Wrestling: Shore Conference has seven region champs at Region 7 Tournament
TOMS RIVER – Vincent Santaniello enters every match expecting to dominate, regardless of his opponent. That is the mentality the great wrestlers possess. But sometimes it is necessary to win a war where the guy across the circle has the same thoughts going through his mind.
Santaniello had beaten Paulsboro’s Georgio Mazzeo by five points in this exact spot last year, but this matchup was much different. Tied 1-1 in overtime after nearly scoring the winning takedowns in the third period and again in sudden victory, Santaniello simply had to find a way, any way, to win a region title.
“I remember midway through the match I was on bottom - I think it was rideouts - and I just looked in the crowd and I don’t know why but I thought of my dad telling me stories of his state final and how he lost,” Santaniello said. “Every time he tells me that story it’s a sad story, and I don’t want any more sad stories to be told.”
With a stalling warning already on the board against him, Santaniello rode out Mazzeo in ultimate tiebreaker to win 3-2 and take home the NJSIAA Region 7 120-pound championship on Saturday evening at Toms River North’s RWJBarnabas Health Arena. Santaniello is now a two-time region champion and a three-time finalist.
After a scoreless first period, Mazzeo chose defense and Santaniello rode him well, although he was called for stalling midway through the period. Mazzeo was able to escape, however, with under 10 seconds left in the frame. Santaniello went down to begin the third and quickly got to his feet to tie the score, 1-1. He appeared to have the go-ahead takedown on the edge of the circle later in the period but no points were awarded. Then in sudden victory, Santaniello was awarded two points for the title-winning takedown, but the officials convened and waved off the takedown. Both wrestlers escaped during the rideout portion to set up the third and deciding overtime period.
“That’s the most impressive part, that he beat the kid three times,” said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Kiley. “He was basically told he won and then it got taken away and he had to do it again. Imagine that energy drain. I was so impressed with his poise and ability to bounce back and got get it again. That’s a credit to him.”
“Definitely getting the win was a big deal but I need to score more points,” Santaniello said. “It doesn’t mean I have to win big every time, I just have to score more. In the first period I tried to feel him out and definitely should have got to my offense quicker. Right away I noticed he was just trying to keep it close. I don’t think he thought he could take me down.”
Santaniello was part of a banner day for Brick Memorial as the Mustangs crowned three champions with five finalists and will send six wrestlers to Atlantic City. The three region champions ties the second-best showing for Brick Memorial, which also had three region champions in 1985, 1986, 1988, 2014 and 2015. Brick Memorial had four region champs in 1989, 1990 and 1994.
Joining Vincent Santaniello was his younger brother, freshman phenom Anthony Santaniello. The undefeated frosh won by major decision in the quarterfinals, by fall in the semifinals and then blanked Eastern sophomore Jared Brunner, 3-0, to win the 106-pound title and improve to 33-0. He took Brunner down in the first period, escaped in the second and rode Brunner out for the final two minutes.
“I’ve said this before: how collected and poised he is in big pressure situations is very impressive to me as a coach,” Kiley said. “That’s through all the work he’s done for him to feel that comfortable.”
Some kids grow up dreaming of throwing the winning pass in the Super Bowl or hitting a home run in the World Series and acting out those moments in their yards. For the Santaniello brothers, their dreams were played out in the family basement.
“We’ve wrestled region finals, state finals, dual meets in our basement thousands of times together,” Vincent said. “We’ve won this together multiple times already so it was pretty awesome doing it in real life.”
At 126 pounds, senior Michael Richardson defeated Cherokee freshman Evan Brown, 6-1, to win his first region title. After receiving a forfeit in the quarterfinals, Richardson pinned Gloucester City’s AJ Parent in the semifinals before taking out the upset-minded Brown in the final. Brown had stunned Howell’s Nieko Malone, the No. 2 seed, in the quarterfinals.
“I saw the (region) previews and none of them actually picked me to win so that fired me up,” Richardson said.
“That’s a dangerous kid down in Atlantic City,” Kiley said. “I’m just excited the way he wrestled. If he wrestles like that he’s a tough draw for anybody. If he imposes his style on kids he’s very hard to beat, and that’s what he’s doing right now.”
Senior Joe Colon fell to Shawnee’s Isaac Dean, 3-1 in overtime, in the 182-pound final. Colon was cruising to victory in the semifinals when he suffered a shoulder injury in a match he was leading 11-4 against Paulsboro’s Jamel Miles-Benjamin. Colon was clearly in pain but held on to win, 13-10. There was a question of whether he would be able to wrestle in the final but was cleared to give it a go. He wasn’t the same high-octane offensive threat against Dean, however, with the shoulder clearly affecting him.
Junior David Szuba stunned Jackson Memorial’s Kyle Epperly in the semifinals by hitting a hip toss and pinning him in just 47 seconds. Epperly had defeated Szuba, 10-3, in the Shore Conference Tournament final. After defeating Epperly, who was seventh in New Jersey at 195 pounds last year, he faced Camden Catholic sophomore Martin Cosgrove in the final. Cosgrove finished third in the state at 170 pounds last season. Szuba took down Cosgrove in the first period and reversed him to his back in the second period to take a 6-4 lead, but Cosgrove battled back with the next six offensive points to win 10-9.
