TOMS RIVER - The Southern Regional High School wrestling team failed to accomplish its ultimate goal Aunday, but that doesn't mean the trip to the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River was a wasted one.
The South Jersey Group IV champion Rams lost 34-27 to Shore Conference A-South rival Brick Memorial in the state Group IV championship after beating Hunterdon Central 33-24 in the semifinals earlier in the day.
A runner-up finish in the biggest enrollment group in the state isn't bad for a team that went to work Sunday with a full 14-wrestler lineup for the first time all season.
"I know that we're missing guys, but we've really come together the past week," Southern junior Zach Wilhelm said. "I'm impressed with how we wrestled."
Southern coach John Stout, along with assistants Jerry Tabbachino and Dan Roy, have never shied away from lineup adjustments this time of the year.
That's why it was only slightly surprising to see defending District 24 champ Matt Wilhelm wrestle for the first time this season Sunday.
Wilhelm battled mononucleosis earlier this season, but his participation Sunday allowed Southern to bump its entire lineup up one weight class to avoid having to forfeit any bouts.
The Rams only forfeited to Hunterdon Central in the final bout of the semifinals, at 160 pounds, after the match was clinched.
"We wanted to challenge them," Stout said. "If we were going to lose, we were going to lose challenging them, not giving away points."
Southern, which is ranked second in The Press Elite 11, is No. 12 in the New Jersey Wrestling Writer's Association poll of the top 20 teams in the state. Brick Memorial is No. 3 in that poll and Hunterdon Central No. 6.
Memorial also beat Southern 35-13 on Jan. 23 in a regular-season match in Stafford Township.
"If you would have told me three or four weeks ago that we'd be (in the state Group IV final), I would have told you you're crazy," Stout said. "This is a real nice accomplishment for the guys."
Southern has struggled to score bonus points this season, but sophomore 106-pounder Jimmy Knoeller started a nice run in the lower weights against Hunterdon Central in the early-afternoon semifinal match.
The Rams scored nine bonus points in a span of three weight classes against the Red Devils and won the team match by the same margin.
"I go into every match trying to get as many points as I can and whatever happens, happens," said Knoeller, who sat out the first 30 days of the season after transferring from Lacey Township.
Knoeller appeared headed for a major decision when he turned Tyler Rodriguez to his back for a pin late in the third period.
"There is no better feeling in the world," Knoeller said. "It was huge because it helped us for the match and helped the team out. Whatever I can do to contribute, I'll do."
Chris Crane followed Knoeller with a forfeit at 113 and Pat Mooney won by fall at 120.
Zach Wilhelm won a key 3-1 decision against Collin Boylan in the semifinal win but was pinned in overtime in the final.
Wilhelm and company weren't exactly sure what to make of it all when they were standing at 3-3 or 6-5 at different points of the season.
But Sunday's Group IV final loss to Brick Memorial snapped a seven-match winning streak.
"I think that says that we're a pretty tough group of guys," Wilhelm said. "We work hard and that shows when we wrestle."
Notes: Brick Memorial beat Hackensack 55-4 in the other semifinal. ... Buena Regional graduate Ron Roberts was one of two officials in the team's semifinal match.
Contact John O'Kane:
State Group IV semifinal
Southern Regional 33, Hunterdon Central 24
106-Jimmy Knoeller SR p. Tyler Rodriguez 5:20; 113-Chris Crane SR won by forfeit; 120-Pat Mooney SR p. Gabino Careaga 3:59; 126-Dylan Nace HC md. Andrew Tonneson 9-1; 132-Zach Wilhelm SR d. Collin Boylan 3-1; 138-Gary Dinmore HC md. Nick Racanelli 9-0; 145-Tim Higginson HC md. Matt Wilhelm 18-5; 152-Jake Campana SR d. Dylan Cote 7-1; 160-Joseph Scerbo HC won by forfeit; *170-David Fenton HC d. Gerardo Jorge 5-1; 182-Nester Crespo HC d. Cory Case 3-2; 195-Connor Case SR d. Paul Rallis 8-2; 220-Patrick Ferraro SR d. Leo Aquino 3-0; 285-Jesse Bauta SR d. Gabe Barba 5-2.
Records-Southern 13-6; Hunterdon Central 18-2.
*Match began at 160
State Group IV final
Brick Memorial 34, Southern Regional 27
106-James Knoeller SR d. Luke Vescovi 4-0; 113-Connor Maliff BM d. Chris Crane 4-2; 120-Joe Ghione BM md. Pat Mooney 13-5; 126-Andrew Tonneson SR d. Jared Staub 9-2; 132-Nick Racanelli SR p. Jose Bocalman 3:30; 138-Alec Donovan BM p. Zach Wilhelm 6:59 (OT); 145-Rob Ruggiero BM d. Matt Wilhelm 3-0; 152-Cliff Ruggiero BM d. Jake Campana 8-1; 160-Chris Serpico SR won by forfeit; 170-Gerardo Jorge SR won by forfeit; *182-Connor Case SR d. Connor Owen 9-3; 195-Nick Costa BM p. Pat Ferraro 1:32; 220-Matt Moore BM won by forfeit; 285-Tyler Poling BM d. Jesse Bauta 5-0.
*Match began at 182