Wrestling – Matt Wardlaw’s Improbable Title Run Highlights the District 23 Finals
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BRICK TOWNSHIP — The best-case scenario according to Matt Wardlaw was to somehow make it through the NJSIAA District 23 Tournament, which was not exactly a given for a wrestler who entered the individual postseason as the No. 7 seed at 106 pounds with a 5-13 record.
What happened over the course of the next several hours defied even his wildest dreams.
The Brick Memorial freshman made a memorable run to the District 23 106-pound title on Saturday, knocking off the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 1 seeded wrestlers on his way to being named Most Outstanding Wrestler.
“I was just hoping to place, and then this happened,” Wardlaw said. “It’s just amazing.”
Wardlaw was one of six champions for host and team champion Brick Memorial, the top-ranked team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. The Mustangs won the team title by nearly 100 points (252.5) over Brick (167.5) for their sixth straight district title and 29th overall. Sophomore Gianni Ghione captured the 113-pound title with a pin over Wall freshman Jack Kelly, junior Luke Vescovi beat Point Beach’s John Finnerty for the 132-pound title, junior Anthony Mitchell topped Brick’s Jack McLafferty in the 138-pound final and sophomore Nick Rivera cruised to the heavyweight title.
“It’s fantastic the way the kids finished,” said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Denver, who was also named District 23 Coach of the Year. “This time of year a lot of kids want to pack it in because they’re burned out, so to have them come out and finish how they did makes me very proud of them.”
Senior Alec Donovan dominated the 145-pound weight class to win his fourth district title. He is the fifth Brick Memorial wrestler to win four district titles, joining Vin Santaniello (1987-1990), Marc Rosenfeld (1999-2002), Steve Santos (2006-2009) and D.J. Santos (2008-2011).
Wall junior Brett Donner and Brick senior Kyle Wojtaszek staged an epic final at 170 pounds with Donner pulling out a wild 13-11 win in sudden victory overtime. Donner, who was third in the state at 160 pounds last season, and Wojtaszek, who was seventh in the state at 152 pounds, both entered undefeated.
Along with Donner, Wall senior Denzel Tovar and Point Boro senior Dan Nobbs each captured their third district titles by winning the 120 and 126-pound weight classes, respectively. Brick senior Dean Sherry and Brick Memorial’s Rivera each captured their second district championships.
A championship round that was filled with top matchups and delivered some tremendous bouts was defined by Wardlaw doing the unexpected. Wardlaw certainly took his lumps this season in going 5-13, and as the No. 7 seed he had a tough road to navigate. Right away he needed to reverse a 7-2 loss to Brick freshman Joe Ferigne from the regular season. He was able to turn the tables for a 2-0 win that put him in the semifinals.
“That (loss) got me down in the beginning of the year because I knew I could beat him,” Wardlaw said. “This time around I just went at him full speed.”
In the semifinals he outlasted Point Boro’s Ben Sabo 5-3 in sudden victory overtime to reach the final. He scored a takedown in the third period to take a 3-1 lead, but an escape and a stall call tied the bout at three and sent it to overtime. He took down Sabo in the extra session for the 5-3 win.
“I won the first two, and then, heading to the finals..I was psyched,” Wardlaw said.
His opponent in the finals was Shore Regional freshman Chris Dean, who entered the bout with a 33-4 record and had pinned both of his previous tournament opponents in under 31 seconds. Wardlaw fought through a cradle attempt in the second period to keep points off the board before striking late to complete his incredible run. He took Dean down with 12.5 seconds left in the third period to erase a one-point deficit, and held on for the 5-4 win.
“I saw him leaning into me a lot and was heavy on my head, so I snapped him down and jumped over him,” Wardlaw said. “I put in the two-on-one and rode him out.”
It was a long season for Wardlaw, but nothing like those final 10 seconds.
“It felt like 20 minutes,” he said.
After permanently etching his name into the Brick Memorial wrestling history books, Wardlaw has a feeling that will last a lifetime.
“I’m on top of the world right now,” he said. “There’s no feeling to describe it.”
The 170-pound final between Donner and Wojtaszek was one of the most anticipated district finals around the state this weekend, and it delivered in a way few would have imagined. Both wrestlers had to fight off their backs in the bout, and in the end Donner’s cool demeanor and slick work on his feet propelled him to the 13-11 overtime win.
After a scoreless first period and an escape early in the second period, Wojtaszek caught Donner on a shot attempt and pancaked him to his back for a five-point move. The gym was stunned, and even though Donner was able to get to his stomach and avoid the pin, he was down 6-0 to one of the top 170-pounders in the state.
