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TOMS RIVER — A pair of extended state tournament droughts came to an end on Saturday at Pine Belt Arena.

Red Bank Catholic senior Shawn McCord and Pinelands junior Tom Poklikuha each won their third-place bouts during the NJSIAA Region VI Tournament to advance to next weekend’s state tournament in Atlantic City. McCord pinned Toms River North’s Mike Siwiec at 220 pounds and Poklikuha defeated CBA’s Erik Beshada, 6-3 at 138 pounds.

McCord, who was the District 22 champion and seeded third in the region tournament, is the Caseys’ first state qualifier since Mike Conte won the Region VI heavyweight title 31 years ago in 1983.

“Making it to Atlantic City is such a dream that everybody wants,” McCord said. “It feels awesome.”

McCord lost to Southern senior Jesse Bauta, 3-1, in the semifinals to be bounced into the consolation bracket. In the wrestleback semifinals he pinned Manalapan’s Ben Aquilina (34-4, District 21 champ) in 3:15 to reach the third-place match. McCord had Siwiec (32-5) on his back in the second period to help him open a 9-5 lead. He turned Siwiec again in the third period, this time finishing the fall in 5:25 to seal his trip to Boardwalk Hall.

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“Region VI is one of the toughest and I’m really excited I made it through,” McCord said. “I knew in my mind I could get the job done.”

Poklikuha had to defeat Beshada for a second time to reach Atlantic City for the first time. As the No. 7 seed, the Wildcats junior stunned Beshada in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champ Matt Wilhelm in the semifinals, 12-5. He knew his dream of reaching Atlantic City couldn’t end there.

“I tried to think about all the offseason work I did and remind myself these kids can’t keep up with me,” Poklikuha said.

In the wrestleback semifinals, he defeated Howell senior Jack Rada, 9-4. Waiting for him in the third-place bout was Beshada, a four-time District 22 champion and a former state qualifier. Scoreless in the third period with Poklikuha on defense, he hit a 5-point move with a reversal and bow-and-arrow type move that exposed Beshada’s back for a three count. He held on to win, 6-3.

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“I don’t even know what I did,” Poklikuha said. “I tried to get my hips high and just pull and hope something happened. I threw in a boot and he sat. I just tried to get him over, and it worked.”

Poklikuha is Pinelands’ first state qualifier since two-time region champ and three-time state medalist Mike Molosky in 2002.

“It’s overwhelming excitement,” he said. “Me and my dad put so much work into this. Pinelands isn’t really known for wrestling or athletics, so to be one of the good guys is unreal. I’m going to walk back into school on Monday like a Hollywood star.”

Keansburg junior Tyree Sutton qualified for the state tournament via a third-place finish at 195 pounds. Sutton has widely been recognized as one of the top eight wrestlers at 195 pounds all season, and the weight looks to be among the deepest in the state tournament. Sutton lost to Jackson Memorial’s Ken Bradley in the semifinals, but had no problem advancing. He defeated Barnegat senior Greg Moran 6-1 in the wrestleback semifinals and won by 10-1 major decision over Wall’s Tyler Romanelli for third.

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Sutton is just the second Keansburg wrestler to ever qualify for the state tournament. Anthony Consentino finished second at heavyweight in 2005 and stands as the only other state qualifier for the Titans. They have never had a state medalist. Sutton believes he’ll change that.

“It feels amazing to get down there, and there have been state champs who didn’t win regions, so I’m hoping I can be one of those,” Sutton said. “I feel like I can win it.”

Sutton has just three losses this season, falling by two points to Oxley, 3-1, in the District 22 final, by one to Bradley and by one to Franklin’s Ralph Normandia, who was third in the state at 220 pounds last season.

“You learn a lot when you don’t win,” Sutton said. “I know what I have to do to beat Oxley or Bradley and be a state champ.”

Eleven of the 14 third-place finishers are, in fact, first-time state qualifiers.

Jackson Memorial junior Fred Terranova defeated Howell sophomore Peter Dee, 3-0, at 106 pounds. Terranova was the No. 1 seed, but lost to runner-up Sebastian Rivera, 4-0, in the semifinals. He won by major decision over Toms River South freshman Zack Martin in the wrestleback semifinals.

Toms River South senior Brandon Murray defeated Southern senior Andrew Tonneson 6-0 to finish third at 126 pounds. After losing to eventual champion Ryan Budzek of Point Boro, 4-2 in the semifinals, Murray defeated Howell sophomore Anthony Gagliano 3-0 before topping Tonneson to advance.

Southern’s duo of Bryan Brown and Gerardo Jorge also punched their tickets to Atlantic City in the consolation finals. Brown, a senior who was the No. 1 seed at 132 pounds, edged Matawan sophomore Khalil Haskins, 2-1 in tiebreaker, to move on. Brown was defeated by eventual champion Marcus Iwama, 9-2, in the semifinals. He beat two-time state qualifier Matt Russo of Jackson Liberty, 3-2, to reach the third-place bout. Jorge fell to eventual champion and still undefeated senior Dean Sherry of Brick, 8-1 in the semifinals, but clawed back for third with a 7-3 win over Middletown North’s Anthony Fabiano and a 3-2 decision over Wall freshman Matt McKenzie.

Neptune senior Romello Union used a takedown late in the third period to defeat Brick junior Will Scott, 4-3, at 145 pounds. Union, a two-time region qualifier entering the tournament, was the No. 10 seed. After losing to Scott 3-0 in the quarterfinals, he won three straight bouts to finish third. He defeated Middletown South’s Garrett Rumsby, 9-5, before clipping Manalapan’s Jake Kaminsky, 4-3, to reach the consolation final.

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Jackson Liberty senior T.J. Liquori held off Toms River South junior Joe Salvato 1-0 in the 160-pound third-place bout. Liquori reached the second round of wrestlebacks last season. After losing to Howell’s Joey Schultz, 2-1, in the semifinals, he defeated Raritan’s Connor Sheehan,  8-1, and then Salvato to reach Atlantic City.

Raritan senior Kyle Lynch was undefeated heading into the 182-pound semifinals but was head-locked and pinned by Middletown North sophomore Chad Freshnock. Lynch was able to rebound and eventually hold off Jackson Memorial junior Connor Bohringer, 5-3, to place third.

At heavyweight, Brick Memorial freshman Nick Rivera lost to finalist Pat Toal of Raritan in ultimate tiebreaker in the semifinals. He responded with a 3-1 victory over Barnegat senior Zach Andrews and a first-period pin of Central senior Atanacio Carrillo to finish third.

Three wrestlers reached the state tournament for the second time. Wall senior Denzel Tovar, a state qualifier last season, defeated Southern’s James Knoeller, 6-4, to place third at 113 pounds.

At 120 pounds, Point Boro junior Dan Nobbs scored a last-second reversal to defeat Howell senior Jimmy Slendorn, 2-1, in the third-place bout. Nobbs was a state qualifier as a freshman and was seeded No. 2 in this season’s tournament. He was picked off in the quarterfinals by Long Branch’s Andy Hernandez, but pinned Point Beach’s John Finnerty and majored Southern’s Chris Crane to reach the consolation finals.

Brick junior Kyle Wojtaszek placed third at 152 for his second straight state tournament berth. Wojtaszek was the top seed before losing to Brick Memorial junior Rob Ruggiero in the quarterfinals. Wojtaszek beat Middletown South’s Matt Best 7-5, pinned Long Branch’s Brandon Perez, then edged Ruggiero 3-2 for third place.

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