The St. Augustine Prep wrestling team spent the past four years waiting for Friday night.
The top-seeded Hermits captured their first sectional title since 2010, taking down second-seeded Christian Brothers Academy, 37-25, in the Non-Public A South championship at Spina Gymnasium.
St. Augustine Prep, which captured its ninth sectional crown in school history, had been ousted from the postseason the past three years by Christian Brothers Academy, including two straight times in sectional finals.
“It feels like a long time coming,” junior heavyweight Tom Lynd said. “I thought last year we should’ve beat them.”
St. Augustine Prep’s Nick Clark clinched the win by pinning Chris Koutzen at 160 pounds in 5 minutes, 15 seconds.
“It’s great,” said Nick’s brother Jack, who joined the team this year as a transfer from McDonogh School in Maryland. “I mean, I came a great year. It was a great team. We had a full lineup for the first time and we had a chance to beat Christian Brothers Academy, who beat us three years in a row. It’s been amazing.”
St. Augustine Prep (22-2) will face the winner of Bergen Catholic-Don Bosco Prep in the Non-Public A final on Sunday at the Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North on 6 p.m. on Sunday.
The Hermits are seeking their first state title since 2003.
“We worked for it,” St. Augustine Prep coach Bill Ward said. “We’ve been working hard for that. It was one (of) the major goals and the kids really wanted it, and we went after it.”
For Christian Brothers Academy, the loss ended a solid season that saw it finish second behind Central IV and Shore Conference Tournament Howell in Class A North and advance to the quarterfinals of the SCT.
“I’m proud of my team,” Christian Brothers Academy coach Russ Witt said. “We had a great season. We overcame a lot of injuries. You’ve got to tip your hat to St. Augustine. They had a great team. I hope to have a home match next year and be back and wrestle again.”
St. Augustine Prep showed that early, holding a 16-6 lead through five matches. Senior James Bennett opened the day with a 10-2 major decision over Justin Kieslor at 182 pounds, and a decision and pin by Ryan and Tom Lynd in back-to-back bouts at 220 and heavyweight extended the advantage to 13-3.
The Hermits led 16-6 entering the 120-pound bout, which pit the St. Augustine Prep’s Dillan Taylor against Christian Brothers Academy’s Liam Gallagher. Taylor controlled the action from the outset, even carrying Gallagher from the edge of the outside circle to the center of the mat. However, at the end of the first period, Taylor, trying to take Gallagher to his back, pinned himself just before the horn sounded.
“That was a big swing in momentum for us,” Witt said. “You could definitely see it energized our team.”
“That Taylor thing switched everything,” Ward said.
The Colts (18-7) trimmed St. Augustine Prep’s lead to 16-12, and took their first lead when Dylan VanSickell pinned Matt Dellinger in 1:57 at 126 to give his squad an 18-16 advantage.
Prep senior Ed Donahue took a forfeit at 132 to put his team back on top, but Christian Brothers Academy’s Erik Beshada earned a major decision at 138 to tie it up at 22-22.
The Hermits didn’t lose their cool though. Junior Jarred Hodges used Taylor’s unfortunate pin to motivate him and picked up a 6-3 decision over three-time District 22 finalist Christian Casselli, which gave St. Augustine Prep a 25-22 lead.
“I let that hype me up,” Hodges said. “No one wants to see their teammate get pinned, and I was just going to go out there and give the other guy (a fight) as usual and do my thing.”
Hodges was so aggressive he left the gym with two black eyes.
His teammates made sure they weren’t in vain. Jack Clark decked Garrett Fitzgerald in 2:29 at 152 pounds, putting the Hermits up 31-22, setting up his brother Nick to seal the victory.
“I looked up the reviews when I came here about the Prep and they said we’re overrated,” Jack Clark said. “We’re this, we’re that, and I think we proved ourselves this year.”