Alec Donovan did not mind one bit when Howell weighed in unbeaten senior Ben Esposito at 138 pounds for the NJSIAA Central Group IV championship match.
“My mindset was he’s a 32-pounder coming up to wrestle me at 38,” said Donovan, a sophomore at Brick Memorial. “I am a 160-pounder in the offseason coming down to 38.”
Translation of that is Donovan felt he had a strength advantage in the matchup of two district champions from last year.
Donovan used his strength advantage to ride Esposito out in the third period to record a 1-0 win that went a long way toward eliminating any hope Howell had of winning its first sectional championship.
Brick Memorial then used its considerable advantage in the upper weights to break away from a tied match with three bouts left and record a 34-19 win and capture its second straight Central IV championship, its fourth Central IV title in the last six seasons and its Shore Conference-record 14th sectional championship.
The Mustangs (22-2), who lost to Phillipsburg last year in the Group IV championship match, will wrestle North I Group IV champion Hackensack 12:30 p.m. on Sunday at Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River High School North in the Group IV semifinals. Southern, the South IV champion, will wrestle Hunterdon Central, the North II, Group IV champion, at the same time in the other Group IV semifinal. The Group IV championship match is at 6 p.m. Brick Memorial will be trying to win its first state group championship since 2009 and its Shore Conference-record eighth overall.
Weighing Esposito up and putting him on Donovan was a move Howell realistically had to make if it was going to win its first sectional championship.
“I wanted to wrestle him,” Donovan said. “I practiced and worked my butt off all week for him.”
“I kind of felt we had an advantage just in the fact Alec has wrestled a lot of tough guys,” said Brick Memorial coach Dan O’Cone. “He’s been in the fire, that kid. I kind of just feel like he’s a hard worker and that separated him from another great kid. Espositio’s a great kid.”
Another key win for Brick Memorial in the lower weights came when Connor Maliff beat Howell’s two-time District 21 runner-up Jimmy Slendorn, 5-0, in the 113-pound bout. Maliff took Slendorn down and to his back early in the first period.
“He’s really the reason why we won (on Friday night), if you think about it,” O’Cone said. “We talk about last year all the time. He didn’t get certified at 106 and he ended up wrestling 126 in the states. It was a big deal for us to make sure Connor was in the right place for us at the end of the season. Thirteen (113) is the right spot.”
O’Cone, who said he had penciled his team to win two of the six weights from 106-138, received four wins in that area.
Howell (23-4) did make things somewhat interesting by defeating both Cliff and Rob Ruggiero at 152 and 145. Jack Rada majored Rob Ruggiero at 145. Ashanti Maurice defeated Cliff Ruggiero, 3-1, in overtime at 152 in the latest installment of their ongoing rivalry.
However, Brick Memorial pulled away when Nick Costa won by decision at 195 and Matt Moore (220) and Tyler Poling (heavyweight) both pinned.