverstein (H) d. Joe Stowers 6-4 2OT

195: Connor Owen (BM) d. Sean Silverstein 4-3

220: Eric Keosseian (H) by forfeit

Records: at Brick Memorial (18-1); Howell (26-2).

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