Ocean coach Cip Apicelli and his staff never lost faith in their team even though a lot had gone wrong for the Spartans the first five weeks of the season.
“I’m with these kids every single day. I believe in our kids,” Apicelli said. “It’s wrestling. It’s a really tough sport.”
Apicelli’s faith was rewarded in a huge way on Wednesday night, as the Spartans grinded their way to a 28-27 win over Long Branch in a Shore Conference Class B North match.
The result created a three-way tie for the Class B North championship between Long Branch (8-3, 5-1), ranked No. 18 in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20, Ocean (13-4, 5-1) and Neptune (10-5, 5-1). It is the third straight season Ocean has won at least a share of the divisional title, the fifth time in the last seven seasons Long Branch has won at least a share of the divisional title and the first time in recent memory Neptune has won a divisional title.
“All along, we knew we had all the pieces. We just had to work hard in the (wrestling) room,” said senior 220-pounder Jacob Bell, whose 9-2 win over Joey Guidetti in the final bout gave Ocean the win. “You see here, it paid off.”
Ocean had all the pieces to its lineup available, but it looked like it had absorbed a huge blow to its hopes of winning the match when Jordan Eugenis’ shoulder popped out and he had to injury default in the 126-pound bout against Aaron Torres. Eugenis was favored in the bout and leading 1-0 at the time of the injury default 23 seconds into the second period. The injury default resulted in a possible nine-point swing.
“I always have faith in my team,” Bell said. “I always thought my guys could step up when they need to. We called on a couple of guys and they did their jobs.”
Among those doing their jobs were junior 170-pounder Jason Lawhon, freshman 182-pounder Tyler Thompson and senior 182-195-pounder Tommy Lyster.
Lawhon hung on for an 8-7 win over Arturo Rios in a toss-up bout. Thompson held Chris Pappayliou, who along with his twin brother Nick transferred to Long Branch from Ocean last summer, to a 3-1 decision. Lyster bumped up to 195 and fought off repeated takedown attempts from Vincent Roselli to record a 1-0 win in another toss-up bout.
“Our kids came to wrestle,” Apicelli said.
Long Branch, which appeared to have a significant advantage from 152-182, did not have the manuverability it wanted in those weights because Luke Balina was not available to wrestle. Balina has a knee injury, Long Branch coach Dan George said. “I had no bullets in the gun,” George said. “I won the toss (the pre-match flip). I could have gotten what I wanted. We had to win at 70 (170) and we had to win at 95 (195).”
If Balina was available, George would have been able to run his lineup from 152-182 up a weight.
Bell, the District 22 third-place finisher at 182 last season, put Guidetti to his back twice in the first period to build an 8-0 lead and then wrestled smartly the final two periods.
“I knew when they pulled heavyweight out of the box (to start the match), I knew it was coming down to me,” Bell said.
“People ask me what weight do we start at? I kind of want it end around (Zach) Hertling (Ocean’s 138-pounder and state third-place finisher at 120 last year), but Jake is not a bad option,” Apicelli said.
Ocean had other heroes. Nick Colalilo held Jake George, a state qualifier, to a technical fall. Max Rallo (120) and Andrew MacNellie (132) had pins.
“This is the team we thought we had,” Apicelli said.