By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
RICHLAND — Generally speaking, most people have a sense of dread when entering a cave. Caves are dark, dreary, damp and cold, and have a frightful element of the unknown. Many opponents feel that same sense of dread when they walk into St. Augustine Prep’s auxiliary gym, nicknamed “The Cave.”
The St. Augustine Prep wrestling team is tough enough to beat without a home-gym advantage, and the Hermits were intent on protecting their house on Wednesday night while getting a little payback on visiting Egg Harbor Township, which beat the Hermits last year to take the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title.
The Hermit made sure early on that they were in complete command, jumping out to a 15-6 lead and winning six of the final seven weight classes to cruise to a 49-12 victory that all but assured them the conference title. They still have one more conference match, against Millville, but even with a loss would hold the tiebreaker against Egg Harbor Township.
“I did mention (last year) one time to the boys, but EHT lost a lot to graduation, so that took a little bit of the revenge factor out of it,” said Hermits coach Billy Ward. “But, they wrestled tough and it was a good match. We’re getting there. Hopefully, we peak next week at the start of the team playoffs. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The Hermits (13-4, 6-0) were without 100-match winner Steven Schwab, who was out due to illness, but had some other guys step up, including freshman Nick Marshall at 152 pounds. It hasn’t been easy for Marshall to crack a loaded lineup, but he made the most of his opportunity as a couple wrestlers dropped down a weight class to make up for the loss of Schwab, including Sal Manera, who bumped down to 145 to take on Cody Dix.
It looked as though Manera might snare a win after getting a late reversal and nearly some back points, but Dix avoided the near-fall and escaped with seven seconds left to win, 3-2, and cut St. Augustine’s early lead down to 6-3. But Marshall came up big in the next bout, scoring an escape with 50 seconds left against EHT senior star Jason Kaenzig and holding Kaenzig off for the final half minute to score a 1-0 victory.
“It was a pretty good win for us. Steve (Schwab) was out because he’s been sick, but it was good to get a win on senior night and get some revenge on them. Joe had a close match, and Nick Marshall won a really close match. Sal went down to 145 tonight and he looked a little sluggish because of (dropping the weight), but he should be fine,” said George Coleman, one of just four seniors on Prep’s roster. “Nick, he’s been all over the place in the lineup trying to get a spot. We sent him out tonight at 152 against their best kid, and he got a win. We felt confident in Sal at that spot as well.”
“We had a couple of good matches (in the middleweights). We won one, they won one — that’s what you’re looking for this time of year, good matches. Marshall has a lot of experience even though he’s a freshman. He has a lot of mat experience and has been wrestling his whole life,” Ward said. “He’s had a hard time getting into the lineup, but he got in there tonight and made the most of it. He’s trying to find his spot, and he wrestled well tonight.”
Mark Mansour gave EHT (12-9, 6-1) a boost at 170 when he erased a 2-0 deficit early in the third period with an escape, then got a takedown to beat Joe Colon, 3-2, to pull the Eagles to within 15-6 in the team scoring. But after that, it was all Hermits, aside from a pin from Jefferson Dejean at heavyweight. St. Augustine ripped off four straight wins after Dejean’s pin to pull away.
“It was nice to get a win on senior night. There are only four of us, and our heavyweight (Matt Compton) came out for wrestling for the first time. I think we will do well in the team playoffs. They will be close matches,” Coleman said. “We have a tough one against St. John Vianney (on Monday) and Camden Catholic usually has good matchups against us. If we bring our ‘A’ game, we’ll be fine. If we wrestle like we did against St. Peter’s (a 39-25 win), we should be fine, but if we wrestle like we did against Delsea (a 37-30 loss), I don’t think we’ll win.”
Said Ward, “We just want to get better each time out. We’re trying to get this team to win another South Jersey championship and go wrestle in the state final. We have a guy who is banged up pretty good, and we’ve had some guys with the flu, but for the most part we are in pretty good shape.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays