Rob Ruggiero knew it was going to be difficult on Friday night in his Region VI 152-pound quarterfinal bout against Kyle Wojtaszek at Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North.
Ruggiero, a junior from Brick Memorial, was the No. 8 seed. Wojtaszek, a junior from Brick, was the No. 1 seed and was a state qualifier last year at 132.
However, another dynamic made it even more difficult for Ruggiero.
“It’s hard wrestling your best friend and I’m sure it’s the same way for him,” Ruggiero said. “I work out with him all the time.”
However, Ruggiero made the best of the situation for himself as he hit a four-point move in the first period and went on to record an 8-4 win. He was the only wrestler to upend a No. 1 seed in the round.
“We both want to win, but we are best friends. Picture yourself wrestling someone you grew up with,” Ruggiero said.
Ruggiero said he and Wojtaszek are so close that before they wrestled last Saturday in the District 23 final, they went out together for lunch. Wojtaszek won that bout 7-3.
“This week I was a lot more defensive,” Ruggiero said. “He’s a very fast wrestler. He’s hard to keep up with in a match. I just tried cutting him off by keeping my stance low. He loves that single (leg takedown).”
Ruggiero (22-4) will wrestle St. John Vianney’s Terrence Davis (29-5), the No. 4 seed, this morning in the semifinals in a weight class where the Nos. 1 and 3 seeds lost on Friday night.
“I have a shot now,” said Ruggiero, who indicated he thought Wojtaszek was the favorite to win the weight before the quarterfinals.
Ruggiero was one of seven Brick Memorial wrestlers to advance to the semifinals, which will take place at 10 a.m. today. The wrestleback quarterfinals will take place at the same time, followed by the wrestleback semifinals, third-place bouts and championship bouts, which will begin approximately at 5 p.m.
The top three finishers in each of the 14 weight classes advance to the NJSIAA Individual Championships, which will take place March 7-9 at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City. The state tournament will be seeded Tuesday afternoon at NJSIAA headquarters, Robbinsville.
Ruggiero’s win came minutes before one of the wildest five-minute sequences in recent Region VI Tournament history.
During that span, Toms River South’s Joe Salvato, the No. 3 seed at 160, defeated Raritan’s Connor Sheehan, 3-1 in overtime on Mat 3.
Going on simultaneously on Mats 1 and 2 were the night’s two most dramatic bouts.
On Mat 2, in a 170-pound bout, Brick’s unbeaten Dean Sherry, the No. 2 seed, defeated Wall’s Joseph McKenzie, 3-2, in triple overtime when he was given an escape just before the buzzer. If McKenzie had ridden him out in what was the the final overtime period, he would have avenged a loss to Sherry in the District 23 final.
Over on Mat 1, Pinelands’ Thomas Poklikuha, the No. 7 seed, upended No. 2 seed Erik Beshada of CBA 4-2 in overtime.
“My coaches are always telling me I’m the best out there, but Beshada is a hell of an opponent,” said Poklikuha, who is trying to become the first Pinelands wrestler to qualify for the state tournament since two-time state finalist Mike Moloksky in 2002. “I can’t thank my coaches enough for always pushing me.”
Poklikuha (32-1) was able to record the winning takedown after an extended scramble in a bout full of scrambles.
“I knew my conditioning was second-to-none,” Poklikuha said. “He’s a hell of a wrestler, too, but I just gritted that one out.”
Poklikuha will get the chance to avenge his lone loss when he meets Southern’s Matt Wilhelm (28-2) in the semifinals.
Wilhelm, who was one of nine Southern wrestlers to advance to the semifinals, defeated Poklikuha, 7-5, in the District 24 final.
Poklikuha was the second No. 7 seed to defeat a No. 2 seed. Long Branch’s Andy Hernandez upended Point Boro’s Daniel Nobbs 3-1 at 120 on a takedown in the second period.
Ocean’s Andrew MacNeille (132) and Long Branch’s Brandon Perez (152) were two No. 6 seeds who recorded upsets.
MacNeille beat Jackson Liberty’s Matt Russo, a two-time state qualifier, 6-5. MacNeille has probably been under the radar all year in that competitive weight class where a lot of the wrestlers have beaten each other.
“I haven’t really been given credit much credit for the wins I have,” MacNeille said. “I’m a hard wrestler. I like to push it pace-wise.”
MacNeille (28-9) will meet No. 2 seed Kris Lindemann (28-8) of Howell in the semifinals. Lindemann defeated MacNeille 10-7 on Jan. 16 on a five-point move in the third period.
Perez defeated Toms River North’s Dylan DaSilva 3-2 on a takedown with 25 seconds left.
“My coach (Dan George) told me to stay in my stance,” Perez said. “He wanted me to hand fight. (DaSilva) had a good single shot to my left leg. I’ve defended those shots all year. I kept circling to my right. I faked a shot and got the single (leg takedown).”
Perez (27-7) will wrestle No. 2 seed Nick Racanelli (26-2) of Southern in the semifinals.
Southern’s Chris Crane (120) was another wrestler who recorded a dramatic win as he defeated Howell’s Jimmy Slendorn 4-2 in overtime. He recorded the winning takedown off a wild scramble. The takedown came after he was penalized a stalling point with 1.7 seconds left in regulation.
“I still had to keep my heart and win it,” said Crane, who avenged two earlier losses to Slendorn.
Crane (27-3) will wrestle Jackson Liberty’s Mike Russo (33-0) in the semifinals.
Thirteen No. 1 seeds, 12 No. 2 seeds, 10 No. 3 seeds and 8 No. 4 seeds advanced to the semifinals.