BRICK TOWNSHIP — In his final day of wrestling inside his home gym, Gianni Ghione entered the pantheon of Brick Memorial wrestling with a dominant NJSIAA Region 6 Tournament. On paper it was Ghione, then everybody else, and on the mat his opponents barely stood a chance.

Ghione, the top-ranked 132-pound wrestler in New Jersey, was unstoppable en route to claiming his third region title. He pinned each of his three opponents in the tournament in under one minute and finished off his championship run with a 49-second pin of Howell’s Dan Esposito.

Ghione was selected as the Region 6 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.

“It’s great to be able to finish (regions) here, I wouldn’t want to to end it anywhere else,” Ghione said.

“(Winning a third region title) is nice and it’s another award, but I really always just wanted to be better than my brother,” Ghione said with a chuckle.

His brother, Joe, was a three-time District 23 champ, two-time Region 6 champ and a two-time state medalist who helped the Mustangs win the 2013 NJSIAA Group IV title. He finished with 119 career wins. Gianni is now the fifth Brick Memorial wrestler to win three region titles, joining Bill Scott, Vin Santaniello, Todd Palmisano and Marc Rosenfeld on that exclusive list. His 128 career wins are tied with Alec Donovan for third all-time in Brick Memorial history.

In the quarterfinals on Friday, Ghione pinned Jackson Liberty’s Shaun Plaza in 44 seconds. In the semifinals on Saturday morning he needed just 51 seconds to deck Manalapan’a Alex Baran. Ghione’s total time on the mat in the Region 6 Tournament: 2:23. For a wrestler whose ultimate goal is winning a state championship, he has certainly looked the part.

“I feel solid,” Ghione said. “I work hard every day and get to scrap with coach (Ryan) Wilson and coach Donny Miller every day. I’m definitely working harder than I have in past years. Mentally I’m more in the right place, too. I’m trying to do all the right things on and off the mat.”

Ghione now turns to the state tournament, where he’ll try to bring home the ultimate prize before heading to the Ivy League, where he’ll wrestle for the University of Pennsylvania next fall. A state runner-up as a sophomore and a fourth-place finisher last year, Ghione knows it’s now or never.

“It’s everything,” Ghione said. “The last couple of years I was mentally banking on having one more year. If I didn’t win it was ‘whatever,’ but this year it’s everything.”

Ghione’s teammate, senior Nick Rivera, also entered rarefied air on Saturday. Rivera cruised through the heavyweight bracket and secured his third Region 6 title with an 8-0 major decision over Colts Neck’s Vinnie Gargiulo. He is the first wrestler in Shore Conference history to win three region championships at heavyweight.

A four-time district champion as well as the state runner-up as a sophomore, Rivera enters the state tournament as a title contender. He is currently ranked second in New Jersey by Rivera and Ghione are the 59th and 60th region champions in Brick Memorial history, which is the most in the Shore Conference.

Region 6 champions
2017 Region 6 champs. Bottom row,left to right: Nick Schutzenhofer (CBA), Richie Koehler (CBA), Darby Diedrich (Howell), Kyle Slendorn (Howell), Gianni Ghione (Brick Memorial), Jake Benner (Ocean), Garrett Bilgrav (Robbinsville). Top row, left to right: Nick Rivera (Brick Memorial), Eric Keosseian (Howell), Matt McKenzie (Wall), Jack Baker (Point Beach), Shane Reitsma (Howell), Chad McClelland (Wall), Rob Kanniard (Wall).

Howell senior Eric Keosseian captured the 220-pound title with a pin over Bordentown’s Jujuan Hayes in just 1:26. It is the second region title for Keosseian. He is the fourth Howell wrestler to win multiple region titles, joining Terry Beins, Scott Bilker and Zac Cunliffe (three). Keosseian’s region championship was part of a banner tournament for the Rebels, who continued the best season in program history by crowning a program-record four champions.

Freshman sensation Shane Reitsma started the Rebels off with an 8-2 decision over Manalapan’s Jake Staklinski to claim the 170-pound title. Reitsma is the first Howell freshman to win a region title and will enter the state tournament with a perfect 38-0 record.

Sophomore Darby Diedrich picked up his first region championship by pinning Robbinsville’s Logan Fox in 3:32 in the 120-pound final. Diedrich won all three of his tournament bouts by fall to improve to 36-3 on the season, including 20-0 when wrestling at 120 pounds.

Junior Kyle Slendorn followed with a 9-0 major decision over Ocean freshman Alex Poniros to take the 126-pound title. It is also the first title for Slendorn.

Howell head coach John Gagliano was selected as the Region 6 Coach of the Year. The Rebels won the Class A North division title for the 12th straight year, won their second straight Shore Conference Tournament title and secured the program’s first NJSIAA state group title with an epic win over Hunterdon Central in the Group V final. Howell will send a Shore Conference-high eight wrestlers to the state tournament.

Another state title contender from the Shore is Wall senior Matt McKenzie. A two-time state medalist, including third at 195 last season, McKenzie was able to corral his first region title with a 4-2 victory over Neptune’s Nick Faber in the 195-pound final. McKenzie was one of three champions for Wall, which, along with the Crimson Knights’ six state qualifiers, is a program record.

Standout sophomore Rob Kanniard won the 152-pound bracket with an 11-4 win over Manalapan’s Ronny Ghaida. Next up was senior Chad McClelland, who won his first region title with a 5-0 decision over Freehold Township’s Kyle Hillermeier at 160 pounds.

The CBA duo of senior Nick Schutzenhofer at 106 and junior Richie Koehler at 113 brought home region championships to give the Colts a region champ for six consecutive seasons. Schutzenhofer came from the No. 5 seed to defeat Allentown freshman Joey Lamparelli, the No. 1 seed, 9-0 in the semifinals before topping Freehold freshman Nico Messina, 7-0, in the championship bout.

Koehler won his second region title with a thrilling 4-3 victory over Colts Neck’s Joey King, using a reversal in the final 15 seconds to secure the win. Koehler is the fourth multiple-time region champ for the Colts, joining Dave Santamaria (three), Mike Oxley and Sebastian Rivera. He is also a three-time finalist, having won the 106-pound title as a freshman and finishing second at 120 last season.

Point Beach senior Jack Baker ran through the 182-pound bracket with authority to win his first region title. He defeated Riverside’s Zeke Brinson, 8-2, in the final and won by fall in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Baker is the 10th region champion in Point Beach’s history, and gives the Garnet Gulls consecutive years with a region champ for the first time since Jon Butler, Justin Barowski and Matt Rega combined to win three in a row from 2004-2006.

Ocean junior Jake Benner won the 138-pound title with a pin over Wall’s Nick Wagner in 3:15. Benner is now 37-1 this season with his lone defeat coming at 145 pounds.

The only non-Shore Conference wrestler to win a Region 6 title was Robbinsville’s Garrett Bilgrav, who edged Wall’s Jack Kelly, 6-4, in the 145-pound final.


Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at 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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