At 132 pounds, sophomore Ryan Smith finished third to qualify for the state tournament for the second straight year. He lost to the eventual champion, Toms River East’s Michael Conklin, in the semifinals. Sophomore Braden Scott finished fifth at 113 pounds.
“I’m really happy for these kids,” Kiley said. “We put together the schedule, they battled through a lot of tough tournaments and they set themselves up for this. They’re peaking at the right time and as a coach that’s what you want. Every kid that has put a Memorial singlet on in the postseason has competed hard. From districts to regions I haven’t left the corner one time disappointed.”
Seven at Seven
The Shore Conference had seven total champions at Region 7, which is arguably the most difficult region in the state.
Howell senior Shane Reitsma continued his tremendous career by winning his third region title with a 3-2 victory over Haddonfield’s Luke Benedict in the 170-pound final. Reitsma is now a three-time champion and a four-time finalist at the region tournaments. His 161 career wins are the third most in Shore Conference history behind Middletown North senior Tyler Klinsky (164) and 2019 Wall graduate Rob Kanniard (165).
Reitsma needed a takedown with 25 seconds left in the third period to defeat a game Benedict.
“It’s really exciting and a little emotional,” Reitsma said. “I don’t think it was my best performance but sometimes you’re going to get in those types of matches. Everyone is good form this point on so finding ways to win and being calm in the moment (is important).”
Toms River North senior John O’Donnell had a tournament to remember in claiming the Region 7 heavyweight title as the No. 6 seed. O’Donnell defeated the top three seeds in the bracket and also took out two wrestlers ranked in the top eight in the state.
In the quarterfinals, O’Donnell beat then-undefeated Audubon junior Jeffrey Jordan, 4-2 in double overtime. In the semifinals he avenged two losses to Howell senior Justin Wright by scoring a late takedown to win 3-2. He polished off the region title by blanking the No. 1 seed, Jackson Memorial senior Brad Galassi, 5-0.
Galassi was giving up around 65 pounds to O’Donnell but is tough on top and used to wrestling against much bigger wrestlers. He reached the third round of wrestlebacks at the state tournament despite weighing only 200 pounds. O’Donnell knew all of this, but he was most concerned about the fact that he wasn’t concerned at all.
“To be honest, I was a little worried that I wasn’t nervous,” O’Donnell said. “I was prepared for war my first two matches but I just wasn’t that nervous going into the final. I know he’s very good on the mat but I knew I had the edge on our feet because I’m so much bigger than him. I knew if I got out I was in good shape.”
O’Donnell took Galassi down quickly in the first period to go up 2-0. He chose neutral in the second period and scored another takedown to take a 4-0 lead. Galassi chose top in the third but O’Donnell was able to get to his feet quickly, peel Galassi’s grip and escape for a 5-0 advantage.”
“I was trying to beat the whistle and get out as quick as I could, I was even going to use a caution (point) if I had to,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell now has his sights set on an all-state finish in Atlantic City.
“I think I beat three ranked guys in the state and I’m looking to carry that momentum down there,” O’Donnell said. “I got my revenge at districts, I got my revenge at regions; there’s only one guy left: (West Essex senior) Bardyl Gashi.”
O’Donnell’s teammate, senior Ryan Rosenthal, won the 113-pound title with a 5-0 win over Howell freshman Colin Bradshaw. After a scoreless first period, Rosenthal escaped to take a 1-0 lead in the second period. Bradshaw took neutral in the third and Rosenthal scored a takedown and added two nearfall points to claim his first region title. Rosenthal is a prime candidate to place in the top eight at the state tournament. He finished one win short of all-state status last season and his only loss this year is to Middletown North’s Tyler Klinsky in the SCT final.
Toms River East junior Michael Conklin won his second region title with another victory over Central Regional senior Tyler Pepe. Conklin defeated Pepe in a sensational District 25 final and did it again to take home the region crown with a 6-2 victory. Pepe took Conklin down in the first period but Conklin escaped and was given an uncontested escape in the second to tie the bout. He then scored a takedown to go up 4-2 and added another in the third period.
Toms River North’s Nick Boggiano lost the 152-pound final to Camden Catholic’s Brandon Mooney in a matchup of the top two in the state at 152 ponds. Mooney was up 5-3 late in the third period when Boggiano tried a desperation shot. Mooney countered for another takedown and put Boggiano to his back for a fall at 5:58. It was Boggiano’s first loss of the season. The two could very well meet on the floor of Boardwalk Hall with a state championship on the line.
A total of 23 Shore Conference wrestlers qualified for the state tournament out of Region 7. Placing third were Howell’s Nieko Malone (126), Brick Memorial’s Ryan Smith (132), Jackson Memorial’s Hunter Smith (170) and Kyle Epperly (195) and Howell’s Justin Wright. Toms River South’s Justin Murray (106), Jackson Memorial’s Luke Temple (120), Toms River East’s Joe McCullough (126), Howell’s Isaiah Fenton (132) and Toms River North’s Mike Nakano (220) each finished fourth.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.