The gesture by Mike Dimino was subtle but poignant, symbolic of the underlying nuances at the core of a baseball renaissance for Jackson Memorial.

During a conference on the mound after an errant flip on a potential inning-ending force play at second base in the bottom of the fifth, the senior reliever was the first to extend a hand to an underclassmen in need of a pick-me-up. It wasn’t a token handshake, but a meaningful grip, a reminder that the Jaguars had gotten to this stage in early June by having each other’s back and offering a lift, in good times and in bad.

The former far outweighed the latter this spring, giving way to a Jackson Memorial resurgence, one that came to an end on Tuesday with a 3-1 loss to two-time defending champion Hunterdon Central in the NJSIAA Group 4 state semifinal at Rider University, but nonetheless remained untarnished despite the final outcome.

From the outset of the campaign, head coach Frank Malta relied on the analogy of a chain, broken in the previous two years by uncharacteristic sub-.500 performances, that was in desperate need of being relinked. He recognized that the blue-collar style inherent to this spring’s cast, more suited to carrying lunch pails to the ballpark as opposed to bat bags, had all the tools to weld it back together.

“Getting ourselves back to what we’re accustom to here with Jackson baseball,” Malta said was the top priority. “It’s been about toughness, wanting to play in big spots, wanting to compete, senior leadership. The whole thing is about seniors passing down some of that leadership to the juniors and sophs, that they understand we pick up from here and we go. That kind of got broken the last two years. We were lost.”

The Jaguars are found. Dimino and fellow seniors Nick Sefick and Tom Pellone, helped Jackson Memorial rediscover its groove, marked by a South Jersey sectional title, its first since 2014. Furthermore, they paid it forward, leaving matters in the capable hands of those they’ll leave behind with their indelible impressions to emulate.

“What I loved about this group of guys was it was a hard-working group of seniors who could set a tone and show younger guys how to work every day and have fun, too,” noted Malta. “It was one of those seasons you just don’t want to end. It was a great mix of guys in terms of work ethic and dedication.”

“I just wanted to pass it down to the younger kids,” said Dimino of what is expected from anyone who dons the red and black. “Kid makes an error, just got to pick him up, stay strong and be a leader. I knew our senior class was tough and we could toughen up the younger kids. I thought we had men on our team this year.”

Jackson Memorial (25-7) showed no fear against decorated Red Devils, working counts into hitters’ favor in the top of the first to gain a 1-0 lead. Junior Alex Iadisernia dumped a one-out double down the left-field line and scored on an RBI single from Pellone to trigger an ideal start.

“Every game, we try to score early and put pressure on teams,” said Iadisernia.

However, the Jags wouldn’t get another hit until the fourth. Junior southpaw Joey DeChiaro (9-1) went the distance on a four-hitter with two strikeouts and a walk, retiring eight straight before Pellone interrupted the string with his second single of the contest in the fourth. Sophomore first baseman Carmine Petosa added a base hit in the frame but the Jaguars stranded both to come away empty.

DeChiaro was only more formidable from there, setting down nine of the final 10 batters he encountered.

Hunterdon Central (27-2), who will face Westfield, a 4-2 winner over Ridgewood, this weekend in pursuit of a third consecutive crown, seized the lead in the bottom of the fourth. Colin Mason led off with a single, stole second and, with two outs, scored on a single by Pete Ciufredda to tie the game. David Cucci snapped the deadlock with an RBI base knock into center and the Red Devils tacked on an insurance run in the fifth when Ciuffreda reached on an infield single to score Tyler Cassella.

The end result, from the Jackson Memorial perspective, outweighed by the greater sum of what was accomplished before it.

"It felt good to win this year as a senior," said Dimino. "I like where the program is at. Everything is in place. I want to come back next year and see them win states and get a ring next year."

The chain has been relinked.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Jackson Mem (25-7) 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 4 1
Hunterdon Cent (27-2) 0 0 0 2 1 0 X 3 8 0

Pitching

Jackson Memorial IP H R ER BB SO PC
Nick Sefick (L, 7-1) 4 5 2 2 1 0 65
Mike Dimino 2 3 1 1 1 1 26
Hunterdon Central IP H R ER BB SO PC
Joey DeChiaro (W, 9-1) 7 4 0 0 1 2 88

Top Hitters

Jackson Memorial Stats
Tom Pellone 2-3, RBI
Alex Iadisernia 1-3, 2B, R
Hunterdon Central Stats
Pete Ciuffreda 2-2, R, 2 RBI
Dave Cucci 2-3, RBI
Tyler Casella 1-3, 2B, R
Colin Mason 1-3, R, SB