“Having to fight off your back and being down 6-0 is frustrating, but I’ve been there before,” Donner said. “I know what it takes to come back, and you just have to chip away. One mistake doesn’t make a match. That’s why they’re six minutes long.”
Donner got those points right back - all of them - when after an escape made it 6-1, he tossed Wojtaszek to his back for a five-point move that tied the bout at six.
“Fortunately I got it right back,” Donner said. “I don’t even remember the move, maybe a hip toss or something. It’s just something that comes from constantly wrestling.”
A reversal by Wojtaszek, however, gave him an 8-6 lead heading to the third period. That’s when Donner went to work on his feet with a pair of takedowns in the third period that tied the bout at 11. After a wild scramble in overtime ended with Donner and Wojtaszek getting to their feet, Donner drove Wojtaszek down and out with a double-leg takedown on the edge of the mat with five seconds left to win 13-11.
“I don’t want to sound cocky, but I know I’m the better wrestler and I was expecting to dominate,” Donner said. “I knew I would be a little rusty going in, and I’m not confident in the score right there. If I see him again I’m hoping to make it a larger margin.”
It was just the 10th bout of the season for Donner, who missed much of the regular season with a high-ankle sprain. This was his first major test of the season, and signaled he is truly back and ready to contend for a state title.
“I was hoping to catch some of the tougher kids earlier in the season, but I’m happy I got a good match before going to regions,” Donner said. “I’m just happy to be back competing.”
Before Donner and Wojtaszek took the mat, however, the 160-pound final ended oddly. Another highly-anticipated final pitting Brick Memorial senior Cliff Ruggiero and Brick senior Will Scott ended with Scott winning by disqualification after an illegal slam.
Scott was originally hurt in a semifinal bout against Monmouth Regional’s Mike Montefinese when he was thrown on the back of his head/neck and stayed down for a couple minutes. He was able to continue the bout and won by 18-3 technical fall.
In the 160-pound final, Ruggiero was leading 5-2 when he dropped Scott on his back as the two tumbled out of bounds. Scott’s head hit hard against the mat, and the officials deemed it an illegal slam, meaning that Scott would win if he was unable to continue, which he could not. Ruggiero and Scott, who are friends, appeared to have words with each other before Ruggiero stormed off the mat following the final outcome.
At 152 pounds, Brick senior Nick Pollara won a tough bracket by defeating Wall’s Josh Glantzman 4-3 in double overtime. In the semifinals, Pollara pinned Brick Memorial’s Rob Ruggiero to avenge a loss from the regular season.
Wall sophomore Matt McKenzie scored an impressive 13-0 major decision over Brick sophomore Dean Helstowski in the first bout of the finals. McKenzie had defeated Helstowski earlier in the season in overtime.
Brick senior Ray Fattaruso won his first district title with a 5-2 win over Point Boro’s Dom Infante at 220 pounds.
Click here for brackets (click on results, team scores for team standings)
Team Champion: Brick Memorial
Outstanding Wrestler: Matt Wardlaw, Brick Memorial
Coach of the Year: Mike Denver, Brick Memorial
195: 1-Matt McKenzie (Wall) md. 2-Dean Helstowski (Brick) 13-0
220: 2-Ray Fattaruso (Brick) d. 1-Dominic Infante (Point Boro) 5-2
Hwt: 1-Nick Rivera (Brick Memorial) p. 3-Forrest Gardner (Point Beach) 1:37
106: 7-Matt Wardlaw (Brick Memorial) d. 1-Chris Dean (Shore) 5-4
113: 1-Gianni Ghione (Brick Memorial) p. 3-Jack Kelly (Wall) 3:46
120: 1-Denzel Tovar (Wall) d. 2-Luis Bocalman (Brick Memorial) 3-0
126: 1-Dan Nobbs (Point Boro) d. 2-Nick Wagner (Wall) 2-1
132: 1-Luke Vescovi (Brick Memorial) d. 3-John Finnerty (Point Beach) 11-4
138: 2-Anthony Mitchell (Brick Memorial) d. 1-Jack McLafferty (Brick) 4-1
145: 1-Alec Donovan (Brick Memorial) p. 2-Alex Johnson (Shore) 0:33
152: 3-Nick Pollara (Brick) d. 1-Josh Glantzman (Wall) 4-3 2OT
160: 2-Will Scott (Brick) by disqualification over 1-Cliff Ruggiero (Brick Memorial) (Illegal slam, unable to continue)
170: 1-Brett Donner (Wall) d. 2-Kyle Wojtaszek (Brick) 13-11 OT
182: 1-Dean Sherry (Brick) md. 2-Bobby Mitler (Brick Memorial) 16-4
106: 3-Ben Sabo (Point Boro) p. 4-Will Jarvis (Point Beach) 3:12
113: 4-Blake Dale (Point Boro) d. 2-Tim Klemser (Shore) 1-0
120: 3-Roddy Rupp (Point Beach) d. 4-Danny Welsh (Shore) 8-3
126: 3-Jose Bocalman (Brick Mem.) tf. 4-Justin Valerio (Shore) 5:35 (15-0)
132: 2-Joe Demuner (Wall) d. 4-Thomas Wright (Brick) 2-1
138: 5-Jack Wishart (Wall) d. 3-Giancarlo Crivelli (Point Beach) 3-2
145: 4-Pete Gencarelli (Point Boro) d. 3-Zach Schaller (Point Beach) 2-1 2OT
152: 2-Rob Ruggiero (Brick Memorial) p. 4-Brandon DeFeo (Point Boro) 2:13
160: 3-Mike Montefinese (Monmouth) d. 4-Cory Gross (Point Beach) 8-1
170: 3-Joe Stowers (Brick Memorial) p. 4-Jack Baker (Point Beach) 4:42
182: 4-Shannen McCue (Monmouth) d. 3-Gene Franceschini (Point Boro) 3-1
195: 3-Connor Owen (Brick Memorial) d. 5-Nick Faber (Neptune) 7-0.
