By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
MAYS LANDING — Last weekend, at the Williamstown Duals, Absegami went just 1-3, beating the host team but getting thumped by Hunterdon Central, Brick Memorial and Haddonfield.
Braves coach Sean Scannell — a former state champion at the school in the 1990s — told his squad to forget about technique, now was the time to get tougher. He wanted his wrestlers to start competing with an attitude and start being more aggressive on the mat.
Absegami couldn’t have been more aggressive on Thursday night at district rival Oakcrest, as the Braves racked up seven first-period pins — and eight overall — to roll past the Falcons, 66-18. It was Absegami’s third straight win and put the team back above the .500 mark at 5-4. The Braves are trying to keep pace with St. Augustine Prep (4-1, 4-0) and Lower Cape May (6-1, 2-1) in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference. Absegami is now 2-1 in conference matches, its loss coming in the season opener against St. Augustine Prep.
Liam Kisby started the match with a forfeit for Absegami (5-4, 2-1 Cape-Atlantic League American) at 106 pounds and Nick Gargione scored a pin at 113 to give the Braves a 12-0 lead. But Oakcrest (3-5, 3-1 CAL National) responded with a pin from Braden Monroe at 120 and a forfeit to Kevin Longo at 126 to tie the match, 12-12. From there, it was all Absegami as the Braves ripped off four straight pins to take a 36-12 lead.
“We’re long-time rivals. Back in the 90s when I wrestled, you couldn’t find a seat in this place when we wrestled. It was always a battle,” Scannell said. “It’s nice to get a win. We set the bar kind of high this year and started off kind of slow. We wrestled in the Williamstown duals and kind of got beat up a little bit. So we’ve been reaching back to the old philosophy of just grinding.”
“The beginning of the season was a little rocky, but these last two matches we’ve really pulled together,” said senior 165-pounder Sean Cowan, who scored a first-period pin to give Absegami a 48-12 lead. “We’re confident when we go out there and wrestle. We just want to get tougher on the mat. Some of our guys are new and less experienced, but we’re just trying to get tough.”
At 132 pounds, Absegami’s Aiden Torres took a 6-0 lead over David Trout-Carmen in the second period before securing a pin that gave the Braves an 18-12 lead, and Absegami never trailed again. Then, at 138 pounds, Matthew Sterling fought back from an early 1-0 deficit, took a 4-1 lead over Oakcrest’s Owen Becker with a takedown and back points, then scored a takedown at the first-period buzzer to stretch his lead to 6-2. He got the pin with 1:07 left in the second period to push Gami’s lead out to 24-12.
Christopher Eaton (144) and Frank Gargione (150) followed with pins and Julian Rivera got a forfeit at 157 as Absegami’s lead swelled to 42-12. Following Cowan’s pin, Brayden Wright won by fall at 175 and George Rhodes notched a forfeit win at 190 pounds. Adrian Martinez-Ruiz closed out Absegami’s scoring with a pin at 215 before Oakcrest finished the match with heavyweight Francisco Velazquez scoring a pin.
“Sometimes you have these matches where you know you’re going to win, but it still gives a lot of confidence to the boys. They are gaining lots of confidence and a lot of experience,” said Rhodes, a senior and state qualifier last year. “We might have set the bar a little too high for ourselves (at the start of the season) and that slapped us in the face a little bit, but I think we’re realizing that and wrestling a lot better now to reach our goals. We just have to go really hard in the wrestling room. Our confidence level is rising.”
What’s Next: Absegami travels to Egg Harbor Township on Saturday at noon. Oakcrest travels to Buena on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays