TOMS RIVER – Cliff Ruggiero had put the past behind him when he went out on to the mat Saturday for the NJSIAA Region VI 160-pound championship bout against Brick’s Will Scott at Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River High School North.
Ruggiero, a senior at Brick Memorial, had lost by default to Scott in the District 23 final on Feb. 21 when Scott could not continue after he had been slammed by Ruggiero in the third period. Ruggierio was leading that bout at the time of the slam.
“I try to forget my emotions. I don’t want it to bother me when I’m wrestling,” Ruggiero said. “I was obviously upset last week because it didn’t go as planned. I thought I was the better wrestler, but things don’t always go your way.”
Things went Ruggiero’s this time around as he pinned Scott with a headlock in the second period to win his first region championship.
Ruggiero, who pinned Toms River South’s Antrez Clagon in the semifinal for his 100th career win, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.
“I tried to focus on wrestling my match. Every match the goal is to score five or more points,” Ruggiero, who was leading 7-3 at the time of the pin, said.
There was a scare for Ruggiero when he brought Scott down hard to the mat in the second period, causing a stoppage in the action. However, it was not ruled a slam and Scott was able to continue.
“I didn’t think it was a slam at all. I thought he was safe the whole time,” Ruggiero said. I kind of looked up at the ref and gave him a look.
Region 6 Wrestling Finals in Toms River, NJ on February, 28, 2015. Peter Ackerman/Staff Photographer
Ruggiero (31-4), a four-time District 23 finalist during his career, will be making his first appearance in the the NJSIAA Individual Championships at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, March 6-8.
He was also one of three Brick Memorial champions in the tournament. It was the second straight year Brick Memorial has had three region champions.
Mustangs’ senior Alec Donovan (145) won his first region title with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Pinelands’ Thomas Poklikuha in the most enthralling bout of the championship round that had the crowd on the edge of their seats throughout.
In what was one continious scramble between the two good friends and workout partners at the Shore Thing Wrestling Club, Donovan reversed Poklikuha with 1:37 left. That came just two seconds after Poklikuha reversed him.
Donovan then held off Poklikuha’s attempt to reverse him again over two frantic scrambles during the final 40 seconds.
When Donovan was asked to describe the bout afterwards, he summed it up with the following words:
“Grueling, ‘tough, pain in the rear end, hard-nosed,” Donovan said. “That’s the best part about wrestling right there. Matches like that, being in the hype, having the crowd cheer, having the crowd boo. I feel like I’m in the middle of a football field.
“I know all his flaws and he knows all of mine. That kind of showed. He almost had me. I almost had him.”
Donovan (32-1) said he and Polikuha (34-2) will work out together again this week. They will be in opposite brackets in the state tournament.
“We’re going to help each other get to the state finals,” Donovan said.
Brick Memorial sophomore heavyweight Nick Rivera began the championship round by pinning Jackson Memorial’s Brody Graham with 46 seconds left.
Rivera, who won his first region championship, was trailing 1-0 and being ridden by Graham when he hit a standing switch, reversed Graham and put him right to his back in one fell swoop.
“My coach (Brick Memorial coach Mike Denver) yelled out, ‘Switch, Switch’ and I hit it,” Rivera, who has beaten Graham two of the three times they have wrestled this season. “As soon as I started to complete the motion, I knew I was going to get something, but I had no idea what I was going to get.”
Christian Brothers Academy had two region champions for the second time in four seasons.
Freshman Richie Koehler (106) was impressive in majoring top seed Kyle Slendorn of Howell in the semifinal and defeating Colts Neck’s Joseph King, 9-2, in the final.
Colts’ junior Sebastian Rivera (113), the state fifth-place finisher last year at 106, won another of the region’s marquee finals when he defeated Brick Memorial’s Gianni Ghione, 3-1, on a takedown with 42.8 seconds left in overtime.
The win reversed an overtime win by Ghione in last year’s 106-pound final.
“I needed to get my payback,” Rivera said.
Twin brothers Mike Russo (126) and Matt Russo (138) gave Jackson Liberty two champions for the second time in three seasons.
Mike Russo (38-2), a two-time state top four finisher, defeated Toms River South’s Cole Corrigan, 5-0.
Matt Russo (38-0) defeated Lacey’s Connor Garrity 4-1 with three backpoints in the third period for his first region title.
Unbeaten Tyree Sutton (195) became Keansburg’s first region champion with a 1-0 win over Wall’s Matt McKenzie.
Wall’s Brett Donner (170) won the weight class in the tournment with three past state placewinners with a 6-4 win over Ocean’s Zach Hertling after he defeated Brick’s Kyle Wojtaszek, 5-3, in the semifinal.
Rumson senior Marcus Iwama joined Bulldogs’ head coach Bryan Heller as the only two-time region champions in the school’s history with a 9-7 win over Howell’s Anthony Gagliano.
Middletown North junior Chad Freshnock (220) became the Lions’ first region champion since Frank Molinaro in 2004 with an 8-1 win over CBA’s Will Oxley.
Other champions were Toms River South’s Owen McClave (120), 2-1 over Wall’s Denzel Tovar, in a matchup of unbeaten; Southern’s Matt Wilhelm (152), who made it 10 of the last 11 years the Rams have had a region champion and Brick’s Dean Sherry (182), who became a two-time region champion.
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TALK WRESTLING WITH US
Before you head down to Atlantic City for next weekend’s NJSIAA Individual Wrestling Championships, swing by Brick this Tuesday for some mat discussion. We’ll be chatting wrestling at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, at the Buffalo Wild Wings in the Riverwalk Mall at 2770 Hooper Avenue in Brick. Asbury Park Press reporters will be on hand to discuss the state championships, along with special guests including Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale, Brick Memorial head coach Mike Denver and Brick Memorial contender Alec Donovan. Come out for an evening of wrestling talk at Buffalo Wild Wings in Brick this Tuesday.