The greatest strength of St. Peter’s Prep’s wrestling team was on full display Wednesday night against visiting Ocean Township.
With multiple starters out of the lineup, including state medalists Michael Russo and Jose Palomino. the Marauders, ranked No. 2 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Power Rankings, found a way to get the job done against a perennial state power. After falling behind early and trailing through eight bouts, the St. Peter’s pulled away from the Spartans by winning the final six bouts for a 49-21 nonconference victory Wednesday night at “The Barn”. St. Peter’s won 10 of 14 bouts and picked up bonus points in nine of those victories to pick up win No. 5 in its first match after returning from the Clash XII National Duals.
Danny Sblendorio, Jordan Fox, Armond Cox and Michael Simonetti all recorded falls while Alec Kelly and Connor Burkert notched technical falls and Sonny Simonetti, Ryan Burkert and Christian Colucci won by major decision. Despite missing some key pieces and falling behind early, the Marauders showed once again they have one of the deepest teams and longest lineups in the state.
“We put the schedule together to have individuals get tough competition day after day so they’re used to that come postseason time,” Marauders head coach Anthony Verdi said. “And as a team, having dual meets against really solid teams like Ocean where different kids have to pull through is going to help us come sectional time.”
Having a team with five state medalists, one wrestler who finished a round away from a spot on the podium and several others who could join them this season means the Marauders don’t have many spots for opposing teams to attack, even on days when they’re not at full strength. It also means the Marauders rarely enter panic mode. Kelly opened the match with a technical fall at 113 pounds for a 5-0 lead, but when Ocean used a major decision and back-to-back pins in the next three bouts to take a 16-5 lead, St. Peter’s just kept going about its business.
“My teammates are battle-tested and they’re experienced,” Sonny Simonetti said. “Our coach, Anthony Verdi, is very big on wrestling the best competition possible, whether it’s in the county, state or this year even the country. We’ve wrestled (No. 1 in the nation) Blair Academy, (No. 3 and Clash XII champion) Apple Valley; any team that we see we’re ready for, no matter what.”
Simonetti came through with clutch bonus points at 138 pounds to halt Ocean’s win streak and get the Marauders back on track. Simonetti, who was the District 16 runner-up at 126 pounds last season to eventual state champ Anthony Giraldo from North Bergen, won by major decision over Grant Brown, 9-1. Brown, who did not wrestle last season, was the Region VI fourth-place finisher at 106 pounds as a freshman for Christian Brothers Academy. Simonetti’s victory pulled Prep to within 16-9 with several heavy-hitters waiting to take the mat.
“Having a couple of guys out of the lineup tonight, I’ll be honest, we looked at a few matchups tonight because Ocean is a good team,” Verdi said. “Sonny Simonetti stepped up big. He has a tough kid in Brown and he winds up majoring him. That took the wind out of their sails and brought a lot of momentum to our side of the mat.”
“My team was losing some momentum and Ocean was feeling pretty good, so it was something to give my team a jump start,” Simonetti said. “After that things took care of themselves.”
St. Peter’s took the lead back, 18-16, after a technical fall victory by Connor Burkert over Carter Marquette, 26-11 in 5:10, at 145 pounds and a 10-2 major decision by Ryan Burkert over T.J. Saldutti at 152. Ocean snatched the advantage right back at 160 when two-time state medalist Zach Hertling bumped up from 152 and pinned Gerard Gomilla in 2:18 for a 22-18 lead.
A gutsy performance by Stephen Kellner at 170 would help St. Peter’s begin to put the match away.
Ocean senior Jason Lawhon recorded the bouts’ first points with a first-period takedown, but Kellner would escape to make it 2-1 after one period. Kellner chose defense to start the second period and escaped to tie the bout at two. Then, as Lawhon and Kellner were going out of bounds they gave each other an extra shove, and the official called Lawhon for unsportsmanlike conduct and awarded a point to Kellner for a 3-2 lead. Lawhon started the third period in the defensive position and scored with a reversal to take a 4-3 lead. Kellner would escape again to tie the bout at four before recording his first and only offensive points of the bout with under 20 seconds left. The takedown gave him a 6-4 lead, and he held on tie the match at 21 after a team point was taken away from Ocean for a bench misconduct.
“Having guys in good condition like Stephen who work hard in the room, I’m not worried about him in the third period,” Verdi said. “He does a great job keeping his hands on guys and wearing them down. Steve’s match just kept us rolling and didn’t afford them an opportunity to get momentum back.”
With advantage in the remaining five bouts, the Marauders kicked it into overdrive to blow open what had been a back-and-forth dual. Sblendorio won by fall over Viet Le at 182 and Colucci collected an 18-5 major decision over Tyler Thompson at 195 to give St. Peter’s a 31-21 lead. At 220, Fox pinned Dan Loizos in 1:46 and Cox overpowered Michael Rodriguez at heavyweight with a fall in 53 seconds. Just like that, St. Peter’s Prep had clinched the match up 43-21. Michael Simonetti closed out the dual with the Marauders’ third straight pin and fourth of the match, giving St. Peter’s the 28-point victory.
“Injuries are not something you can control so we try to focus on things we can control - attitude, implementation of our techniques and our effort,” Simonetti said. “Those are three things we can control, and if we monitor them in our room that will translate onto the mat.”
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link and this match was a perfect example of that,” he added. “If someone gets hurt you have to replace them, and I think we showed we can do that tonight.”
No. 2 St. Peter's Prep 49, Ocean Township 21
113: Alec Kelly (SPP) tf. Dave Tieto 3:58 (16-0)
120: Max Rallo (OT) md. Nicholas Santos 10-2
126: Costa Poniros (OT) p. James Handy 0:45
132: Andrew MacNeille (OT) p. Jericho Martinez 0:31
138: Sonny Simonetti (SPP) md. Grant Brown 9-1
145: Connor Burkert (SPP) tf. Carter Marquette 5:10 (26-11)
152: Ryan Burkert (SPP) md. T.J. Saldutti 10-2
160: Zach Hertling (OT) p. Gerard Gomilla 2:18
170: Stephen Kellner (SPP) d. Jason Lawhon 6-4
182: Danny Sblendorio (SPP) p. Viet Le 3:10
195: Christian Colucci (SPP) md. Tyler Thompson 18-5
220: Jordan Fox (SPP) p. Dan Loizos 1:46
Hwt: Armond Cox (SPP) p. Michael Rodriguez 0:53
106: Michael Simonetti (SPP) p. Nicholas Villapiano 2:47
Records: at St. Peter's Prep (5-3): Ocean (4-1).