Southern’s Stout, Pepe Just Miss Podium at State Wrestling Championships

By DAVID BIGGY | Mar 06, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Southern Regional senior Nick Pepe battles for position during his final match in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall at the NJSIAA Championships on March 1.

Every year for the past few decades, hundreds of wrestlers enter Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall for the NJSIAA State Championships with their sights set on the medals podium. Of course, those positions are reserved only for 112 individuals.

This year, only one among the local high schoolers – Southern Regional senior Nick O’Connell – staked his claim to the podium, taking second at 152 pounds to become the first Ram to be a state runner-up since Kyle Casaletto did it twice in 2010 and 2011. Unfortunately, the other eight fell short of reaching the podium, but a couple of them made solid runs in the final tournament of their careers.

Southern seniors John Stout and Nick Pepe were the longest-lasting Rams behind O’Connell, each reaching the fourth round of wrestlebacks before having their careers ended. Stout finished 42-4, while Pepe ended up 34-9.

Beside O’Connell, Stout was the only other Southern wrestler to reach the quarterfinals before getting knocked into the wrestlebacks – first plowing through Wood-Ridge’s Bradley Mike with a pin in 2:32 during the 170-pound preliminary round, then ousting Northern Highlands’ Anthony Sciuto with a 7-2 decision.

In the quarters, the 11th-seeded Stout took Camden Catholic’s Martin Cosgrove to overtime before giving up a four-point maneuver to fall 5-1. Facing Rancocas Valley’s Ethan Craft, the 26th seed, in the wrestleback fourth round, Stout scored a takedown with 25 seconds left in the first period, but Craft scored four points during the second and third periods and held on for the win.

Pepe’s road wasn’t too much different, except that he was bounced to the wrestlebacks in the prequarterfinals after cruising past Point Pleasant’s Ty Bailey with a 3:28 pin in the first round. Top-seeded DePaul senior Ricky Cabanillas scored a 10-0 major decision to send Pepe into the wrestlebacks.

Facing Cranford’s Conor Halpin in the second round of wrestlebacks, Pepe scored a 9-1 major before taking on Roxbury’s Scott Jarosz and recording a pin in 1:07. Against Bridgewater-Raritan’s Matt Sacco, Pepe fell behind 3-0 and was awarded a point when Sacco was called for a second stalling penalty with 32 seconds left, but he couldn’t equalize before time ran out.

Even though both Southern seniors were disappointed by falling short of the podium, head coach John Stout said he expects them to go onto college and continue their success in more ways than on the wrestling mat. The younger Stout is headed for the University of Pennsylvania to pursue a biology degree, while Pepe is headed to Stevens Institute of Technology.

“Sometimes, wrestling’s a cruel sport,” the coach said. “It’s a great sport because it’s so absolute, and it’s a horrible sport because it’s so absolute. But all these guys are going to win in life. And that’s just it. You move on in life. You go to college, get married, have children – you do other things in life that are way more significant than what this feels like to them right now. They realize that as they grow and mature, but right now it’s devastating.”

The only other Southern senior competing in the state championship tournament, Sebastian Delligatti, was bounced after winning one bout – a 7-6 decision over Freehold Township’s Avery Clarke in the first round of wrestlebacks. Delligatti (25-14) was eliminated in a 15-2 loss to Sparta’s Garrett Stewart.

Meanwhile, the three juniors representing the Rams each won several bouts before being eliminated.

Jayson Scerbo (28-12) made a particularly impressive run through the 113-pound wrestlebacks after being dealt an 11-6 loss to Toms River North’s Ryan Rosenthal in the preliminary round. During the first two rounds of wrestlebacks, Scerbo avenged a pair of previous losses when he pinned Passaic Tech’s Laith Hamdeh in 5:53, followed by a pin in overtime (6:29) against Clearview’s Carmen Giumarello. Scerbo’s road ended with a 10-0 loss to Middletown North’s Thomas O’Keefe.

At 138 pounds, Robert Woodcock (33-6) won his first bout, 6-2, over Rumson-Fair Haven’s Max Brignola, but then got pinned in 3:47 by Camden Catholic’s Anthony Croce, who later finished seventh in the state. In the second round of wrestlebacks, Woodcock’s season ended with a 2-1 decision against Manalapan’s Alex Baran.

At 220, J.T. Cornelius (38-6) ended up in the wrestlebacks following a preliminary-round injury default – his injury time ran out and he was ruled defeated 21 seconds into the third period – against Howell’s Joe Sardina. Once in the wrestlebacks, Cornelius scored a 5-0 decision over Pequannock’s Jason Burklow before pinning Rahway’s Joshua Darisme in 3:59. Bordentown’s Jajuan Hayes put an end to Cornelius’ season with an 8-3 decision.

Another big guy – Barnegat junior Griffin Jackstadt – also navigated a similar path, as he first was dealt a 3-2 loss to Long Branch heavyweight Kevin Cerutti. In the wrestlebacks, Jackstadt (29-7)  won a 6-3 decision over Paulsboro’s Austin Mooney before edging Hunterdon Central’s Ryan Joyce, 4-3, in overtime. Overbrook’s Deshon Alexander ended Jackstadt’s season with a 3-2 decision in the third round of wrestlebacks.

Pinelands’ lone representative, senior Evan Burton (26-14), lost by technical fall to eventual 182-pound runner-up John Poznanski of Colonia in the first round, then had his career ended with a 14-5 loss to Wall’s Jacob Whitworth.

The Wildcats were slated to have a female wrestler competing in Atlantic City for the first time after junior Olivia Mena captured the South Region title at 118 pounds several weeks ago, but she was forced to withdraw from the first-ever girls’ state championship tournament due to a medical condition.

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