WEST LONG BRANCH - Shore Regional senior J.T. Kessler began his senior season by scoring two goals Tuesday against Middletown South and exited the game after his second with 19 minutes left and his team leading by six goals, before he could make a run at a hat trick.

Friday against Point Pleasant Beach, Kessler did not give head coach Christian Pontier a chance to take him out before he got his hat trick and as it turned out, it's a good thing he didn't.

Kessler scored three goals in the first 16 minutes of action Friday and the Blue Devils - No. 5 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - needed every single one in holding off the Shore Conference Class B Central rival Garnet Gulls, 3-2.

Shore senior J.T. Kessler rolled up a hat trick Friday in a 3-2 win over Point Beach. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Behind Kessler's three goals - which came during a nine-minute stretch and the last two of which came just 21 seconds apart - Shore dominated the first half and appeared poised to rout the Garnet Gulls as the Blue Devils did to Middletown South on Tuesday. Shore took a 3-0 lead to the half in that game as well and ended up running away with a 6-0 win.

"If I wanted to run up the score and see how many he could get, he'd probably be getting close to 100 now, but he understands how it is," Pontier said. "You saw today how quickly he can score. A hat trick in the first 16 minutes is pretty impressive."

Point Beach, however, scored twice in the second half while holding Shore to two shots on frame. Sophomore Aris Papoutsakis and freshman Ki Costa accounted for the two Garnet Gulls goals.

"The way we played last game and the way we played the first half, I think we just started expecting the goals to keep coming and they didn't," Kessler said. "You have to give credit to Point Beach. They outworked us in the second half and we should know from playing them twice every year that they are going to battle us like that. We like to think there isn't a team out there that is going to outwork us, but if there is one, it's Point Beach."

Kessler opened the scoring by taking the ball at the edge of the six-yard box on the right side and ripping a shot to the far side netting.

He then scored his fourth and fifth goals of the young season just seconds apart in the 16th minute. Kessler tapped in a through-ball from freshman Leonardo Montesinos to make it 2-0 and volleyed a rebound into the goal just seconds later.

The Blue Devils went on to outshoot Point Beach 8-3 in the first half and were in firm control of the possession and pace of the match heading into the second half.

Point Beach, however, turned the game around in the second half. