Friday, March 30, 2012

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren preview capsules

Belvidere County Seaters

Coach: Aaron Feldman (35-39, fourth season).

2011 record: 5-16, 3-8 Skyland Conference Valley Division.

Key returnees: Jr. Tyler Grogan SS-P; Sr. Craig Tomkins 3B; Sr. Jared Allen OF; Sr. Vinnie Pisano OF; Sr. Kelsey Craig OF; Sr. Chris DeHerde 2B; Jr. Caleb Seibert INF; So. Jake Carlson C; So. Jacob Seibert OF-P; So. Logan Welles 1B.

Key losses: Nelson Abrams 1B-P; Tommy Tutka SS-P; Matt Nolan C; Jake Sarson OF; Steven Mottola OF (injured).

Promising newcomers: Sr. Hunter Kuhn OF; Jr. Avery Sepulveda 2B-SS; Jr. Mike Wilk OF-P; Jr. Johnny Giacchi OF-P; Fr. Henry Myerchin SS-P.

Coach's comment: "Many of our guys worked hard in summer leagues, fall ball and winter leagues. I feel good about where we are at going into this season."

Outlook: The County Seaters fell off last year after winning 17 games and reaching the North 1, Group 1 semifinals in 2010. The loss of Mottola hurts this year's club in a lot of ways, mostly offensively. Pitching appears to be a real question for this team, as was the case a year ago when the Seaters gave up 192 runs in 21 games (9.1 per). Approaching the .500 mark this season is not out of the question.

Delaware Valley Terriers

Coach: Marty White (78-89, ninth season).

2011 record: 2-18, 2-10 Skyland Conference Raritan Division.

Key returnees: Jr. Scott Skripko 1B-P; Sr. Tom Chiswick 3B-P; Jr. Chris Pilone C; Jr. Reed Williams SS; Sr. Tyler Johnston 1B-2B-P.

Key losses: Clint Wojick OF-P; Brian Grohgans OF; Joe O'Rourke 2B-P; Brent Croasdale OF; Peter Mayer OF; Dan Brokaw P (missed 2011 with injury).

Promising newcomers: Sr. Dennis Martell OF-2B; Sr. Kieth Ferdinando OF; OF Paul Innocenti; Sr. Mike Innocenti 1B-DH; Jr. Ryan Hann C-3B-P; So. Joe Chiarino OF-C-P; So. Chris Fiaschetti 2B-OF-P; So. Adam Novotny OF-P; Jr, Craig Gares OF-P.

Coach's comment: "We have nine new guys at the varsity level, so things will depend on how quickly they adjust to playing at this level. We expect to be competitive with everyone on our schedule, and improve on last year's record."

Outlook: Terriers started off on a bad note last year when ace pitcher Dan Brokaw had season-ending surgery for a torn labrum before the first game. Pitching was a weakness last season and it's a question again. Skripko and Pilone are very good players and will have to lead an inexperienced group. This team should hit, but the pitching needs to be respectable if the Hunterdon County school is to be successful.

Hackettstown Tigers

Coach: Gary Poyer (136-90, 11th season).

2011 record: 21-2, 10-0 NJAC Freedom Division (first).

Key returnees: Sr. Ryan Tatarka P.

Key losses: Matt Reynolds P-3B; Justin Knight P-2B; Kirby Neuner OF; Mark Feci C; Adam Young SS; Madison Kimball 3B-1B; Chris Souders OF; James Novembre 3B-2B; Mike Delorenzo 1B-P; Ryan Pezzato OF.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Owen Gavin OF; Jr. Nick Garno OF; Sr. Nick Lang OF; Jr. Ronald Gieger SS; Sr. Tyler Kessel 2B; Sr. Joe Milelli 1B; Jr. Colin Tierner 3B; Jr. Matt Bailey C; So. Justin Nichols 1B-P; Jr. Matt Lerman 3B-P; Jr. Eddie Dulio OF; Jr. Joe Alitz OF; Jr. Dean Caravito 2B; So. Kenny Stelmack SS.

Coach's comment: "We graduated 13 of 14 players [all starters]. This is a promising new group with speed and defensive prowess."

Outlook: No team in the area was hit harder by graduation. The Tigers are embarking on a major rebuilding project with a lot of questions, especially on the mound. Reynolds and Knight were an outstanding 1-2 atop the rotation. The Freedom Division is up for grabs this season, so we'll see how this team stacks up.

Hunterdon Central Red Devils

Coach: Mike Raymond (224-82, 12th season).

2011 record: 20-10, 9-7 Skyland Conference Delaware Division (tied fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Evan Klimchak SS; Sr. Kenny Wilson OF; Jr. Greggie Russomagno OF; Jr. Jeremy Ake 2B; Jr. Bill Maier P; Sr. Brett Bonn 3B; Sr. Steve Rasile P; Sr. Joe DiGiovanni P; Sr. Pete Monahan P.

Key losses: Greg Scassera P; Josh Ake SS; Sean Thomas 1B; Chris Suseck 3B; T.J. Mordeci C; Zak Sokolowski DH.

Promising newcomers: So. Mike Pffeninger 1B; So. Matt Stalter SS; Jr. Paul Cucco 3B; Jr. John Icaza OF; Jr. Nick Gentile OF; So. Drew Rodriguez OF; Jr. Brett Mele C; Jr. Robbie Ehrhard C; Sr. Ryan Justice P; Jr. Ryan Thomas P; Sr. Tom Amiano P; Jr. George Daley P; Jr. Jon McNeil P; Jr. Josh Susekind P.

Coach's comment: "I believe this year's team has the talent and potential to be successful this season. We definitely have some holes to fill after losing four-year varsity letterwinners Josh Ake and Chris Suseck, as well as some other very talented players. Our strengths will lie in our ability to pitch and play defense. Our guys are excited to start the season and continue our tradition of winning games."

Outlook: Red Devils enter the season without question as the Open Mike area's top team. A wealth of pitching depth and a solid tradition give this team a chance to go a long way this spring. Klimchak, Ake and Russomagno lead a potent offense. Rasile and DiGiovanni are a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Central is moving a number of players around to different positions, so the defense could be a slight question mark. Regardless, expect this group to be playing deep into the postseason.

North Hunterdon Lions

Coach: Mike Kane (first season).

2011 record: 13-13, 9-7 Skyland Conference Delaware Division (tied fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Derek Jenkins (.439 avg, 43 hits) OF; Sr. Ben Stine 1B-P; Sr. Tim Howard SS-P; Sr. Rob Aromando 3B-P; Sr. Alex Noboa 3B-DH; Sr. Garrett Smith P.

Key losses: Asa Whitaker P; Andrew Westlin OF; Ricky Guile SS-P; Steve Bloodworth P; Nick Plinio C; Dylan Brown P.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Troy Fitzpatrick OF-P; Sr. Tyler Many 2B; Jr. C.J. Rasile OF-DH; Jr. Shane Brown OF-P; Jr. Mike Ragozine 1B; Jr. Greg Cocchiola 2B; Jr. Devlin Berry OF; Jr. Robbie Young SS-OF-P; Jr. Andrew Gianos C; Jr. Kevin Wasser C; Fr. Andrew Meiners C.

Coach's comment: "My assistant coaches Derek Yocum [junior varsity], Mark Franzyshen [freshman] Mike DeBosh [volunteer pitching coach] and Don Helmstetter [volunteer] have all been instrumental in the preparation of our players. Coach Yocum is also our strength and conditioning coach who has these kids in the best shape they've ever been in."

Outlook: Lions have a new coach for the first time in 34 seasons as Kane takes over for the legendary Parker Snare. North lost its top three pitchers from a year ago, so it will need some arms to help fill the void. The speedy Jenkins, who will miss the start of the season with a shoulder injury, is the team's offensive catalyst and is heading to Seton Hall University in the fall. Lots of new faces in the lineup and it will be interesting to see how this team responds to a new coach and a tough division. Some sat behind some talented players the last few seasons, so this is their time to show what they can do. This team should be among the best in the area.

North Warren Patriots

Coach: Jim Haupt (188-126, 14th season).

2011 record: 15-8, 11-1 Skyland Conference Valley Division (first).

Key returnees: Sr. Joe Frankosky 3B-P; Sr. Garret Becker OF-INF-P; Jr. Hunter Stevens OF-P; Sr. Denver Greene OF; Sr. Kevin Conlon 2B.

Key losses: Nick Macaione P-1B; Kevin Kelly C; Travis Eldridge P; Pat Dolan P-SS; Ryan McCarthy DH.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Dan Perry 1B-P; So. David Wilbur C; So. Alex Hladik SS-P; Jr. Mike Clothier OF; Jr. Connor Walsh OF-P; So. Brian Turner INF-P; So. Nick Meyer 1B-P; So. Scott Palmer OF.

Coach's comment: "I am looking forward to a challenging and exciting season. I think this is the best five-man pitching staff [Frankosky, Becker, Perry, Stevens, Walsh] I have ever had here. Becker is one of the best hitters in our area, but beyond that we need to work on our offense. I expect to be competitive in every game we play."

Outlook: Patriots lost significant talent, particularly pitching, to graduation, but it appears Haupt's club is reloaded with good arms. If the offense comes around, this team could be extremely tough to beat, especially in the Valley Division. North Warren will move to the NJAC next season, so the Pats would like one last Skyland title.

