By Tim Morris
The rematch lived up to the hype and expectations.
It didn’t seem possible for the Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) and Howell High School wrestling teams to top their thrilling dual meet Jan. 7 that was won by the Colts on criteria, 28-27, ending Howell’s 73-meet win streak in the Shore Conference A North Division. Yet, their Jan. 30 rematch in the Shore Conference Tournament finals at Red Bank Regional High School managed to do that and, this time, produced an outright winner on the scoreboard.
CBA pulled out the 34-28 victory when when its smallest wrestler, 106-pound Nick Schutzenhofer won his overtime struggle with Howell’s Darby Diedrich, 2-1, to secure the biggest win in CBA history.
“This is a special moment for me,” Schutzenhofer said. “I wanted [to win] really bad. I knew the match was going to come down to me. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other Way.
“I was happy I could do it for [my teammates].”
Colts head coach Russ Witt called CBA’s triumph — its first Shore Conference Tournament title — special. It was made more special by the way the meet’s events unfolded.
Unlike the A North Division battle in Howell, where the Rebels forged a 27-14 lead before CBA rallied to win the last four bouts to tie the match at 27-27 and win by criteria (most matches won), the conference tournament featured momentum swings as the teams traded the lead toward a gut-wrenching final match that went into overtime with the team championship hanging in the balance.
The match opened at 113 pounds in CBA’s wheelhouse, as the Colts won three of the first four matches to take 9-0 and 13-4 leads.
Richie Koehler opened things up with a technical fall over Eli Orford, 17-2, and Sebastian Rivera got a major decision over Kyle Slendorn, 15-4, at 120.
Nick Ciaccia put Howell on the board with his major decision over Sam LaCorte, 16-2, at 126.
Dylan VanSickel added bonus points at 132 with his 14-4 win over Dan Esposito.
The match then moved into Howell’s strength at the middle weights.
Anthony Gagliano, who scored his 100th career win earlier in the tournament, got it going with his 20-8 major decision over Carl Vasti at 138. Peter Dee followed with a pin of Ben Kuhn in 1:44 in their 145-pound match that put Howell up, 14-13.
Kris Lindemann, who missed the regular-season meet due to injury, extended the lead to 19-13 with his 18-3 technical fall over Derek Smith.
The Colts came back with Christopher Koutzen edging Frank Leonardis, 5-3, at 160. At 170, Garrett Fitzgerald earned a major decision over Howell’s Jack Kirk, 12-2, that put CBA up, 20-19.
Zach Barnes put Howell back in the lead with his 2-1 decision over Cameron DeGiorgio at 182.
CBA countered with Jack LaCorte’s technical fall over Ryan Marter, 23-8, at 195, and CBA led, 25-22.
Howell’s Eric Keosseian took little time pinning Jared Smallwood in their 220-pound match — 19 seconds — to give Howell the lead again, 28-25, with two matches remaining. His pin would have loomed large had the match ended in a tie.
William Oxley gave the Colts six big points back by pinning Matt Mazauskas in 1:07 to put CBA back in front, 31-28.
With one match remaining, if Howell’s Diedrich could repeat his dual-meet decision over Schutzenhofer (2-0 in overtime), the match would end in a 31-31 tie and this time, the winner by criteria would be Howell by virtue of having the most pins. It would have been fitting, but Schutzenhofer would have nothing to do with that storybook ending. He was determined to turn the tables on his rival.
Just as in their dual-meet match, this one went into overtime after the two wrestlers were tied at 1-1. The Colts were called for stalling in the third period, which sent the match to overtime.
Witt noted that his wrestler was unaffected by the stall.
“He was stone cold,” he said. “You couldn’t shake him.”
Schutzenhofer and Deidrich are very familiar with each other from wrestling at Triumph Wrestling Club. That may explain why their matches have been so close.
“We know each other well,” Schutzenhofer said.
What Schutzenhofer knew was that if he could get the lead on Diedrich, he could hold the Rebels’ standout off. An escape in the second period of overtime gave him the chance to do just that.
“I knew I could ride him out,” Schutzenhofer said. “I knew I had to get on my feet [from the defensive position in the referee’s position]. I just wanted to get out and ride him.”
Schutzenhofer was able to get that 2-1 lead, controlling Diedrich in the third overtime period to win the match and the Shore Conference Tournament for the Colts.
Next up for these two teams is the NJSIAA sectionals that begin Feb. 8.
Howell (18-4) is No. 1 in power points in Central Jersey Group V and CBA (13-4) is at the top in power points in Non-Public South A. The top two seeds receive first-round byes.
Locally, Manalapan High School (11-7) is fourth in power points in Central Jersey Group V, and Colts Neck (13-4) is No. 5 in Central Jersey Group IV.
The first-round matches are Feb. 8 with the semifinals Feb. 10 and finals Feb. 12. All matches are at the highest-seeded team.
The group semifinals and finals are Feb. 14 at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.