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Rockets defeat Bulldogs to win CJ Group II state sectional title

The Raritan High School wrestling team celebrates winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II championship on Feb. 9 in Hazlet. Raritan defeated Rumson-Fair Haven 42-25 in the sectional final.

Coach Rob Nucci and the Raritan High School wrestling team are New Jersey state sectional team champions once again.

Nucci led the Rockets to their fourth state sectional team championship since taking the reins of the program 21 years ago with a 42-25 victory over Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in the Central Jersey Group II championship match on Feb. 9 in Hazlet.

Since the 2011-12 campaign, Nucci has led the Rockets to three state sectional team titles, with the most recent coming in 2018.

From his first state sectional team title with the Rockets in 2004 to seeing his 2021-22 squad win a title, the feelings of being a champion never get old, Nucci said.

“It feels great,” Nucci said. “I’m really proud of this group. Our guys put in a lot of work during the off-season and we are excited to be champions.”

Nucci knew his squad needed everything to go right against the Bulldogs to win the state sectional crown and that meant winning the same bouts the Rockets won on Jan. 19 during a 37-31 dual meet win over RFH.

The coach’s strategy included moving 120-pounder Ryan Mansueto up to 126 pounds to face Cole Pangborn. The 126-pound bout came at a crucial point in the sectional final with RFH leading Raritan, 19-18, with six matches left.

The strategy paid off when Mansueto (21-6) decisioned Pangborn, 7-2, to give Raritan a 21-19 lead.

“I was ready to adapt and see how it goes,” Mansueto said. “To win it felt really great.”

The Rockets never trailed after Mansueto put them into the lead.

Junior Braden Kmak moved up to 132 pounds and faced two-time state tournament qualifier Aidan Shaughnessy, who was returning to action following an injury.

A back-and-forth battle between the two middleweights saw Shaughnessy leading Kmak, 11-8, with under :20 left in the third period. Kmak (23-5) kept battling and he scored a takedown and a pin just before the buzzer sounded to give the Rockets a 27-19 lead.

“I have been preparing for this moment all season and I was able to come through when I needed to for the guys,” Kmak said. “I knew if I could take (Shaughnessy) to deep waters, I could get the job done.”

At 138 pounds, Zach Reilley recorded win No. 24 by pinning Shane Sullivan in :43 to push Raritan’s lead to 33-19.

Senior Alex Auletta secured the championship for the Rockets by winning at 144 pounds in a 7-5 decision over Evan Ridgway. Junior Jack Devaney added more fireworks to the night by pinning his way to victory in 1:12 at 150 pounds. Raritan forfeited the final bout at 157.

Other wrestlers who contributed to the victory for the Rockets were senior Nick Burns, sophomore Aidan Davis, and juniors Kieran Falzon and Matt Erven.

Burns improved to 26-2 by pinning Matthew Smith at 1:15 in their heavyweight bout. At 113, Erven pinned Alexander West in 1:14. Falzon and Davis won their bouts by decision.

Raritan (20-6) will host Hanover Park in the Group II state semifinals on Feb. 11. A win over Hanover Park will put the Rockets into the Group II state final.

“It has been tough on everyone the last two years with COVID-19. Last year was a shortened season and we did not have any team championships, so to pull away with one tonight is pretty huge. It’s awesome,” Nucci said after the Rockets’ victory over Rumson-Fair Haven.

Raritan High School wrestling coach Rob Nucci is all smiles after his Rockets defeated Rumson-Fair Haven 42-25 in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II final on Feb. 9 in Hazlet. This is Nucci's fourth sectional championship as head coach of Raritan.
Raritan High School athletic director John DeGenito hugs head coach Ron Nucci after the Raritan wrestling team won the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II championship on Feb. 9 in Hazlet. 
Raritan High School 106-pounder Aidan Davis fights through Rumson-Fair Haven's Walker Skove for a takedown during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II final on Feb. 9 in Hazlet. Davis won the match by a 7-1 decision.
Raritan High School 138-pounder Zach Reilley pins Rumson-Fair Haven's Shane Sullivan in 43 seconds during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II final on Feb. 9 in Hazlet. Raritan won 42-25.
Raritan High School 126-pounder Ryan Mansueto takes down Rumson-Fair Haven's Cole Pangborn during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II final on Feb. 9 in Hazlet. Mansueto won the match by a 7-2 decision.
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