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SOMERSET -- Since before the season started, Raritan head coach Rob Nucci told anybody who would listen that this year's Rockets had a great chance to win another state title. On Sunday afternoon, his prediction came true.

With clutch performances up and down the lineup, including roof-shaking pins by Matt Erven, Braden Kmak, Zach Reilley, and Bobby Mulligan, the Rockets vanquished postseason nemesis High Point, 37-27, to win the NJSIAA Group 2 State Championship at Franklin High School.

"It's crazy," Reilley said. "He always believed in us and never stopped. We just keep training and getting better."

Robert Badders
Robert Badders
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Senior Nick Burns won by major decision, Logan Acevedo delivered a key decision, Alex Auletta came through with a win by decision, and Kieran Falzon closed out the match with another victory as the Rockets won eight bouts against the Wildcats to win the program's second state title and first since 2012.

From day one of the season, it was clear that Group 2 was wide open without a clear favorite. It had regular contenders like Raritan, High Point, and Hanover Park, but no team that could be clearly stamped as the team to beat. For Raritan, it was "Why not us?"

"With South Plainfield moving (to Group 3) that definitely helped our chances, " Nucci said. "Through the years we've had some stud teams that ran into them; and Delaware Valley moving to Group 1. Not for nothing, but beating a High Point team is still something to hang your hat on."

High Point started off with a pin at 215 courtesy of two-time state champion Brian Soldano. The Rockets were more than happy to get him out of the way. Burns followed with a major decision at 285 pounds and High Point's Nick Clayton won by decision at 106 to put the Wildcats up, 9-4.

The match started to turn in Raritan's favor when Erven delivered a pin over Colton Jaust in 1:13 to whip the Raritan crowd into a frenzy. High Point won the next two bouts, but Raritan was able to save bonus points against one of High Point's best wrestlers when Clayton Utter, a three-time state qualifier, won 4-1 over Raritan's Ryan Mansueto at 120. A pin by Roman Citro at 126 gave High Point an 18-10 lead through six bouts.

"I'm confident in my guy Mansueto," Nucci said. "He has a lot of talent and he can wrestle with the best of them. I wasn't expecting anything other than that. Utter is legit but we expected to hang there."

Just as he did during Raritan's sectional championship victory, junior Braden Kmak came through with a clutch pin at 132 pounds when he locked in a cradle and pinned Ty Woods in 1:39, cutting High Point's lead to 18-16.

Starting at 138, Raritan made some strategic moves by inserting Acevedo and bumping Reilley, Auletta, and senior Quinn Peters up a weight. The moves paid off big time when Acevedo continued what was a four-bout winning streak with a 6-0 decision over Nate Clayton.

More bonus points came at 144 from Reilley (26-1) when he trailed Andrew Brevot 2-1 before hitting a headlock for a pin at the 3:52 mark, giving Raritan a 25-18 lead with five bouts left.

"In the first period I was feeling it out and I knew I could hit it eventually," Reilley said. "When I got him to his back I wasn't letting him out."

Auletta followed with a 7-1 win over Will Gomez to make it 28-18 with three bouts left. Raritan was in a great position for the win at this point but could in no way feel comfortable considering their opponent. The Rockets had been in this position before in 2018, holding a 19-point lead on High Point only to lose the final six bouts and suffer a 30-25 defeat in the Group 2 final. High Point is like a movie villain. Until the Wildcats are officially dead, you better beware.

Bobby Mulligan took care of that.

After Shane Woolf won for High Point at 157 to cut Raritan's lead to 28-21 with three bouts left, Mulligan, a junior who entered with a 14-14 record, delivered one of the most memorable pins in Raritan history. Mulligan locked in a cradle on Dalton Yetter, turned him for three back points, then turned him again. This time, he stuck him flat, and one the official's hand slapped the mat, it was all over. The Rockets had clinched the Group 2 title.

"We've been training for this all season," Burns said. "I couldn't get the pin but getting the major was huge. For Kmak, Erven, Bobby; all the tossup bouts we came up with huge pins. Back in 2018 I was in eighth grade and saw us lose to High Point. They said history was going to repeat itself but we took it to them."

For Raritan, a blue-collar town with a blue-collar team, wrestling state title No. 2 is just as sweet as the first. That was obvious given Franklin's huge bleacher section was filled to the brim with Rockets supporters.

"On Super Bowl Sunday the whole freakin' town of Hazlet I think was here," Nucci said. "Just absolutely unbelievable."

Raritan will lose some key seniors but also has plenty of young talent coming back next year to make more championship runs. Nucci has built a program that is here to stay. A select group of programs have won multiple group titles. Now it's time to add Raritan to that list.

"It's awesome," Nucci said. "Dan O'Cone (former Point Beach and Brick Memorial head coach) told me that when you win one you get greedy and you want more. I hope the next one doesn't take us 10 years, I'll tell you that."

 

Box Score

Group 2 Final

Raritan 37, High Point 27

2nd Group Title for Raritan

215: Brian Soldano (HP) p. Sean Lane, 0:30

285: Nick Burns (R) md. Noah Ripley, 17-8

106: Nick Clayton (HP) d. Aidan Davis, 6-2

113: Matt Erven (R) p. Colton Jaust, 3:22

120: Clayton Utter (HP) d. Ryan Mansueto, 4-1

126: Roman Citro (HP) p. Jake McCully, 0:41

132: Braden Kmak (R) p. Ty Woods, 1:39

138: Logan Acevedo (R) d. Nate Clayton, 6-0

144: Zach Reilley (R) p. Andrew Brevot, 3:52

150: Alex Auletta (R) d. Will Gomez, 7-1

157: Shane Woolf (HP) d. Quinn Peters, 4-0

165: Robert Mulligan (R) p. Dalton Yetter, 3:18

175: Troy Tiger (HP) p. Stephen Moser (R), 2:59

190: Kieran Falzon (R) d. Alfred Castellani, 5-4

 

 

 

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