Wrestling – Kmak’s Last-Second Pin Highlights Raritan Rally for CJ 2 Championship
HAZLET -- Raritan junior Braden Kmak knew his assigned task in his team's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship would be a difficult one.
He was set to face one of Rumson-Fair Haven's top wrestlers and while history suggested he was a decided underdog against Bulldogs senior Aidan Shaughnessy, Kmak knew the longer the match went, the more his edge in conditioning would come into play.
After a difficult start to the showdown at 132 pounds, Kmak indeed got himself in position to earn points in the final minute of the 10th bout of the match, but the finish he authored was one few on either side of the mat could have seen coming.
After trailing 10-4 early in the third period and 11-8 with 20 second to go, Kmak battled his way on top of Shaughnessy and nailed down the pin with one second left on the clock. The fall constituted a monumental momentum swing and the Rockets rolled from there with a 42-25 win over the rival Bulldogs to capture the program's fourth sectional championship.
"It was an amazing feeling," Kmak said. "All week, our school has been rumbling about it. We found out we were the top seed and the school has been chirping about it all week. We knew we had a special team, so running off the mat after the match, hugging all the coaches, it was a really great experience. I'll never forget it."
With a Shaughnessy victory looking like a foregone conclusion, Kmak initially just wanted to avoid giving up an additional point, but realized in the process he had more legs left than his opponent. Shaughnessy has been limited to six matches this year due to injury and while the talented senior had Kmak's number in the past -- he pinned him in the first period when the two met last season -- Kmak suspected if he got the match into the final minute with a chance to win, he could finish Shaughnessy off.
"I was a little nervous going into that match, but coach (Robert) Nucci has been pumping me up all week," Kmak said. "He hasn't wrestled that much this year and I have wrestled 30 matches this season, so I'm conditioned. I knew what I had to do. I got it to the third period and I had a job to do.
"His hands were on his knees. I knew I could take him if I just pushed the tempo, which I did. If I just kept pushing the tempo, I was going to get him and that's what happened."
"Shaughnessy is an unbelievable wrestler," Raritan coach Robert Nucci said. "He hasn't been on the mat all that much this year due to one reason or another, so we said to Braden you've got to take him into deep waters. You've got to get through that first period and then we're down by a bunch in that second period, but he kept the pace up. That's kind of the style of wrestling we do. We're blue-collar and we push the pace for six minutes."
Down 10-4, Kmak escaped, earned a stall point and came up with a takedown to make the bout score 10-8 and he let Shaughnessy out hoping to come up with a winning combination in the final seconds.
"I'm very comfortable in scrambles," Kmak said. "I knew if I got him in a weird position, I was going to be able to capitalize."
Although Kmak ended up underneath Shaughnessy, he had him set up and executed a Peterson roll to score the takedown and put himself in play for the winning back points. Instead of stopping there and taking the three crucial points, Kmak finished off the pin with one second on the clock to fire up his team and the home crowd.
"I thought I had it won already, so I wasn't thinking about the clock," Kmak said. "I knew if I got a five-point move, that would be enough to get the win, which is what we needed. When I saw the ref slap his hand on the mat, I was stunned."
"I'll be honest, I was already celebrating with the home crowd and I had my back turned," Nucci said. "Then I heard the whistle before the timer was up, so I didn't even see the pin. It was absolutely awesome."
The unexpected fall at 132 gave Raritan a 27-19 lead after it looked like Rumson might be on its way to at least a 22-21 lead heading into the final four bouts.
Sophomore Zach Reilley then followed with a pin in 43 seconds at 138, Alex Auletta picked up a 7-5 decision at 144 and Jack Devaney scored another fall for Raritan at 150 pounds in 1:12.
Raritan forfeited the final bout, snapping a streak of five straight victories for Raritan after trailing, 19-18.
The Rockets' streak of wins began with Ryan Mansueto defeating Cole Pangborn at 126, 7-2, which marked a significant swing for Raritan. When the teams met during regular-season competition -- a 37-31 Raritan win -- Pangborn won at 126 via pinfall over Jake McCully and Mansueto competed at 120 and was also pinned by Julian Duque.
"Mansueto beating a kid that pinned him the last time was huge," said Nick Burns, who won via pin at 285 pounds. "It turned the whole situation around."
Duque again won via pin at 120 -- this time pinning McCully -- but switching the two wrestlers at 120 and 126 paid off for Nucci and the Rockets when Mansueto delivered the three points.
"We had to win the bouts we won last time and keep the other ones close against their real good guys, and we did that," Nucci said. "We got it right out of the gate when Bobby Mulligan holds a really good guy to a decision. Then you had 106 was a big bout, 113 was a pin vs. a decision last time. And then Mansuedo coming up with a win this time, which he didn't get the last time, followed by Braden Kmak coming up with that big stick was huge."
After Ryan Boyer and Shay Addison got Rumson off to a 9-0 lead -- Addison via fall in just 37 seconds -- Kieran Falzon got Raritan on the board by warding off a comeback effort by Connor Delaney to win, 9-6, at 190 pounds.
Sophomore Hudson Skove then won a major decision over Sean Lane, with Lane on the brink of surrendering technical fall points but battling out of trouble late to prevent one bonus point for Rumson.
Burns then dominated his bout at 285 with a pin in 1:15 and Aiden Davis pulled Raritan within 13-12 with a 7-1 victory over Walker Skove at 106.
Matt Erven then scored a big pin over Alex West in 1:14, which was a two-point improvement for Raritan at 113 after Ervin beat West, 11-4, during the regular season.
"The first one in 2004 was great, then we won it again in 2012 and again in 2018, so to win it again all these years later means I'm getting old," Nucci said. "But it still feels just as good as the first time."