220: 4-Zach Youngberg (Neptune) d. 3-Shane Davis (Wall) 8-4
Hwt: 2-Rob Fallon (Shore) d. 4-Marquis Dove (Neptune) 1-0.
106: 1-Chris Dean (Shore) p. 4-Will Jarvis (Point Beach) 0:31; 7-Matt Wardlaw (Brick Memorial) d. 3-Ben Sabo (Point Boro) 5-3 OT.
113: 1-Gianni Ghione (Brick Memorial) d. 4-Blake Dale (Point Boro) 7-3; 3-Jack Kelly (Wall) md. 2-Tim Klemser (Shore) 10-1.
120: 1-Denzel Tovar (Wall) p. 4-Danny Welsh (Shore) 0:34; 2-Luis Bocalman (Brick Memorial) md. 4-Roddy Rupp (Point Beach) 11-1.
126: 1-Dan Nobbs (Point Boro) p. 4-Justin Valerio (Shore) 1:02; 2-Nick Wagner (Wall) d. 3-Jose Bocalman (Brick Memorial) 4-3.
132: 1-Luke Vescovi (Brick Memorial) d. 4-Thomas Wright (Brick) 4-1; 3-John Finnerty (Point Beach) d. 2-Joe Demuner (Wall) 5-1.
138: 1-Jack McLafferty (Brick) d. 5-Jack Wishart (Wall) 3-1 UTB; 2-Anthony Mitchell (Brick Memorial) p. 3-Giancarlo Crivelli (Point Beach) 3:56.
145: 1-Alec Donovan (Brick Memorial) p. 4-Pete Gencarelli (Point Boro) 0:45; 2-Alex Johnson (Shore) d. 3-Zach Schaller (Point Beach) 10-7.
152: 1-Josh Glantzman (Wall) p. 4-Brandon DeFeo (Point Boro) 5:33; 3-Nick Pollara (Brick) p. 2-Rob Ruggiero (Brick Memorial) 5:01.
160: 1-Cliff Ruggiero (Brick Memorial) p. 4-Cory Gross (Point Beach) 1:50; 2-Will Scott (Brick) tf. Mike Montefinese (Monmouth) 5:40 (18-3).
170: 1-Brett Donner (Wall) p. 4-Jack Baker (Point Beach) 1:04; 2-Kyle Wojtaszek (Brick) tf. 3-Joe Stowers (Brick Memorial) 5:35 (19-4).
182: 1-Dean Sherry (Brick) tf. 4-Shannen McCue (Monmouth) 3:45 (19-4); 2-Bobby Mitler (Brick Memorial) d. 3-Gene Franceschini (Point Boro) 6-4.
195: 1-Matt McKenzie (Wall) tf. 5-Nick Faber (Neptune) 3:54 (16-0); 2-Dean Helstowski (Brick) d. 3-Connor Owen 6-3.
220: 1-Dom Infante (Point Boro) p. 4-Zach Youngberg (Neptune) 1:16; 2-Ray Fattaruso (Brick) p. 6-Shane Davis (Wall) 1:00.
Hwt: 1-Nick Rivera (Brick Memorial) p. 4-Marquis Dove (Neptune) 1:53; 3-Forrest Gardner (Point Beach) d. Rob Fallon (Shore) 5-3.