Baeza, Ostanski, Matthew Mauricio crowned District 11 champs; 10 move on

Pardon Tony Carratura Jr. if he doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of the history of the Kearny High School wrestling program.

The resident historian, namely Carratura’s father, Tony Sr., passed away almost three years ago, taking his wealth of knowledge – especially the history of the program – with him.

But the younger Carratura knows one thing for sure. It has been a very long time since Kearny enjoyed a day in the NJSIAA District tournament than the one the Kardinals had at the District 11 get-together in Morristown last weekend.

Carratura’s Kardinals finished second to Mendham in the team standings. That alone is a feat worth noting. The Kardinals almost captured the team title, falling to heavily favored state power Mendham by just two-and-a-half points, 192.5 to 190.

But Carratura’s team captured three gold medals. Sophomore Jacob Baeza, junior Kyle Ostanski and junior Matthew Mauricio all won their respective weight classes. It was the first time in recent memory that the Kardinals crowned three district champions.

But the Kardinals also had four wrestlers finish second and three more place third, which meant that an incredible total of 10 wrestlers are moving on to the Region 3 tournament at West Orange High School this weekend.

Can you fathom that idea? Kearny will have a full practice of region wrestlers in practice this week. They won’t have to farm themselves out to other programs just to get a competitive workout. It can happen in their own backyard.

“When it was over, all the coaches were all asking, ‘When was the last time we sent 10 to the Regions?’” Carratura asked. “We really didn’t know. It might not have ever happened. That’s a testament to the program, to everyone involved, the parents, the volunteer coaches. We all came together and this is the result. It’s proof that we’re moving in the right direction. We have a great group of kids who are finally getting the respect they deserve. It’s pretty special.”

Let’s start with district champ Baeza, who took home the gold medal in the 120-pound weight class. Baeza won via a thrilling 3-2 decision over Chris Tringali of Mendham.

“He trailed early, 2-0, but then got an escape point and took the kid down with five seconds left to win it,” Carratura said of Baeza. “He had the crowd on their feet. I’m so happy for the kid. He works hard.”

Baeza improved to 25-2 on the season and incredibly has 52 wins for his career and counting. He is well on his way to becoming a 100-win wrestler barring an injury or other setback.

Ostanski overcame a head butt and gash over his eye to defeat Kurtis Boyd of Morris Catholic by a 7-3 decision in the 138-pound title bout.

“He got a takedown as time ran out,” Carratura said of Ostanski, who had a 10-13 record last year as a sophomore, but has improved to 21-6 this year as a junior. “He had a great tournament.”
The third District 11 champ is 195-pound junior Matthew Mauricio, who earned his district gold medal by defeating Matthew Bremmer of Hackettstown in the title bout by a 3-1 decision. Mauricio is another vastly improved Kearny wrestler, having gone from 8-11 last year to a 15-5 District 11 champ this season.

“It’s his first full varsity season,” Carratura said of Mauricio, whose twin brother, Andrew, was the runner-up at 220 pounds, also moving on to the Region 3 tourney. “It was great to see them all put in the hard work and Matthew winning the District (11) title is proof that hard work pays off. It was great for him.”

The Kardinals who finished second include senior Steven Silva, who was the runner-up to Tristan Navarino of Mendham in the 113-pound class. Silva has had a great season and owns a gaudy 24-3 record heading into the Region 3 tourney.

Junior Vincent Ruccatano was second in the 126-pound class, falling to Dom DiGena by a 10-2 margin in the title bout.

“He lost to one of the best wrestlers in the state,” Carratura said of DiGena, who has a 22-1 record this season and has won 90 matches over his career.

Noah Ramandan was the runner-up at 182 pounds. Ramandan almost came away with the championship, but dropped a heartbreaking 9-8 decision to Alejandro Castro of Hackettstown. It’s only the second year of varsity wrestling for Ramandan, who was 16-15 last year, but has a 16-6 record this season.

Andrew Mauricio was the fourth Kardinal to finish second. Andrew was pinned by Gage Armijo of Mendham in the finals of the 220-pound class. Armijo is no slouch, posting an undefeated 16-0 record thus far this season.

The three Kardinals to place third and move on are junior 152-pounder David Duran, 132-pounder Brandon Vanzini and heavyweight Bryce Webb, who is a first-year wrestler and has moved on to the region tournament.

The most inspirational wrestler of the tournament was 171-pounder Travis Witt, who has recovered from life-saving internal surgery from injuries suffered during the football season, yet somehow made it back to wrestle in the District 11 tourney. Witt lost in the quarterfinals, ending his bid for a miraculous run.

“He just wants to win,” Carratura said. “He had it in his head that he was going to win. We are all awed by Travis and what he’s been able to do. He gave it his all. I’m very proud of him. The opposing coaches all said that they had nothing but respect for him. To see him out there again was truly a special thing.”

So needless to say, this was a special weekend for Kearny wrestling. There was only one downside. The architect of the whole thing, the resident historian, the coach and mentor to all, wasn’t there to enjoy the moment with everyone else.

“That’s the only bad thing,” Carratura, Jr. said about missing his father. “All of the kids here came from my Dad’s hard work. I think there was a little bit of my Dad in every one of these kids. We’re all a family. I kind of had a feeling that it was going to be a special weekend. I had a good feeling about these guys. It was a great weekend.”




The Kearny wrestling program crowned two NJSIAA District 11 champions in sophomore Jacob Baeza (left) and junior Kyle Ostanski (right). Baeza won the 120-pound class while Ostanski won the 138-pound bracket. Photos by Jim Hague


Kearny junior 195-pounder Matthew Mauricio won District 11 gold over the weekend, the third Kardinal to be crowned as a District champion this year. Photo by Jim Hague.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”