Eyebrows were raised when Christian Brothers Academy junior Mike Oxley decided to wrestle at 195 pounds in the postseason after competing at 182 most of the dual-meet season.
“It was a unanimous decision between my coaches, my parents and myself,” Oxley said. “We thought I had a better shot at ’95.”
The 195-pound weight class in Region VI was headed by Brick Memorial’s Matt Moore, the state seventh-place finisher at the weight last year who had been pinning almost everybody in the first period all season.
Also at 195 was Jackson Memorial’s Ken Bradley, a region semifinalist at the weight last year.
The 182-pound weight class is headed by Jackson Liberty’s Nick Zak, the state sixth-place finisher at 170 last year.
Oxley showed on Saturday in the Region VI championship bout and semifinals at Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North that the decision he made was a wise one. He stunned the previously unbeaten Moore with a reversal and two back points in the final nine seconds to record a 5-3 win in the championship bout.
In the semifinal, Oxley beat Bradley, 4-3, on a takedown with a second left.
The Cinderella run and late heroics enabled Oxley (33-3) to be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.
“There was just something about it (going 195),” Oxley said. “I just felt ’95 was the place to go.”
Moore (30-1), who had pinned his two previous opponents in the tournament in a combined 2:09 after he pinned his three opponents in the District 23 Tournament in a combined 54 seconds, was leading 3-0 and on the verge of riding Oxley out in the third period when he was hit for a second stalling call with nine seconds left. That cut Moore’s lead to 3-1.
Off the restart, Oxley executed a switch then almost immediately put Moore to his back as the crowd let out the loudest yell that was heard all day. It was the first time anybody had scored on Moore all season.
“I kind of just switched my hips on him and kept moving,” Oxley said. “It’s indescriable. Nothing can top this day.”
Oxley was not the only wrestler who beat a returning state placewinner in the finals.
Howell senior 132-pounder Ben Esposito knocked off Ocean’s Zach Hertling, the state third-place finisher at 120 last year, 3-2, on a takedown in the first period.
Esposito (38-1) had lost to Hertling twice last year by scores of 5-0 and 5-1.
“Now was the time when I wrestled him where I had the least pressure on me,” said Esposito, who became Howell’s first region champion since current Rutgers University senior Joey Langel won at 112 in 2008 on his way to the state title.
“I was already going on to A.C. (Atlantic City, the site of the state tournament next weekend). I had nothing to lose, really.”
It was also a big day for Neptune’s resurgent program.
The Scarlet Fliers had two champions in senior 170-pounder Dae’Sean Brown and senior 220-pounder John Seidle. Neptune had not had a region champion since Ben Pierce won at heavyweight in 1995. The Scarlet Fliers had not had multiple region champions since 1978, when the late Keith Alston, who would win a state title the following year, won at 135, Vic Keenan won at 101 and the late Scott “Bam Bam” Bigelow won at heavyweight.
Brown (36-2) made it four wins in as many tries over Brick Memorial’s Tyler Richardson over the last two seasons with a solid 11-4 win. It was also Brown’s 100th career win. He actually became Neptune’s first region champ since 1995 over Seidle by about a half hour.
“My coaches told me last year (after he lost to Zak in the region final) you could be the first region champ since ’95”, Brown said. “It was like I have to get the job done. I don’t have another year. I went out there and tried to dominate.”
Seidle (30-7) avenged a 9-2 loss to Brick Memorial’s Tyler Poling in the District 23 final with an 8-6 win.
“I knew my mistakes from the last match, and I adjusted to his style of wrestling,” Seidle said.
Toms River South senior 145-pounder B.J. Clagon, last year’s state champion at 138, was one favorite who did not waste any time in his final. He got a takedown four seconds into his bout with Jackson Memorial’s Spencer Young and then threw Young to his back and pinned him in 31 seconds to become the Indians’ first three-time region champion since the immortal Jeffrey Parker did it from 1975-77. Teammate Kevin Corrigan, a senior 113-pounder, would duplicate the feat about an hour later.
Clagon (40-0) will face major competition in Atlantic City from Camden Catholic’s T.J. Miller, a state champion in 2011, and South Plainfield’s Troy Heilmann, a two-time state runner-up.
“I know I have some good competition so I have to work hard,” Clagon said. “I have to have a good, focused mind and get prepared for next week.”
Toms River East senior 138-pounder Rich Lewis, a two-time state top seven finisher, defeated Jackson Memorial’s two-time state fourth-place finisher Brian Hamann, 4-3, on a reversal in the third period.
Jackson Liberty had two region champions for the first time in its history in Zak and Mike Russo (106).
Manalapan senior heavyweight John Appice, the state seventh-place finisher at heavyweight, became his school’s first two-time region champion since Nick Manochio did it in 2002 and 2003 with a 7-1 win over Middletown South’s Trevor Finn.
Brick Memorial junior 120-pounder Joe Ghione, a two-time state sixth-place finisher, made it two straight region titles with a pin of Colts Neck’s Pete Ottaviano.
Point Boro senior 126-pounder Ryan Budzek became his school’s first region champion since Jordan Beverly in 2010 with a 5-3 overtime win over Jackson Memorial’s Alec Huxford.
Southern senior Chris Serpico won at 152 with a 3-2 win over Long Branch’s Jake George on a second period takedown.