Wrestling: Southern powers past Hunterdon Central to return to Group 5 State Final
FLEMINGTON -- It's championship season, and once again the Southern Regional wrestling team is in top form at the most critical juncture of the year.
The reigning NJSIAA Group 5 champion Rams booked a return ticket to the Group 5 state championship match on Friday night when they traveled to Flemington and won nine bouts en route to a dominant 40-21 victory over Hunterdon Central in the state semifinals.
Sophomore 106-pounder Anthony Mason, junior 132-pounder Bryce Manera, and senior 157-pounder Matt Henrich won by fall, junior 165-pounder Hayden Hochstrasser won by technical fall, freshman 113-pounder Cash McVey and sophomore 126-pounder Attila Vigilante delivered major decisions, while seniors Bradford Birch (215) and Collin French (285) and junior Wyatt Stout (144) won by decision.
Southern will wrestle Phillipsburg in the Group 5 state final at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Rutgers University's Jersey Mike's Arena. It is a rematch of last season's Group 5 final which Southern won, 41-14.
"We stressed to the kids that we want to wrestle as a team and I feel like we're finally starting to do that toward the end of the year, which is what we want to do," said Southern head coach Dan Roy. "Guys not giving up bonus points and getting bonus points where you need them, that's how you win tough matches. Everyone has a job and everyone's individual bout is important. It's something we preach and it's coming together at the right time. But we're not satisfied. We have to get one more at Rutgers."
The Rams picked up bonus points in seven of their nine victories and allowed Hunterdon Central to score just 16 offensive points the entire match. It was the type of performance Southern has continually delivered in the postseason and one the Rams know they'll need to duplicate if they are to defend their state title on Sunday. Southern wrestled well even in defeat versus the Red Devils, notably liming bonus points at 190 and 150 pounds against two of Hunterdon Central's standouts. Freshman Levi Foote, giving up over 20 points to Thomas Brunetti, kept the region medalist to a 7-0 decision to start the match at 190. At 150 pounds, senior Tyler Chase limited Rhett Washleski, who advanced to wrestleback round three at least season's state tournament, to a 3-1 decision.
Brunetti's win gave the Red Devils an early 3-0 lead but Southern won the next four bouts and never looked back. Birch won 5-2 over Ryan Seemon at 215 and French picked up a 5-1 decision over Tyler Suk at 285 as the Rams inserted Foote at 190 and bumped Birch and French up a weight. Mason made quick work of Joshua Buck with a 23-second pin at 106 pounds before McVey delivered an impressive 9-1 major decision over returning state qualifier Ryan Sherlock at 113 pounds to stretch Southern's lead to 16-3.
Hunterdon Central senior Anthony Rossi, a three-time state qualifier, won by fall over Jacob Chambers at 120 to trim Southern's lead to 16-9 but the Rams answered with a major decision from Vigilante at 126 and a win by fall from Manera at 132 to open up a 26-9 advantage.
This moment was exactly why Manera transferred so Southern from Holy Spirit where he reached the blood round at the state tournament as a freshman 120-pounder.
"This better competition to take me to the next level and the education is why I came here," Manera said. "It was a new experience but it's been a great experience that's transformed me from someone who lost in the blood round at states to a finalist at Escape the Rock."
"He loves wrestling and he works very hard, asks a ton of questions, and always wants to learn," Roy said. "It's a pleasure to have him in the room. He's always going to go out there and give everything he's got and we have a lot of kids who do that, so he fits right in."
Hunterdon Central picked up points at 138 where Evan Thompson won by 7-2 decision over Scottie Sari, but Southern's deep and unrelenting lineup had a response at 144 in the form of junior Wyatt Stout. The returning NJSIAA 6th-place medalist (132) scored four takedowns, including two in the third period, for an 8-3 win over state qualifier William Cella to give Southern a 29-12 lead with four bouts left. Southern needed just one win over those final four weights to clinch the match, and with a state champion, state medalist, and a region champion yet to wrestle, the Rams were in great shape.
Following Washleski's 3-1 win over Chase at 150, Henrich, a Virginia Tech signee who was last season's 150-pound NJSIAA champion, officially clinched the match by building a 14-0 lead before pinning Grant Thompson in 4:29. Hochstrasser, last season's NJSIAA 8th-place finisher at 144 pounds, won by technical fall at 165 and Southern forfeited the final bout at 175.
The final obstacle in Southern's path to the program's fifth state title is Phillipsburg, a program that needs no introduction to wrestling fans around New Jersey. The Stateliners have won 22 NJSIAA team state championships with their most recent title coming in 2022. Southern and Phillipsburg have met four times in the state finals with a 2-2 split. The teams have wrestled three times in the past two seasons, including a pair of victories by Southern last season.
"I think no matter what year it is P'Burg is always a tough team," Roy said. "They bring a great tradition of wrestling and you can never take those guys lightly, and we never do. We're getting ready for a battle. It's going to be a war."
Southern 40, Hunterdon Central 21
190: Thomas Brunetti (HC) d. Levi Foote, 7-0
215: Bradford Birch (S) d. Ryan Seemon, 5-2
285: Collin French (S) d. Tyler Suk (HC), 5-1
106: Anthony Mason (S) p. Joshua Buck, 0:23
113: Cash McVey (S) md. Ryan Sherlock, 9-1
120: Anthony Rossi (HC) p. Jacob Chambers, 0:42
126: Attila Vigilante (S) md. Jace Brownlie, 9-1
132: Bryce Manera (S) p. Ahmed Hussain, 0:42
138: Evan Thompson (HC) d. Scottie Sari, 7-2
144: Wyatt Stout (S) d. William Cella, 8-3
150: Rhett Washleski (HC) d. Tyler Chase, 3-1
157: Matt Henrich (S) p. Grant Thompson, 4:29
165: Hayden Hochstrasser (S) tf. Jacob Saus, 16-0
175: Nehemiah Bugash (HC) by forfeit