Wrestling – Survive and Advance: Region VI Pre-quarterfinals
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TOMS RIVER — Like any freshman, there are times Russell Benson makes mistakes that can be chalked up to youth and inexperience. More often than not, however, he’s serving reminders that this is just the beginning of a promising career.
On Wednesday night in the pre-quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA Region VI Tournament at Pine Belt Arena, the 10th-seeded Benson knocked off seventh-seeded St. John Vianney senior Paul Piccione via pin with three seconds left in sudden victory overtime to reach the 120-pound quarterfinals.
Trailing 1-0 in the third period, Benson scored a reversal to take a 2-1 lead. Piccione then escaped for the second time in the bout to tie the score and send it to overtime. In sudden victory, Benson finished off a low single by stacking up Piccione for the fall at 6:57, thrusting himself into Friday night’s quarterfinal round and surviving the one-and-done pre-quarterfinals.
“I was feeling good and I’ve been in that position before, so I knew I could do it,” Benson said. “I was hand fighting but wasn’t getting to him, so I decided to just go for it. You gotta take some risks.”
“I shot in and he tried to funk and as soon as he did I grabbed his ankle, put it over and stacked him up, and there it was.”
Benson (28-7) now advances to face No. 2 seed Denzel Tovar. The Wall senior is a two-time state qualifier and undefeated at 32-0.
“Making it to the quarterfinals of the Region VI Tournament is amazing, and that weight class is one of the best in Region VI,” said Raritan head coach Rob Nucci. “He beat a pretty good kid tonight, and we’ll see what happens Friday. We gotta wrestle our tail off.”
When the 120-pound bracket was seeded, it became a mess after the top two seeds - Toms River South’s Owen McClave and Tovar - because most of the remaining wrestlers had beaten each other. What that now means is that for Benson and the other seven quarterfinalists it’s fairly wide open for one of the top three spots that qualify for the state tournament.
“He’s young and dumb,” Nucci expressed with a smile. “He doesn’t know any better, and he’s just trying to wrestle his tail off and beat the next guy, and to me that’s a good thing. These other guys have a little pressure expecting to win. We’re a kid in a candy shop just trying to knock off one guy at a time.”
“I just have to keep fighting and keep digging,” Benson said.
Benson was one of 15 wrestlers seeded lower than their opponent to walk away victorious Wednesday night to reach the quarterfinals. The lowest seed to win was Toms River North’s Ryan O’Donnell, who as the No. 12 seed at 145 beat Matawan’s William Rodriguez, the No. 5 seed, 8-5. That weight had three lower seeds win as 11th-seeded Seon Bowker of Southern stunned sixth-seeded Pete Powell of Marlboro, 12-10, while Raritan’s Mike Chadwick topped Point Boro’s Pete Gencarelli 11-5 in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup.
At 113 pounds, 10th-seeded Wall freshman Jack Kelly defeated Ocean’s Dave Tieto 7-5 in sudden victory while Jackson Liberty’s Jeremy Bollard, also a 10 seed, eliminated Point Beach’s John Finnerty, 5-2, at 132 pounds.
At 160 pounds, Jackson Memorial’s Jarret DiGiantomasso, the No. 10 seed, pinned Central’s Corrado Spinosa in 5:12. At heavyweight Neptune’s Marquis Dove edged Toms River North’s Alex Scherer 1-0. Dove was seeded 10th.
While the 120-pound weight class garnered headlines after the seeding process because of how close seeds three and beyond were, there were other weight classes that faced the same scenario. The 152-pound bracket has returning region champ Matt Wilhelm from Southern as the No. 1 seed and Manalapan’s undefeated senior, Jake Kaminsky, as the No. 2 seed. After that it’s anybody’s guess, which made for some interesting pre-quarterfinal bouts.
One of those was Wall junior Josh Glantzman, the No. 6 seed, taking on Brick Memorial senior Rob Ruggiero, the 11 seed. The two met earlier in the season during the Shore Conference Tournament with Glantzman winning 4-2. This bout was equally as close with Ruggiero holding a 3-2 lead in the third before Glantzman scored a takedown to go up 4-3. Ruggiero escaped to force overtime, but in sudden victory Glantzman finished off a takedown to win 6-4 and advance.
“You have the top two guys who are one small step above everybody else, but after that you have three through 12 and it’s a one-point match between everybody,” Glantzman said. “You have a kid like Ruggiero who’s an 11 seed but is good enough to be a five or six seed. Everybody is so close.”
Glantzman (26-4) will face Marlboro senior Dan Saraiva (25-4) in Friday’s quarterfinal round.
“Survive and advance,” Glantzman said. “You really just have to take it one match at a time. If you have to scratch one out in overtime you do what you need to do to win.”
Long Branch junior Joey Jasio faced the same situation as Glantzman with a very tough opening-round match, but one that if he got though opened up a good chance to place top three. Jasio rallied for a third-period reversal to beat Southern senior Pat Ferraro, 2-1, and reach the 220-pound quarterfinals.
Jasio (27-3) will face top-seeded Middletown North junior Chad Freshnock (19-1).
Other bouts of interest included Jackson Memorial’s Tim Hamann defeating Wall’s Jack Wishart 3-1 at 138 pounds, and Brick’s Jack McLafferty coming back to beat Toms River North’s Vinny Fichera, 10-7, also at 138.
Shore’s Alex Johnson reached the quarterfinals by using his patented cradle to pin Red Bank’s Tom Hinz in 24 seconds at 145 pounds. Johnson faces No. 2 seed Tom Poklikuha from Pinelands in the quarterfinals.
Matawan’s Jimmy Pierce beat Southern’s Joe Toci, 4-1 in double overtime, in the eight vs. nine matchup at 160 pounds. Brick Memorial’s Connor Owen outlasted Middletown South’s Sean Killeen in triple overtime at 220 pounds, while St. John Vianney’s Micah Clarke edged Point Beach’s Forrest Gardner, 8-5 in double overtime, at heavyweight.
Wrestling resumes Friday night at 5 p.m. with the quarterfinals at Pine Belt Arena, and concludes Saturday with the semifinals at 10 a.m., third-place bouts at 1:30 p.m. and Region VI championship bouts at 4 p.m.