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TOMS RIVER — There are some things in wrestling you just can’t account for.

Southern and Phillipsburg were locked in a tight dual on Sunday in the NJSIAA Group IV final when the Rams sent senior Jesse Bauta out at heavyweight against Stateliners freshman Robert Melise. Southern needed a win, and hopefully bonus points, from one of their best wrestlers to give them momentum heading into the final two bouts. What happened next no one in the entire arena could have seen coming.

Melise, who entered the bout with a 2-4 record with both his wins coming by forfeit, reversed Bauta to his back with a Peterson Roll and pinned him flat with 26 seconds left in the second period, giving Phillipsburg a 13-point lead with three bouts left and sending the Stateliners to their 18th state title with a 32-21 win at Pine Belt Arena.

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Bauta had been one of the Shore Conference’s most clutch wrestlers throughout the season, coming up big in wins over Howell and Brick Memorial. On paper, Melise was overmatched, and his job was to simply not give up bonus points.

“My main priority was not to lose bad,” Melise said. “I was trying to only give up three.”

But then, magic happened. Southern was trailing 22-15 at the time, and a win by Bauta would have cut Phillipsburg’s lead to four points and a fall, which many expected from Bauta, would have brought the Rams to within one point. Standout freshman Brandon Paetzell loomed for Phillipsburg at 106 pounds, but Southern was favored in the final two bouts with James Knoeller at 113 and Chris Crane at 120. Melise’s pin smashed those plans with a hammer, and stands as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the team state tournament.

“It seems like every time we come down here somebody does something unthinkable,” said Phillipsburg head coach Dave Post. “Our kids, we just never count them out.”

Southern has reached the Group IV title match eight times, winning the 2005 title. For the second straight year the Rams suffered heartbreak, this time losing their only match of the season in their final match.

“What’s tough about it is that everyone was figuring they were just going to beat us, and that wasn’t happening,” said Rams head coach John Stout. “You have a wrestler with 20 wins that gets pinned by a kid with two wins. I don’t know what you call that. Bad luck, maybe, but you have to give the Phillipsburg kid credit for going for it. But as a senior you have to be smarter than that and you have to be able to win that match no matter what.

“Obviously that changes the whole complexion of the match. We knew we had the advantage in the last two weight classes.”

Southern defeated Howell for the second time this season in the Group IV semifinals, 34-24, by winning nine of 14 bouts and eight straight from 126 through 182. That set up a championship match between the last two undefeated teams in the state for the Group IV championship.

It was back and forth through the first several weights, as expected. Andrew Tonneson staked the Rams to a 3-0 lead with a 6-3 win over Tylor Petchonka at 126 pounds before Stephen Friedman equaled the score with a 5-3 decision over Bryan Brown at 132. Matt Wilhelm’s 10-8 win over Corey Zinsmeister at 138, followed by Jimmy Schuitema’s 6-2 victory over Zach Wilhelm at 145, had the match score even at six after four bouts.

The first sign that either team might be pulling ahead came when Southern’s Nick Racanelli pinned Garret Wolfinger at 152 to put Southern up 12-6. Joe Toci staying off his back against Max Elling at 160 and giving up just a major decision kept the Rams in front by two points.

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Southern had won the coin toss, and that enabled them to steer Gerardo Jorge away from Jake Kocsis at 170 pounds. When Phillipsburg sent out Broderick Bupivi at 170, Jorge followed. It was a bout Southern figured to get, but Bupivi won, 3-2, with a third-period takedown to give Phillipsburg a 13-12 lead it would not relinquish.

“We knew we needed 145 and at 152 we didn’t want to give up the fall but did,” Post said. “They had momentum going their way and Brod stepped up and changed the tide. That was really the turning point in the match.”

Kocsis then pinned Peyton Blauvelt at 182 pounds to give Phillipsburg a 19-12 lead and Joe Maso followed with a 4-0 decision over Mason Fazekas at 195 to push the Stateliners’ advantage to 22-12 with five bouts remaining.

Southern inserting Fazekas at 195 meant bumping Pat Ferraro to 220 and Bauta to heavyweight. Ferraro held off Andrew Horun, 5-3, to cut Phillipsburg’s lead to 22-15, but Melise’s shocking pin over Bauta extended the Stateliners’ cushion and all but sealed Phillipsburg’s undefeated title run.

Paetzell’s 9-0 major decision over Frank Amiano at 106 pounds officially clinched the title for Phillipsburg. Knoeller and Crane each won at 113 and 120 to close out the match, but Phillipsburg would take the Group IV title by 11 points.

“I’m very proud of this team,” Stout said. “At the start of the season I don’t know if anyone thought this team would be much. It’s hard to be 20-0 and have one loss and it be in the state finals. I’m just tired of being that team.”


NJSIAA Tournament
Group Finals
Group IV

Phillipsburg 32, Southern 21

126: Andrew Tonneson (Southern) d. Tylor Petchonka 8-3

132: Stephen Friedman (Phillipsburg) d. Bryan Brown 5-3

138: Matt Wilhelm (Southern) d. Corey Zinsmeister 10-8

145: Jimmy Schuitema (Phillipsburg) d. Zach Wilhelm 6-2

152: Nick Racanelli (Southern) p. Garret Wolfinger 3:34

160: Max Elling (Phillipsburg) md. Joe Toci (Southern) 15-7

170: Broderick Bupivi (Phillipsburg) d. Gerardo Jorge 3-2

182: Jake Kocsis (Phillipsburg) p. Peyton Blauvelt 3:43

195: Joe Maso (Phillipsburg) d. Mason Fazekas 4-0

220: Pat Ferraro (Southern) d. Andrew Horun 5-3

Hwt: Robert Melise (Phillipsburg) p. Jesse Bauta (Southern) 3:34

106: Brandon Paetzell (Phillipsburg) md. Frank Amiano (Southern) 9-0

113: James Knoeller (Southern) d Ty Agans 8-4

120: Chris Crane (Southern) d. D.J. Wissing 8-4

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