Phillipsburg Stateliners

Coach: Dave Hinkle (27-26, third season).

2011 record: 13-14, 6-10 Skyland Conference Delaware Division (eighth).

Key returnees: Sr. Anthony Ciavarella P-1B-OF; Sr. Robert Howell P-OF; Sr. Devin Grade C-2B; Jr. Alex Martin OF; Sr. Mike Ciesla P.

Key losses: Mike Murray 3B; Justin Scuorzo 1B; Ryan Luke SS-P; Sean Corman P-1B.

Promising newcomers: So. Chris Trent OF; So. Matt McAnally SS; So. Tyler Plesnarski P; Jr. Tyler Widitz 3B-P; Jr. Bryan Gardner 1B; Jr. Eric Drzewiecki 3B-SS-OF; Sr. Sahil Patel INF; Sr. David Toupin C.

Coach's comment: "We don't have the big boppers we've had the past few years, but we have a lot of speed and are going to try to use it to manufacture runs. We have a lot of question marks in our infield, but our young guys are working hard and getting better every day."

Outlook: Stateliners certainly have an edge in the pitching department with three solid arms (Monmouth-bound-Ciavarella, Howell and Ciesla). That's half the battle these days. As Hinkle says, P'burg doesn't have a lot of firepower offensively, so small ball will be the recipe for potential success. Pitching will be the key to giving this team a chance to be competitive with most teams on the schedule.

South Hunterdon Eagles

Coach: Toby Jefferis (seventh season).

2011 record: 6-12, 4-7 Skyland Conference Valley Division (fifth).

Key returnees: Jr. Grant Jensen OF-P; Jr. Jake Phillips INF; Sr. Shaun Osgood OF-P; So. Jared Bogdan OF; Jr. Robert Albanir SS-3B-P.

Key losses: Ray Brown P; Sam Franzini SS; Parker Jensen 1B.

Promising newcomers: So. Toby Coleman 2B-3B-P; So. Robert Eick OF-1B-P; Fr. Jimmy Smiegocki 1B-P; So. Aaron Weber C.

Coach's comment: "We are looking to replace seven seniors [lost] to graduation. We need to fill out our pitching rotation and infield."

Outlook: Eagles are a young team with only one senior (Osgood) on the entire roster. This team is looking for an ace on the mound with the graduation of Brown, who was the workhorse in 2011. Albanir was the team's No. 2 last year, so he will look to fill the void. South is in a difficult division, so it will have to get up to speed in a hurry to compete with the big boys.

Voorhees Vikings

Coach: Spark Mattson (63-107-1, ninth season).

2011 record: 18-4, 10-2 Skyland Conference Raritan Division (first).

Key returnees: Sr. Trey Conroy 2B-P; Sr. Matt Bonavita OF; Sr. Tyler Duplaga 3B-P; Sr. Bryan Konsig OF-1B; Sr. Tyler Kays P; Sr. Ronnie Honickel OF-1B; Jr. Josh Hausler C; Jr. Dan Barone OF; Jr. Nick Marini INF-OF; Jr. Mitch Palmer SS-1B.

Key losses: Sean Keselica P-OF; Ryan Hawke SS-P; Casey Conroy 1B-P.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Andrew Haspiel P; So. Matt Furca 2B-3B; So. Kevin Larkins INF-OF.

Coach's comment: "Obviously Sean [Keselica] was a huge loss as he had 10 of our 18 wins, plus was our leading hitter and inspiration. You don't ever replace someone like Sean [now at Virginia Tech]. We have nine players back, but most were role players for the most part. Duplaga and Bonavita will really have to pick it up. Trey is our only proven pitcher. We'll just take it day by day and hope the pitching comes around."

Outlook: Vikings were among the elite teams last year for one major reason -- Sean Keselica (.431 avg., 6 HRs, 24 RBIs; 10-1 on the mound). His loss is a big one, but this team could still be tough this season. Pitching beyond Conroy (4-2, 30 K's) is a huge question mark, but this club should hit. The return of Honickel, who took last year off, is a big plus. Hausler behind the plate again and Duplaga's solid bat (.319, 8 doubles, 15 RBIs) also bode well. Keep an eye on this team. Early date at Warren Hills (Tuesday, April 3) will tell a lot.

Warren Hills Blue Streaks

Coach: Mike Quinto (102-106, eighth season).

2011 record: 12-12, 7-5 Skyland Conference Raritan Division (tied fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Kyle Allen SS-P; Sr. Mark Apgar SS-P; Sr. Connor Cruts OF-P; Sr. Ryan Curto 2B-3B-P; Sr. Landon Chandler OF-P; Jr. Shea Kohler OF-2B; Jr. Ron Legreide C.

Key losses: Joe Matarazzo OF; Kevin Kunzmann P-OF; Scott Paulus 1B; Alex Haines 1B; Ron Gueterman 3B-P.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Dallas Johnson OF-3B-P; So. Alex Julian 3B-SS-P; Jr. Michael Lascu 1B; Jr. Ryan Callahan OF-P; Jr. Grant Cuomo P; Fr. Christian Stagaard C-P; Jr. Cody Crowley OF; Jr. Taylor Brands INF; Sr. Tim Pollitt INF; Jr. Josh Bozzi OF.

Coach's comment: "We think we can [contend for the division title]. Our pitching is pretty strong with three of our four best pitchers [Allen, Apgar and Cruts] from last year back. [Offensively with the new bats] we don't expect a lot of [homers]. We're going to bunt-and-run, hit-and-run and play that type of baseball to get some runs. The kids are confident and are working hard."

Outlook: Blue Streaks have a very good nucleus with Allen, Apgar, Cruts and Curto. All were strong players for last year's team and they will provide strong leadership this season. Johnson, another solid pitcher, recently suffered a concussion and will miss at least the first two weeks. Even so, this group has a lot of arms and if the offense supports them, this could be a very good season in Washington. You'd certianly have to figure this bunch will compete for a spot atop the division, along with Somerville and Voorhees.

Baseball: Sussex County preview capsules

High Point Wildcats

Coach: Mickey Thomas (229-106, 15th season, third stint).

2011 record: 13-10, 6-7 NJAC American Division (tied for third).

Key returnees: Sr. Brett Fundell (.439 avg., 32 RBIs) P-INF; Sr. Ryan Conklin (.379 avg.) P-INF; Sr. Ryan Shulok OF; Jr. Mike Ragnetti P-OF; Sr. Luke Loughery Utility.

Key losses: Jared Musilli SS; Joe Drossel OF; Scott Carroll P; Austin Caldwell C; Kevin Fasano 1B-RF; Brandon Bonham 1B-RF; Justin Bellis INF; Mike Fasano INF.

Promising newcomers: So. Kyle Adams (transfer from Pope John) INF; So. Jon Stone P-INF; Sr. Nick Aroune OF; Sr. Kevin Pettenger C; Sr. John Torppey P-OF.

Coach's comment: "The outlook [for High Point baseball] is bright."

Outlook: As the veteran coach said, things look bright for this year's Wildcats. High Point has gone a combined 29-18 overall the last two seasons and 14-13 in NJAC play, including a nice 7-2 upset of Montville last season. Now in the third year of the NJAC, expect the 'Cats to make significant improvement after their run to the North 1, Group 3 quarterfinals in 2011. Fundell and Conklin are a nice 1-2 punch in the pitching rotation.

Hopatcong Chiefs

Coach: Chris Buglovsky (52-67, sixth season).

2011 record: 13-8, 7-3 NJAC Freedom Division (tied for second).

Key returnees: Sr. Scootie Fischer (.426 avg,  3 HRs, 21 RBIs) SS-P; Sr. Ray Annett 1B; Sr. Hunter Guard (.340 avg, 8 HRs, 27 RBIs) 3B-P; Sr. Frank Fendrock C; Sr. Matt Cautero (3-1) P; Sr. Dillon DelRosso (5-3) P; Sr. Ben Colabella 2B.

Key losses: D.J. Ross C; Joe Lobue OF; Rob Nadrowski P-3B; Josh Bishop OF-P; Jake Winch P; Miguel Burgos OF; Matt Tobin 2B.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Ryan Frace OF-P; Jr. Adam McLagan OF; Jr. Rick Prestifilippo OF; Jr. A.J. Bongiovanni C; Sr. Dave Testa 2B; Sr. John Loscalzo P; Sr. Nick Esposito OF; So. Pat McNamara INF; So. Pat Stanton P.

Coach's comment: "Our strengths are pitching depth and defense, so we are focusing on those to help overcome the graduation of a lot of our offense. Hunter Guard and Scootie Fischer should set the tone with our bats. DelRosso, Cautero and Guard are the backbone of our pitching staff."

Outlook: Chiefs graduated a ton of talent, particularly on the offensive end. Fisher and Guard will be counted on heavily to help pick up the slack. This team appears to have more pitching than most, at least in the county, so that could give Hopatcong a chance to be in most games. For now, though, it looks like the days of outscoring teams with double-digit run totals is over -- at least away from the Homer Dome.

Kittatinny Cougars

Coach: Brian Bosworth (first season).

2011 record: 5-16, 1-9 NJAC Freedom Division (sixth).

Key returnees: Sr. Greg Orlando (.329 avg) C; Sr. Dan Chernati (.426 avg) 2B; Sr. Brendan Ullmann 1B; So. David Moyer (2.53 ERA) SS-P; Jr. Kyle Potten SS-P; Sr. Dustin Sallitt 3B; Sr. Jordan Murch OF-P; Sr. Cory Zervas OF-P; Sr. Brian Frawley OF; Sr. David Coombs OF.

Key loss: Rory McArdle P-OF.

Promising newcomers: So. Joe Repasy INF-P; Sr. Brandon Pittenger OF-P; Jr. Matt Mozczsynski OF; Jr. Casey McArdle OF-P; Sr. Corey Dannhardt OF.

Coach's comment: "We return most of our position players. With 10 seniors, we are not short on senior leadership. However, we do have some young pitching. We won five games last year, so the kids are motivated to improve on that [total]."

Outlook: Bosworth takes over the program after Brandt Anderson stepped down after his ninth season in charge a year ago. Bosworth served as Anderson's assistant the last eight years, so the kids are plenty familiar with him. It's been a struggle for the Cougars in recent years, as they went 3-21 two years ago. Like Bosworth says, the team has most of its position players back and quite a few arms. Expect this team to improve on last year's win total.

Lenape Valley Patriots

Coach: Bob Klinck (48-52, fifth season).

2011 record: 11-11, 7-3 NJAC Freedom Division (tied for second).

Key returnees: Sr. Bob Pregno C; Sr. Carmen D'Aiuto OF; Sr. Zack Samiljan INF; Jr. Drew Burke P; Sr. Kyler Houser 1B; Sr. A.J. Nolan 3B-P.

Key losses: Anthony D'Aiuto 1B-P; Brian Kreuder OF; Bill Sabo SS; Chris Hosler 2B-P; Nick Williams P; Jon Rivera OF-P; Joe Kohl OF.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Ken Costa SS-P; Jr. Brian Falato OF; Jr. John Leyden OF; Fr. Jim Fluke INF-P.

Coach's comment: "We return several players with varsity experience. The success of the team will depend on how pitchers respond to varsity competition. This team has enough senior experience to have a very successful season."

Outlook: Patriots are in the same boat with just about everyone else -- heavy losses on offense and inexperienced pitching at the varsity level. Pregno and D'Aiuto are solid players and Burke showed flashes on the mound last season. If the arms come through, this team could be among the top clubs in the county.

Newton Braves

Coach: John Selitto (42-94, seventh season).

2011 record: 3-17, 2-8 NJAC Freedom Division (fifth).

Key returnees: Sr. Sammy Hontz OF-1B-P; Jr. Anthony Morro P-1B; Jr. Chris Branham P-SS-3B; Jr. Ryan Vasquez OF-P; Jr. Anthony Perigo C; Jr. Jordan Vail P-3B; Jr. Joey Selitto 2B; Sr. Sean Lupo 3B-SS; Sr. Joe Zalewski OF; Sr. Jim Papis C; Jr. Alan Koontz 2B-OF-P; Sr. Conner Kasabian P-OF.

Key losses: Eric Dillard P-1B-3B; Derek Smith OF; Jared O'Conner SS-3B; Paul Giordano 1B.

Promising newcomers: So. Ben Cramer OF; Jr. Brady Castle OF-SS-P; So. Casey Thomas SS-OF-P; So. Joey Maker 3B-DH; So. Charlie Grotyohann C; So. Alex Keimel OF-P; Sr. Brandon Grant 3B-DH.

Coach's comment: "Coming off a rebuilding year with a very young team, we return many starters with varsity experience. We look to be vastly improved defensively, and the strength of our team is pitching. We feel we can contend and be very competitive for the next few years."

Outlook: Braves are coming off three straight losing campaigns, though they did reach the North 1, Group 2 quarterfinals in 2010. This was an extremely young team a year ago and being a year older will definitely help. Hontz, a three-year starter, is the team's top player with the graduation of Dillard, who was the team's ace pitcher in 2011. Selitto pointed to this season as a turn-around campaign for a tradition-rich program, so the optimism is high for this club.

Pope John Lions

Coach: Vin Bello (199-125-1, 13th season).

2011 record: 24-5-1, 11-2-1 NJAC American Division (second).

Key returnees: Sr. Matt Tietz SS; Sr. Matt McNally OF; Sr. Glen Gavan 3B; Sr. Sam Redwood OF; Sr. Jack Meehan P; So. Dan Cunico P; Sr. Colin McGivney P.

Key losses: Alex DeBellis C; Matt Ackerman OF; Brendan Mayers P-2B; Nick Salazzo 3B; Mike Liegel P; Conner McGlynn P; Kyle Warden P; Nick D'Alessio DH.

Promising newcomers: Fr. Jay Sanford INF; Fr. Ethan Collins P; Fr. Matt Piwko P; So. Ken Mott P; So. James Gignatelli P; Jr. Rob Sauders C; Fr. Zack Leach C; Sr. Jay Newman INF; So. Conner Kopnick INF.

Coach's comment: "We should be very competitive within the league this year. Our pitching staff is young, but good. We should still have a tough middle of the [batting] order with Tietz and McNally."

Outlook: After back-to-back outstanding seasons (a combined 48 wins) and the program's first Non-Public A championship last season, expect the Lions to come back to the pack a bit this spring. Pope John suffered monumental graduation losses, including batterymates DeBellis (UConn) and Mayers (Rutgers) who were two of the best players in school and county history. Tietz, a slick-fielding shortstop, is the top player in Sussex County this year and is heading to Rutgers in the fall. This team should hit, so if it gets consistent pitching, the Lions will be tough to beat once again.

Sparta Spartans

Coach: Sam Slobodzian (239-150-2, 16th season).

2011 record: 14-10-1, 6-7-1 NJAC American Division (tied for third).

Key returnees: Sr. Devon Livingston (.325 avg., 4 HRs) C-P; So. Thomas Ruddy OF; Jr. Peter Forman DH-Utility; Sr. Jason Postorino 3B-P.

Key losses: John Brucker SS-P; Connor Glew 1B-P; Gaveric Bach 3B-P; Tommy Roche P-OF; Brendan Monahan OF; Ryan Magid OF; Nick DeAquino P-2B; Kyle Zaleski P-2B.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Derek Tappen 1B-P; Jr. Sean Dilger 1B-OF-P; Sr. Connor Campbell 1B; So. Austin Unglaub 2B; Sr. Gil Gibbs 2B-P; T.J. Estanislau SS-P; So. Kevin Foulds 3B-P; So. Matt Chemis OF; Jr. Grant Hagedorn OF; Jr. Codie Aromando OF-P; Jr. Jon-Karl Widuch OF.

Coach's comment: "Unlike past seasons, we only return four players with varsity experience. I'm excited with the cast of 11 newcomers. I feel this new group has brought a high level of competitiveness for the nine starting positions. I would say right now our main question mark would be pitching. I'm confident that if we can get up to varsity speed this team will be able to challenge the top teams in the NJAC."

Outlook: Spartans also took a hit with the graduation losses of their best position players (Brucker, Monahan) and their top pitchers (Roche, Bach). As the coach said, this team has major pitching questions. Sparta will hit the ball, so it's just a matter of the arms keeping the club in games. Livingston is an excellent backstop and a player to watch. The captain is headed to Keystone College in the fall.

Sussex Tech Mustangs

Coach: Howard Drake (sixth season).

2011 record: 10-9 New Jersey Technical League.

Key returnees: Sr. Dempsey Walters P-1B; Sr. Mike Hough OF-SS-C; Sr. Luke Magera Utility; Jr. Jimmy Crumb 1B-OF; Jr. Chris Manzi C-P.

Key losses: Robert Wilson 2B-P; Jeff Garrigan Utility-P; Cody Owens 3B-SS-P.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Tyler Carpenter OF-P; Jr. Chris Greene 2B-P; So. Matt Beck 3B-P; So. Dustin Burnham OF; So. Daniel Louis OF.

Coach's comment: "This year we have a lot of new faces on the mound. Keeping our young pitchers healthy will be the key to our success. Our defense is young, but should be sound. We should do well within our conference.:

Outlook: Mustangs return their best player in Walters, who is the team's best hitter and pitcher. As the coach says, pitching is young, so the arms will have to develop quickly if this team is to approach the .500 mark like it did in 2011.

Vernon Vikings

Coach: Scott Berge (23-41, fourth season).

2011 record: 7-11, 5-9 NJAC American Division (sixth).

Key returnees: Sr. Steve Fitzsimmons OF; Sr. Brian Vinniski 3B-C; Sr. Evan Schilling OF-P; Sr. Joe LoPicolo OF; Jr. John Lipari 1B; Jr. Kevin Berge C-OF; Jr. Ryan Duvall SS-P.

Key losses: Jon Conklin 2B; Dylan Moroses P; Anthony Ezzo 3B; Ryan Gaule SS; Bryan Faris C; Matt Fazio OF.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Alex Hoffmann 1B-P; Sr. Mike Annunziata DH-C; Jr. Kevin Ufferfilge INF-P; Jr. Michael Franklin INF-P; Jr. Cory Frappier INF; Tyler Kart 3B; So. Chris Pontus SS.

Coach's comment: "We have a good nucleus of solid players returning and we have more depth on the mound. We're looking to be more competitive as a team and get over that .500 mark."

Outlook: Vikings rebounded from a 5-17 campaign in 2010 to approach the .500 mark last season. After a 4-1 start, an eight-game losing streak derailed this club a year ago, when the offense went stale and the pitching faltered. Life in this division can be tough when those things happen and Vernon will need some arms to rely on this season in order to approach the .500 mark.

Wallkill Valley Rangers

Coach: Kevin Lukich (33-46, fourth season).

2011 record: 7-17, 3-7 NJAC Freedom Division (fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Brendan Drexler C; Sr. Tommy Sweller (13 RBIs) 2B-P; Sr. Owen Law OF-P; Sr. Brandon Moore OF-P; Sr. Mike Penque (.368 avg.)  3B-2B; Sr. Eric Blain 1B; Sr. A.J. Castelucci OF-P.

Key losses: Randy Squier C; Ian Endres 1B; Brandon Ramage SS-P; Brian Wegman 3B-P; Ryan Hopp OF; Tyler Grabkowski OF-P; Mike Berardo OF-P; Ryan Kelly OF-P.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Eric Blain 1B; Jr. Joe Hocking 3B; So. Brandon Grabkowski OF-P; Jr. Jake Konopka SS; Jr. Brian Niedergall 2B; Jr. Casey Jervis P; Jr. Richard Stecher P; Jr. Alex Reiman C.

Coach's comment: "We have high hopes this season. We start seven seniors and hope to lean on their experience to get back to the state playoffs. We have two returning starting pitchers [Owen Law and A.J. Castelucci] and will need good years out of them to be successful."

Outlook: Lukich takes over the full coaching duties with the retirement of former co-coach John Petronaci. Rangers slipped a bit the last two seasons (16-35 combined) after reaching the North 1, Group 1 semifinals in 2009. This figures to be a bounce-back season in Hardyston, though the loss of Endres hurts the offense. Law is the team's ace pitcher.

Wrestling: Pope John tabs Stewart as new coach

It didn't take Pope John long to find its new wrestling coach.

Bob Stewart was hired on Thursday to take over the Sussex County program. Athletic director Mia Gavan confirmed Stewart's hiring when reached on Friday. Gavan did not have a phone number for the new coach, but did provide an e-mail address. Stewart did not immediately return an e-mail message seeking comment.

"We liked the overall package," Gavan said when asked what the school liked about Stewart.

Stewart has been involved with the Sparta Pride recreation program, a feeder for Pope John. According to his bio on the Pride's website, Stewart wrestled for Minisink Valley High School in Slate Hill, N.Y., from 1976-79. He was a two-time district champion a region placewinner in 1979.

Stewart wrestled on the college level at Orange Community College and East Stroudsburg University. He received a Bachelor's of Science in Health and Physical Education Education at ESU in 1984.

As for his coaching experience, Stewart was the head man at Washingtonville (N.Y.) High School from 1986-87 and founded the Wizards Wrestling Club in 1986. He was inducted into the Minisink Valley High School Hall of Fame in 2006.

At Pope John, Stewart succeeds Bill Koch, who was told he would not be rehired following the season earlier this month. Koch guided the Lions for six seasons, compiling a 44-85 dual meet record. The Lions finished 4-15 this past season after a very successful 17-4 campaign in 2011-12 -- the only winning season during Koch's tenure.

Individually, Koch coached three District 3 champions and 12 other Region 1 qualifiers. The Lions put six wrestlers in the 2011 District 3 finals and sent seven to Region 1 that season. Koch, a former Region 1 qualifier at Mount Olive, took over a program that was at rock bottom in 2006. It appeared that he had the Lions going in the right direction with a total of 12 Region 1 qualifiers the last two seasons, though dual meets wins were still hard to come by.

Despite Koch's short-term success, Gavan said the school decided to go in a "different direction."

"Bill worked hard and gave it all he had," Gavan said. "The program isn't where we want it to be. We want it sitting above .500, getting kids to regionals, and bringing kids in on a regular basis. It was our decision to move forward and revamp the program."

Pope John has been rumored for some time to be seeking a coach that had ties with club programs in order to attract kids to a high school program that's fought declining numbers over the years.

In fairness to Koch, Pope John hasn't been a consistent winner in nearly two decades. The Lions' last state tournament appearance was in 1994, when they captured the Parochial North B championship -- the program's last of five state titles.

Nonetheless, Gavan feels Stewart is the man to bring the program back to its glory days.

"We feel like he can revive the program," she said.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wrestling: How about a P'burg-High Point reunion?

It's a little early, or maybe not, to start thinking about the 2012-13 high school wrestling campaign. But some big matchups are already scheduled or still in the works for next season.

High Point vs. Phillipsburg?

High Point coach John Gardner recently told me that he is hoping to get Phillipsburg on the schedule for next season or at least for the following year. That is great news to me and for area fans. It's the kind of match that should and needs to happen every season. We just don't get enough big matches in these parts and High Point against P'burg is a big draw with rabid fan bases in both counties.

The Wildcats beat the Stateliners for the first time in 2009, a 30-22 victory in front of a packed house at The Pit. Phillipsburg leads the all-time series, 15-1, dating to 1989. The teams met annually from 1989-99, including five postseason clashes. Prior to '09, the only meeting in between was in the 2003 Group semifinals, a 45-22 win for the 'Liners.

P'burg coach Dave Post said he welcomes a renewal to this series, for the coming season and beyond.

"Rivalry matches are huge," said Post, who was a senior on that '03 P'burg team that defeated High Point. "It's part of the thing that people interested [in the sport]. They have special memories of matches long ago. It's history. Being from P'burg it's great because people remind us every single day about historical facts."

High Point was a young team this past season and reached the Group 2 semifinals. Freshmen Dom Gallo, Mike Derin and Jason Gaccione are budding stars for the 'Cats, along with sophomore Kyle Stoll.

Phillipsburg returned to glory in every way this season, winning a Group 4 state title -- its 17th championship overall -- and crowning an individual state champ for the first time since 1996 as senior Brandon Hull won the 220-pound title in AC. Hull and Post are still making their guest appearances all over the town.

It's a shame that these great programs have met only twice since 1999. While we're on the subject, High Point vs. Warren Hills and High Point vs. Delaware Valley should also be on the schedule each and every season.

High Point is 9-8 all-time against the Blue Streaks -- including a 58-9 win in the last meeting in 2007. The schools met 15 times from 1976-93 and just twice since. The High Point-Del Val series stands at 5-5-1, with the 'Cats winning the last three, including a 55-15 win in 2008. Those two met nine times from 1984-97, but only twice since.

Spicing up the Patriot Duals

We could see a rematch between last year's Group 1 finalists as Bound Brook and Kittatinny will participate in next year's event.

North Warren athletic director John Simonetti also confirmed that Pequannock, Mendham, West Essex, Morristown, Hopatcong and the host Patriots round out the eight-team field.

Bound Brook defeated Kittatinny, 34-32, for the state championship at Toms River North on Feb. 11.

It's rare to see two teams that figure to challenge for the same Group title to meet during the regular season, but I can't wait to see it. Kittatinny was young last season and returns District 3 champions and Nick Romyns, Kieran Gerrity, along with Region 1 qualifiers David Popek, Tom Murphy, Jake Brook, Dylan Wunder and Garrett Armstrong..

South Plainfield back in Newton

The state's No. 1 club will make a return trip to Newton High School for the eighth annual Henry Boresch Duals in early January. Coach Kevin McCann's Tigers are the defending champions, knocking off Raritan, 47-18, for the championship in last year's event.

Newton coach Eric Bollette also received commitments from Hanover Park, Morris Knolls, Boonton and Waldwick/Midland Park. Livingston and Raritan may also complete the eight-team field.

In that event, the Boresch Duals could feature last year's Group 3 (South Plainfield) and Group 2 (Raritan) champs, along with the Group 1 runner-up (Hanover Park).

Livingston features former Belvidere coach Tom Noto, who joined the program as an assistant last year. You can't tell me he wasn't a big reason why Jason Estevez earned a third-place medal at this year's state tournament. Noto can flat out coach and schools that need a solid, young head coach are missing the boat with this guy.

Just my 2 cents

The Region 1 ranking committee needs to understand the process so that the deserving teams don't get shafted in the Coaches' Top 25. How can it let Morris Knolls be ranked ahead of Kittatinny?

No. 22 Morris Knolls lost to West Orange, 36-32, in the North 1 Group 4 final, and really didn't have a signature win this season other than No. 9 Delbarton early in the season. It's a same West Orange team that lost to Phillipsburg, 53-7, in the Group 4 semifinals.

Kittatinny (16-5) beat No. 18 Toms River South, 34-32, at the end of the season -- the same TRS team that defeated Raritan, the Group 2 champ. Additionally, the Cougars had a two-point loss to No. 10 Bound Brook in the Group 1 semifinals, and gave No. 2 P'burg a much better match in a 36-18 loss when you compare the Knolls-West Orange score.

Coach John Gill's team also defeated No. 19 High Point for the District 3 title. Now, the early-season loss to Warren Hills is what kept Kittatinny out of the running for a top 25 bid, since the Blue Streaks were ranked ahead of Kittatinny in Region 1. Hogwash. That was very early in the season with a disqualification loss in the final bout that determined the outcome. Four of the Cougars' five losses were to state-ranked teams, including No. 7 Timber Creek and No. 19 High Point.

Region 6 got it right. Knowing that Delsea would be ranked high in Region 8, the shore folks made sure Raritan, which beat Delsea for the Group 2 title, would be high on its board. The result: Raritan was the No. 14 team and Delsea ranked No. 15 in the final top 25.

See how that works Region 1 reps. And Nutley at No. 24? What good team did it beat this season?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sussex County wrestlers winning on national scene

Kodie Silvestri has traveled a long way to get where he ultimately wanted to be.

The road to realizing his wrestling dreams has been one full of detours and disappointment over the years, but none of that seems to matter much these days.

Silvestri is basking in the glow of a championship, recently capturing an NCAA Division III title in Wisconsin.

The former Wallkill Valley Regional High School star was part of a championship team at Wartburg College, which claimed its ninth team crown with four individual champs. Silvestri won the 141-pound title and in doing so became the first Wartburg wrestler to win Outstanding Wrestler honors, defeating two-time champ Bebeto Yewah of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, 11-9.

"It's been a dream that came true," said Silvestri, who suffered back-to-back losses in the New Jersey state high school finals in 2008 and '09. "The goal coming here was to at least get [one] national title. Everything went the way I wanted it to go."

Silvestri's teammate and good friend, former High Point state champ Drew Wagenhoffer, finished sixth at 149 pounds to earn All-American honors as a true freshman. Being a part of team to win four individual championships is certainly nothing new to Wagenhoffer, one of four New Jersey state champs for the Wildcats a year ago.

"It's kind of crazy," said Wagenhoffer, who dazzled New Jersey fans a year ago in capturing the 145-pound state title in Atlantic City. "We expected to get one more [champ] in the finals [at Wartburg]."

Wartburg put five wrestlers in the finals and amassed a total of 141 1/2 points -- the fourth-highest total ever in a national tournament. In fact, Wartburg teams have posted the four best totals in championship history. The 2003 team owns the record with 166 1/2.

"It's just great to be part of this team," said Wagenhoffer, one of only three to win four district titles and among just four to win at least three region titles at High Point. "It's just a great group of guys to be around."

Completing a Sussex County All-American trifecta in Division III was Centenary's Chris Burdge. The former Kittatinny star finished fifth at 157 pounds and is now a two-time All-American.

In other championship news, former two-time state champion Ethan Orr of High Point captured a junior college championship and helped lead the Labette Community College team to the national title in the NJCAA Championships in Rochester, Minn.

Check out the story here and see Orr hugging the team trophy with delight.

Silvestri shows his stuff

Silvestri (22-2), a junior at Wartburg, is one of the most talented wrestlers ever to come out of Sussex. His tremendous high school resume includes a career mark of 145-18, one district and two region titles. But all of those second-place finished have haunted Silvestri over the years, particularly the state finals.

As a senior in 2009, Silvestri was seconds away from a state title before a crushing 7-6 loss to Camden Catholic's Taylor Walsh. After his finals loss the year before to Kittatinny's Derek Valenti, Silvestri competed in the Junior Nationals at Virginia Beach. There, he lost another heartbreaker at the buzzer to a wrestler that would go on to win his third NCAA Division I title this year -- Kyle Dake.

It's those losses that have fueled Silvestri's run toward glory. After a few seasons at Nassau Community College, Silvestri is now a champion, and he couldn't be any happier with how his story has played out.

"I can't explain it. I think about [winning the title] all the time ... every day," said Silvestri, a physical education major. "I always wanted to be on a team like this. I wanted to come here to a school with a reputation of success. They pushed me to my limit and I got my national title. I knew this was going to be my year."

Success breeds success

Wagenhoffer (26-11) had the benefit of being on some of the greatest teams ever at High Point. As thrilled as he was with his own season, Wagenhoffer was even more so tickled to see his good buddy win the national title. The two friends, who came up together through the Wallkill Valley midget ranks, were finally able to share something special as teammates once again.

"I was so happy for him," said Wagenhoffer, who unfortunately had to battle through knee injuries that admittedly hampered him this season. "I cried, actually. He's been like a brother since we were little. I've seen all of his hard work. Once he won there was an eruption in the arena, everyone was cheering for him. It was amazing."

Wartburg coach Jim Miller struck a chord with Wagenhoffer from the very first day of practice. It was a statement to the team that made the Sussex County resident feel like he was home.

"He told us to go and outfight someone [in the room]. That's how we win here," Wagenhoffer recalled. "That's the same thing that coach [John] Gardner told us at High Point."

Winning. That pretty much sums up the careers of Silvestri and Wagenhoffer. And they're not done yet.

"Now the goal is to win three national championships," said Wagenhoffer, a fitness management major who will switch to education with a minor in history next fall.

After all, he's already one behind his good buddy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wrestling: Rey falls short in bid for NCAA repeat

Former Hopatcong state champ Zack Rey said this when asked why he chose to attend Lehigh:

"It is a wrestling powerhouse on the east coast as well as a top institution for academics."

That quote on his bio page proved prophetic as Rey learned a tough lesson on Saturday -- never let up for a moment in the national finals.

Rey surrendered a takedown with 10 seconds left that was the difference in a 3-1 loss to Minnesota's Anthony Nelson at 285 pounds in the nightcap of the NCAA Division I Championships in St. Louis.

Rey (30-3), last year's champion at 285, led, 1-0, after a second period escape. Nelson (36-2), a red-shirt sophomore, escaped 12 seconds into the third period to tie it. Rey, as was the case in the first period, was in on a single-leg attempt with 22 seconds left in the bout but couldn't finish. Instead, Nelson scrambled and eventually corralled Rey at the edge for a takedown of his own and his first national championship.

Rey, a three-time All-American, was bidding for Sussex County's eighth NCAA title. Harry Lanzi of Toledo (1952), Mike Frick of Lehigh (1975-76), Matt Valenti of Penn (2006-07), David Zabriskie of Iowa State (2010) and Rey (2011) are the only wrestlers from the county to win championships.

Rey is one of only four three-time All-Americans from Sussex, along with Newton's Roger Snook (1947, '49-'50 for Cornell Iowa), Vernon's Jan Michaels ('81'-83 for North Carolina) and Valenti ('04, '06-'07).

Contrary to what the ESPN announcers kept reporting, incorrectly, Rey did win a conference title as he captured an EIWA championship in 2010. He was second the last two years.

Oliver denied a second title

Easton product Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State also failed in his quest for a second straight championship, falling 4-3 to Ohio State's Logan Stieber at 133 pounds.

Oliver, the No. 1 seed, appeared to have the winning takedown in the final seconds, but both officials, including mat judge Gary Kessel, ruled in Stieber's favor.

Oliver (32-2) beat Stieber, 7-3, on Feb. 12. The former three-time Pennsylvania state champion is a three-time All-American.

Russell gets it done

Former Blair Academy star Kellen Russell of Michigan capped a tremendous tournament with his second championship at 141 pounds. Russell, the No. 1 seed, defeated Iowa's Montell Marion, 6-4, in an overtime thriller.

Russell (37-1), a High Bridge resident, is a three-time All-American and a four-time Big 10 champion. He is now 4-0 all-time against Marion.

Penn State still rules the roost

Coach Cael Sanderson's Nittany Lions are on top of the mountain again -- winning their second straight national team championship.

Penn State put an astounding five wrestlers in the finals and crowned three champions as Frank Molinaro (149), David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (174) won titles.

"It's definitely a team effort," Sanderson said. "Guys wrestling together, that's where bonus points come in and winning matches. I'm very happy for them and I'm very proud of them."

Molinaro, a three-time New Jersey state champ and four-time All-American, erased last year's finals disappointment with a dominating effort against Minnesota's Dylan Ness in a 4-1 victory.

"He deserves it," Sanderson said of his wrestler, nicknamed "Frank the Tank." "He works so hard. He's the man."

The Big 10 crowned seven champions in all and had at least one wrestler in all but one of the 10 championship bouts. Iowa's Matt McDonough (125), who won his second title with a 4-1 decision over PSU's Nico Megaludis, was the other winner from the Big 10.

Cornell had the three non-Big 10 champs, led by three-time winner Kyle Dake (157), who was joined by first-timers Steve Bosak (184) and Cam Simaz (197).


Team standings (top 10): 1. Penn State  143; 2. Minnesota 117.5; 3. Iowa 107.5; 4. Cornell 102.5; 5. Ohio State 68.5; 6. Oklahoma State 66; 7. Illinois 62; 8. Lehigh 61; 9. Northwestern 43.5; 10. Oregon State 40.5.


125 -- Matt McDonough, Iowa, d. Nico Megaludis, Penn State, 4-1.
133 -- Logan Stieber, Ohio State, d. Jordan Oliver, Oklahoma State, 4-3.
141 -- Kellen Russell, Michigan, d. Montell Marion, Iowa, 6-4 OT.
149 -- Frank Molinaro, Penn State, d. Dylan Ness, Minnesota, 4-1.
157 -- Kyle Dake, Cornell, d. Derek St. John, Iowa, 4-1.
165 -- David Taylor, Penn State, tf. Brandon Hatchett, Lehigh, 22-7.
174 -- Ed Ruth, Penn State, md. Nick Amuchastegui, Stanford, 13-2.
184 -- Steve Bosak, Cornell, d. Quentin Wright, Penn State, 4-2 OT.
197 -- Cam Simaz, Cornell, d. Christopher Honeycutt, Edinboro, 7-5.
285 -- Anthony Nelson, Minnesota, d. Zach Rey, Lehigh, 3-1.
Outstanding Wrestler -- David Taylor, Penn State.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Wrestling: Lions Classic on tap Tuesday

The 32nd annual Easton Lions Club All-Star Wrestling Classic will be held Tuesday at Easton Area High School's 25th Street Gymnasium.

The match pits seniors from New Jersey against their counterparts from Pennsylvania's rugged District 11. The high school event, slated for 8 p.m., is preceded by a youth event at 6.

New Jersey won last year's event, 34-12, and has won two straight and three of the last four classics. Pennsylvania leads the overall series, 19-12, dating to 1981.

Bouts will be three periods of 1 1/2 minutes each in length.

Here is the marquee matchups for Tuesday:

152 -- Cole Sheptock, Northampton, vs. Ken Theobold, Toms River South -- Sheptock finished 35-7 this season and placed fourth at 152 in the Class AAA state tournament. Theobold was the New Jersey state runner-up at 145 two weekends ago in Atlantic City.

Tentative matchups (New Jersey listed first):

120 - Joe Cruz (Hopatcong) vs. Guesseppe Rea (Stroudsburg)
126 - Joe Rizzitello (Paramus) vs. Peter Stanley (Easton)
132 - Dylan Thorsen (Belvidere) vs. DeMarquis Holley (Dieruff)
138 - Derek Zehnbauer (Delaware Valley) vs. Jason Stephen (Northampton)
140 - Ronnie Honickle (Voorhees) vs. Mark Misczenski (Easton)
152 - Ken Theobold (Toms River South) vs. Cole Sheptock (Northampton)
155 - VJ Delmonico (Phillipsburg) vs. Bryson Berard (Parkland)
160 - Nathan Dow (Belvidere) vs. Aaron Transue (Stroudsburg)
165 - Joe Ragsdale (North Hunterdon) vs. Justin Marsh (Palisades)
170 - Will Van Doren (Delaware Valley) vs. Evan Heffron (Tri Valley)
195 - Tyler Rios (Highland Park) vs. David Wilke (Nazareth)
220 - Brandon Hull (Phillipsburg) vs. Francis Slover (Easton)
285 - Anthony Pare (Phillipsburg) vs. Kirby Mutton (Pen Argyl) 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wrestling: Active wins leaders (HWS) for 2012-13

Minimum 50 wins
Mike Pongracz
Delaware Valley
Jadaen Bernstein
Matt Benvenuto
Lenape Valley
Tyler Kozimor
Liam Korbul
North Hunterdon
Evan Bray
J.B. Lawson
Dylan Nace
Hunterdon Central
Matt Moncourtois
North Hunterdon
A.J. Bongiovanni
Gary Dinmore
Hunterdon Central
Joe Hocking
Wallkill Valley
Kieran Gerrity
Zach Fisher
Mason Ryzoff
North Warren
Ryan Ward
Jesse Thorsen
Matt Gilmore
Delaware Valley
Nick Romyns
David Popek
Jim Lodema
Wallkill Valley
Brandon Rothman

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wrestling: Odds, ends from Atlantic City

Here are a few random stats, quotes and miscellaneous tidbits as we close the book on another state tournament and wrestling season. It was quite a three-day affair at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

I also kept busy by covering the Bethea brothers -- what a great family -- and other wrestlers in The Trentonian area.

Check out this story: Melton silences the doubters with a state title. That's Northern Burlington's Cody Melton who wrestled with a huge chip on his shoulder. In his third trip to AC, he came away with a gold medal.

"That's about as good as it gets ... winning a state championship," Melton said.

He's the school's second champ and first since Andy Zuckerman won the 108-pound title in 1977. Melton is also the Burlington County school's first finalist since Wayne Stinson in 1979. And Melton knew all of that history.

This was my worst year that I can remember picking state champs. I only hit on five of the 14 winners (Anthony Ashnault, B.J. Clagon, Johnny Sebastian, Ryan Harrington and Brandon Hull), and only had 15 of the 28 finalists. Still, I was pretty pleased with identifying 87 of the 112 placers, including the top four at 170 right on the money. I also said Hull would end Phillipsburg's drought before the districts started, so many thanks to the Stateliner for making me look good, which isn't easy to do.

Dinmore eyeing gold in 2013

Hunterdon Central sophomore Gary Dinmore was already thinking about next season after his loss to South Plainfield star Anthony Ashnault in the 126-pound state final.
"I guess I could've done better, but it's done, and I just have to prepare for next year," said Dinmore after an 5-2 loss to Ashnault.

Dinmore (29-8) got hot at the right time, knocking off four-time Burlington Township state placewinner Kevin Devoy in the quarterfinals. Dinmore also defeated Delaware Valley's
Mike Pongracz en route to District 17 and Region 5 titles.

"I think I started peaking at the right time," said Dinmore, who was Central's 38th state finalist and attempted to become its 13th champ -- the Hunterdon County school's first since Alex Shaffer in 2010.

Devoy makes history in finale

Kevin Devoy became the highest placer in Burlington Township history with a third-place medal at 126 pounds. Devoy was previously fourth three times. The only other wrestler for the school to finish that high was Jared Holliday in 2010.

Devoy finished the season at 43-1 and 152-13 for his career -- also a school and county record for wins. His only regret was not getting better matches during the season, as he often pinned his opponents, a good deal of those in less than one minute.

"I was in pretty good shape, but [having tough] matches is totally different," said Devoy, who credited the Millers, David Sr. and David Jr., for helping him get this good during workouts at Wrecking Crew. "They taught me everything I know, including the [two-on-one] tilt I used [against Jackson Memorial's Brian Hamann]."

Devoy, who is being looked at by several colleges, including Rutgers, Rider, Drexel and North Carolina, hit that tilt for three big back points in a 6-2 win over Hamann in the bronze medal match.

H-W area sets places in AC

The Hunterdon-Warren area left Boardwalk Hall with seven medals, six of those to Hunterdon County wrestlers. Since 2000, the nine schools encompassing the two counties have combined to win 75 medals places one through eight.

Hunterdon Central leads the pack with 19, followed by Delaware Valley and Phillipsburg with 13 apiece. All three had medal winners this year: Dinmore for Central, Pongracz (fifth at 126) and Will Van Doren (eighth at 170) and state champ Brandon Hull for the Stateliners.

North Hunterdon added to its total (eight) with a pair of seventh-place finishers in Ryan Pomrinca (113) and Liam Korbul (182). Voorhees now has four after Jadaen Bernstein took seventh at 160.

Belvidere and Warren Hills are next with five each, while Hackettstown and North Warren have four apiece.

County gold breakdown

New Jersey has crowned a total of 946 state champions since 1934. Here's a breakdown of champions produced in each county since that first tournament. The 2012 champs for their respective counties in parentheses:

Union 129
Sussex 113
Bergen 101 (Johnny Sebastian, Bergen Catholic and Razohnn Gross, Don Bosco)
Warren 85 (Brandon Hull, Phillipsburg)
Ocean 60 (Bryant Clagon, Toms River South and Dallas Winston, Jackson Memorial)
Somerset 58 (Mike Magaldo, Watchung Hills)
Camden 55
Gloucester 55
Morris 55 (Anthony Cefolo, Hanover Park and Ryan Harrington, Mendham)
Middlesex 38 (Anthony Ashnault and Scott DelVecchio, South Plainfield)
Monmouth 37
Hunterdon 36
Essex 34 (Brenden Calas, Seton Hall Prep)
Burlington 23 (Cody Melton, Northern Burlington)
Passaic 19
Cumberland 12
Atlantic 18
Salem 8
Cape May 4
Hudson 4 (Alexander Richardson, St. Peter's Prep)
Mercer 2 (Raamiah Bethea, Trenton Central)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wrestling: Putting a bow on the state tournament

The 79th New Jersey State Wrestling Championships have come and gone. Here's a rundown of some of the happenings from Super Sunday at Boardwalk Hall.

Phillipsburg's Brandon Hull made his town and Warren County proud with a state championship at 220 pounds, while Hunterdon Central sophomore Gary Dinmore enjoyed a great weekend and his first trip to the finals at 126 where he earned a silver medal.

North Hunterdon's Ryan Pomrinca (113) and Liam Korbul (182) earned seventh-place finishes, while Delaware Valley's Mike Pongracz placed fifth at 126 and Will Van Doren eighth at 170. Voorhees' Jadaen Bernstein (160) was seventh and Kittatinny's Clarke Moynihan capped a fine career with a fourth-place medal at 152.

Pomrinca was the first freshman to place for North Hunterdon since former great Ricky Frondorf earned a fifth-place medal in 2000. Frondorf finished third the following season, prior to winning back-to-back state titles in '02 and '03.

"I would've been [ticked] off [not to earn a medal] because I've been working as hard as I could to place," said Pomrinca, who finished the season at 39-5. "It was my last match of my freshman year, so I wanted to go as hard as I can and try to win it."

Pomrinca secured a late takedown to earn a 4-3 win over Hasbrouck Heights' Marc Mastropietro, who did a fair amount of stalling in that final period.

"I knew there was like 10 seconds left and I had to take him down to win," Pomrinca said. "I felt I wrestled pretty good, but I need to work on top because riding is my biggest weakness. Right now I am excellent on bottom, I've been able to get out on everyone. I was taken down just once the whole tournament."

Say what?

It's a crying shame to employ such incompetent announcers for such a great tournament. The nameless duo butchered just about every single wrestler's name and school during the entire three days. Roxbury High School became "Roxborough" and St. Peter's was "St. Peter's-burg."

The NJSIAA should be ashamed to have those men working a mic and hopefully we will hear a fresh voice or two in 2013. I know P'burg coach Dave "Don't call me Dan" Post would love to see a change. It was particularly embarrassing when tournament director Howie O'Neill called him "Dan" Post when recognizing the eight region coaches of the year prior to finals. And, rightfully so, the P'burg faithful let him know the error of his ways by yelling "Dave Post."

By the way, hats off to Post and North Hunterdon coach Tim Flynn, who was called to the center mat in recognition of his Region 5 Coach of the Year award. Two Phillipsburg boys did the town proud.

On a side note, Brick Memorial's Dan O'Cone getting state coach of the year was a real injustice in my opinion. How does Post not win it after guiding the 'Liners to a sectional and a Group 4 title by beating O'Cone's Mustangs at Toms River? Even South Plainfield coach Kevin McCann, with the state's No. 1 team, was a more deserving choice.


W-OW how about Clagon?

Toms River South's Bryant "B.J." Clagon is an absolute monster and deservedly won the Donald Ringler Award as the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler following his impressive pin of South Plainfield's Tyler Hunt in the final championship bout at 138 pounds.

Clagon, who was a runner-up in 2011, had two pins, an 18-6 major and a 6-1 victory during his run to the title -- Toms River South's sixth and first since Darnell Myers won the heavyweight crown in 1984.

Watchung Hills' Mike Magaldo (120), Trenton Central's Ray Bethea (152) and St. Peter's Lenny Richardson (145) also earned votes in my opinion. Bethea is Mercer County's second champ and first at his school, while Richardson became his school's second champ after James Fox won a year ago.

Final region medal tally

Region 3 was the big winner on Sunday with a whopping five champions -- including two from South Plainfield in Ashnault and Scott DelVecchio (138). Regions 1, 2, 6 and 7 all had two champs and Region 4 had one winner. Regions 5 and 8 were shut out on the top step of the podium.

Here is the final medal count:

Region 4=18
Regions 3 and 6=17
Regions 2, 5 and 7=13
Region 8=11
Region 1=10

Looking toward 2013

Eight of the 14 champions: Anthony Cefolo of Hanover Park (106), Brenden Calas of Seton Hall (113), Magaldo, Ashnault, DelVecchio, Clagon, Johnny Sebastian of Bergen Catholic (160) and Razohnn Gross of Don Bosco (195) will return next year to defend their titles.

Cefolo became the first Hanover Park winner since James LaValle won his third in 1998, while Gross became the first to win for the Ironmen after Joe Orecchio came up short in the finals twice in 2009 and '11.

Also of note, Jermaine Eluemunor (285) was the second Morris Knolls finalist, joining Fred Piotrowsky in 1966. At the same weigh, Tom Rementer finished fifth to give Clayton its first state medal since the program started in 1967.

Both Keith Lemengello (160) and Mike Spencer (285) tried to break the fourth-place finishes at Pequannock, but each came up short in the bronze medal bout. Blair Ludemann (1971), Vin Anello ('94), Greg Gingeleskie ('95), O.J. DeChristofano (2002) and Dayton Frost ('04) also finished fourth for the Morris County school's best state finishes.

James Dugan, with his third-place finish at 160, is Becton-Wallington's highest placewinner, surpassing Everett Bell's fourth in 1996.

Kevin Devoy, who finished third at 126, is Burlington Township's highest state medalist. The Bethea brothers, Maaziah and Raamiah gave Mercer County two medals in the same year for only the fourth time in county history.  

Wrestling: Hull-of-an-effort earns gold for P'burg

All of the talk about 1996 is officially over.

Senior Brandon Hull ended the discussion for good with his victory in the 220-pound state final on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall. Hull dominated his way to the title in a 7-2 victory over previously-unbeaten Lex Knapp of Lacey in the 79th New Jersey Wrestling Championships in Atlantic City.

Hull is Phillipsburg's 33rd champion and the school' s first since Tim Moore and Marc DeFrancesco won titles in '96. The 'Liner ended two droughts, as he also became the first Warren County winner since Warren Hills' Justin Colaluce won his second championship in 1998.

"It's about time," Hull said shortly after his victory. "It's an amazing end to a perfect season. The team won a [Group 4] and an individual state title. There's nothing better. It's every wrestler's dream [to win a state title]."

Hunterdon Central's Gary Dinmore was the only other finalist from the Open Mike area. Dinmore had the monumental task of facing South Plainfield's Anthony Ashnault, who prevailed 5-2 in their 126-pound final to win his third championship. Ashnault is now 130-0 for his career.

Hull had an entire town in his corner, which made the pressure of winning that much greater. However, that support from the numerous fans in attendance -- some of whom held up a banner that read "Congratulations Brandon Hull a New Jersey state champion" -- and back home also drove him to the title.

"I felt like the whole town of P'burg was on my back," Hull said of trying to win the title. "I'm glad I made them proud."

He sure did. None were prouder than head coach Dave Post, a state semifinalist and third-place finisher for the 'Liners in 2003. It was a quite a year for him as well, winning a Group 4 title and both District 1 and Region 1 Coach of the Year honors. But Hull's win was the cake, not the icing.

"The stuff that kids accomplish is way better than anything I could have accomplished in my career," Post said. "For this to finally happen is outstanding."

Hull was the first P'burg finalist since Steve Kempinski was pinned by Cherokee's Doug Easlick at 215 pounds in 1999. Now, Hull's name resides among the P'burg greats like John Barna, Rick Thompson, Jack Thompson and Bob Zaro as P'burg state champs.

"It's tremendous," Hull said of being in such an exclusive group.

Post echoed of how much the P'burg wrestling tradition means to its wrestlers.

"Being from the town, the history means a lot to you," Post said. "It's been basically [Hull's] whole lifetime [since P'burg had a state champ or finalist]. I watched guys like Pete Poretta and Mike Coyle [win titles] and Tim Moore and DeFran. I was a huge John Garriques fan and watched him in the state finals [a loss to Montclair's Israel Cronk in 1997]."

Hull was especially dominant on his feet against Knapp, converting three takedowns, including a nice single-to-a-double with 56 seconds left in the second period that pretty much sealed things. It was really the first time all tournament that Hull let it fly and he wasn't going to get cheated in the finale.

"Last match of my high school career -- I had to [open up]," said Hull, who finished eighth at 215 last year. "It was the biggest one too. My most confident position is neutral, but at the same time I'm offensive with my defense."

Hull also credited assistant coach Josh Haines and teammate Anthony Pare with helping him prepare for this run all season. Haines was a pretty fair wrestler -- tongue-in-cheek -- himself, winning a two Pennsylvania Class AAA state titles for Northampton Area High School.

"I have the best workout partners," Hull said.

Phillipsburg also has its long-awaited state champion.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wrestling: Dinmore, Hull going for gold in AC

Brandon Hull is probably as sick and tired as anyone of hearing about Phillipsburg's state champion drought. The senior 220-pounder certainly has been burdened by the pressure of breaking that streak, but he's taken it all in stride.

Now, he just wants to end the talk all together. Hull will get that chance at 2 p.m. on Sunday, when the championship finals commence in the 79th New Jersey State Championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

"It's definitely overwhelming," said Hull, minutes after his 3-2 victory over Holy Cross junior Mauro Correnti in the 220-pound semifinals.

Hull is the first finalist for P'burg since Steve Kempinski dropped the 215-pound final in 1999. The Stateliners have produced 56 finalists and crowned 32 champs -- the last being Tim Moore and Marc DeFrancesco in 1996 -- in the Warren County school's illustrious history.

"As happy as I am, I have to stay confident," said Hull, who will face Lacey's Lex Knapp (42-0) for the gold medal. "I have to stay with the same mindset and keep my composure. I have to stay smart and wrestle aggressive."

Hunterdon Central's Gary Dinmore is the only other finalist from the Open Mike area -- a bit of a surprise one at that. Dinmore (28-7) upset four-time Burlington Township placewinner Kevin Devoy, 4-2, in the quarters, before a 4-2 win in overtime in the semifinals against Jackson Memorial's Brian Hamann.

Devoy and Hamman were the top two seeds in the bottom bracket.

Dinmore, his school's first finalist since Alex Shaffer won the 119-pound title in 2010, has the herculean task of meeting two-time South Plainfield champ Anthony Ashnault, 43-0 this year and 129-0 for his career, in the final. Ashnault was an 8-2 winner over Delaware Valley's Mike Pongracz in the other semifinal. Pongracz lost, 6-2, to Devoy in the wrestleback semis and will go for fifth place. He finished eighth last year at 119.

Dinmore's win prevented a fourth meeting with Pongracz -- Dinmore won two of three meetings this season -- in the wrestlebacks. Central has 12 state champs in its history.

Six others from Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex also earned medals on Saturday.

North Hunterdon's Ryan Pomrinca (113) and Liam Korbul (182), along with Delaware Valley's Will Van Doren (170) and Voorhees' Jadaen Bernstein (160) will all wrestle for seventh place on Sunday. Kittatinny's Clarke Moynihan will wrestle for third place at 152.

 Streak-ing to history

Warren Hills freshman Max Nauta came up short in his quest for a state medal, but did secure the freshman victories record at the Warren County school with an 8-7 win in the preliminaries on Friday. Nauta gave Brick Memorial's Joe Ghione a hard time in a 4-3 loss in the pre-quarters. Nauta (30-7) decked Roselle Park's John DeVito in the opening round of wrestlebacks, but saw his season end with a 15-7 setback against Camden Catholic's Tyler McBride, one round before earning a medal.

Crunching the numbers

Region 3 was the big winner on Saturday with a tournament-best seven finalists among 17 medal winners. Regions 1 and 6 were next with four finalists, while Regions 2, 5 and 7 all have three in the championship round. Regions 4 and 8 bring up the rear with two finalists apiece.

South Plainfield has four of Region 3's seven finalists and will try to match High Point's total of four champs from 2011. In addition to Ashnault, Troy Heilmann (120), Scott DelVecchio (132) and Tyler Hunt (138) will  all try for their first state titles. Heilmann was a runner-up in 2011.

Heilmann will meet Watchung Hills sophomore Mike Magaldo, second at 112 last year, in an all-Region 3 state final. Heilmann won their region final, 8-5, last Saturday.

Wrestling: Battling for places at Boardwalk Hall

It was a tough Saturday morning for wrestlers in the Open Mike area (Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex) as only eight reached the medal round at their respective weight classes.

Still going for the gold are Delaware Valley Mike Pongracz and Hunterdon Central's Gary Dinmore in the 126-pound semifinals, while Phillipsburg's Brandon Hull is carrying the flag for Warren County at 220.

Pongracz (37-2), who finished eighth last year, rolled to a 5-0 win over Belleville's Justin Colon in the morning quarterfinals. Pongracz won without a takedown, reversing Colon in the second period and turning him for three backs in the third after Colon, unwisely, took bottom against a tough mat wrestler in Pongracz.

Pongracz will have his hands full in the semifinals with two-time state champion Anthony Ashnault, now 42-0 this season and 128-0 overall. Teammate Will Van Doren is still going in the wrestlebacks at 170 and is guaranteed a medal -- one of six for Hunterdon County wrestlers.

Dinmore (27-7) pulled off one of the morning stunners with a late reversal for a 4-2 win over Burlington Township's Kevin Devoy in another quarterfinal. Devoy (40-1) has placed fourth here three times.

Hull (36-3) needed overtime to produced a 3-2 win over freshman Zack Chakonis of Don Bosco. Hull, seeking to become his school's first champ since 1996 and Warren County's first since '98, was able to ride Chakonis out in the ultimate tiebreak period. P'burg teammates Jimmy Schuitema (132) and Anthony Pare (285) each fell one round shy of a medal.

Kittatinny's Clarke Moynihan (152) is the only placewinner for Sussex County -- avenging an earlier loss to North Hunterdon's Beau Vrancken to reach the medal round. Moynihan decked Vrancken in 4:58.

North Hunterdon also has two placers in freshman Ryan Pomrinca (113) and Liam Korbul (182). Voorhees' Jadaen Bernstein, second last year at 160, is still going for third at that weight.

Pomrina got absolutely hosed in his quarterfinal loss to Seton Hall's Brenden Calas, the 103-pound champ in 2011. Pomrinca held a 3-2 with 35 seconds left, but was hit for stalling by referee Carmel Morina to eventually force overtime. Calas escaped for a 4-3 win the second tie-break period.

Medal count by region

Region 1, for what I believe is the first time in quite awhile, will have the least amount of medals (10) among all eight regions. Hull is among seven still going in the championship round.

Region 4 has the most placers with 18, followed by Regions 3 and 6 with 17 each. Regions 2, 5 and 7 all have 13 and Region 8 has 11.

Region 4 has the most in the semifinals with 10. Regions 3, 6 and 7 all have eight in the semis. Regions 2 and 5 have six, while Region 8 has just three going for gold medals.

Tigers on the prowl

South Plainfield is trying to make state history with four wrestlers in the semifinal round. Coach Kevin McCann's group is attempting to match High Point's incredible feat of four state champions in 2011 -- the first time in the region era (1961 to the present) that one team crowned four individual champions.

Newton holds the state record with eight in 1947. The Sussex County school also was the last to win four titles (1949) before High Point a year ago. Pascack Hills and Toms River South in 1977 and Jackson in 2008 are the only other schools to have three champs in a single tournament since 1970.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wrestling: Freaky Friday in Atlantic City

The first night of the 79th New Jersey State Wrestling Championships just wrapped up a Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. With eight mats going non-stop, it's all a blur now. The second round of pre-quarterfinals ended around 9:30 p.m.

Here's a little recap of what took place. I filed a story for The Trentonian on the Bethea brothers -- Mazaaiah at 132 pounds and Raamiah at 152 -- who are very talented and extremely gracious young men. Keep an eye on them as we continue on here in AC.

The tournament resumes at 10 a.m. on Saturday with the quarterfinals and first round of wrestlebacks. Semifinals and the second round of wrestlebacks are slated for 5 p.m., with the third round of wrestlebacks to follow at 7 p.m.

Towing the 'Liner

Senior Brandon Hull (35-3) kept Phillipsburg's state title hopes alive with a quick pin over Rumson-Fair Haven's Taylor Avino in 1:08. Hull, now 92-26 overall, is seeking to become the Stateliners' first state champ since 1996 and their 33rd overall.

Teammate Anthony Pare made a little noise of his own, rallying from 6-1 down in his opener to pin Cinnaminson's Sam Ekwonike, an absolute giant, at 285. Pare followed that up with a 2-1 decision over Don Bosco's Kevin Wilkins to reach the quarters. Freshman Jimmy Schuitema joined them in the quarters with a 15-10 win over Jackson Memorial' Brad Royle at 132.

Tough Terriers

Mike Pongracz and Will VanDoren were among the 10 wrestlers from the Open Mike area to reach the quarterfinal round. Pongracz, who got a nice draw in my opinion, earned a 10-3 win over 2011 placewinner John Van Brill of Clearview in the 126-pound pre-quarters. VanDoren, a Region 5 champ, earned his first state win -- 6-3 over Absegami's Alex Gong at 170.

Pongracz (36-2), who finished eighth at 119 last year, won twice on the opening night after finishing third in Region 5. His nemesis, Gary Dinmore of Hunterdon Central, moved into the quarters with a 4-2 win over Wayne Valley's Sam Tareky.

How 'bout them Lions?

North Hunterdon freshman Ryan Pomrinca and junior Liam Korbul reached the quarterfinals for the first time in their careers at 113 and 182, respectively.

Pomrinca (37-3) won a tough first-round match, 3-2, on the strength of the lone takedown in the bout, against Kittatinny senior James Elphick, before a 5-2 win over Collingswood's Tony Giancola in the pre-quarters.

Korbul (36-3) kept it rolling with a 7-3 win over Hightstown's Joey DeCristofaro in the pre-quarters.

Where is Sussex?

It's hard to miss the absence of Sussex County wrestlers after what High Point did here last year -- crowning four state champions and earning two other medals. We all knew it was a down year for District 3, but only Kittatinny's Clarke Moynihan remained standing in the winners' bracket after two rounds.

Moynihan (33-3) scored a 3-1 decision over Roselle Park's Brian Merkel to move on to the quarterfinals at a very tough 152-pound class. Up next is Don Bosco's Sal Mastriani, who placed fourth last year at 145.

Speaking of High Point, freshman Mike Derin was stunning the crowd for a bit with a 3-1 lead on Ocean Township freshman Zach Hertling in the 120-pound pre-quarters. But it didn't last, as Hertling rallied for a 6-3 win.

Newton senior Jake Connelly (40-1) suffered his first loss of the season, 6-0, to Delsea's Bryan Dobzanski.

Still dancing

Voorhees' Jadaen Bernstein and Belvidere's J.B. Lawson also reached the quarterfinals at 160 and 220, respectively.

Bernstein (37-1), second last year at 160, earned a 3-1 win over Mendham's Kevin Button -- his second win over Button this season.

Region numbers

Regions 3 and 4 advanced the most wrestlers to the quarterfinals with 16 apiece. Regions 1 and 6 followed with 15 each. Region 2 has 14, Regions 5 and 7 each have 13 and Region 8 is last with 10.

A unique occurrence at 160, where there is one wrestler from each of the eight regions in the quarters. Region 1 has all three left at 285, as does Region 3 at 145 and Region 2 at 195.

Lawson (35-6), who has is enjoying a nice postseason overall, won twice to reach the quarters for the first time. He beat River Dell's Lenny Smith, 5-3, in the prelims before decking Scotch Plains-Fanwood's Andrew Jacobs in 3:15. Jacobs' only other loss this season was by pin to Warren Hills' Dan Smith, who beat Lawson two out of three meetings this season. Smith did not advance out of Region 1, while Lawson took third.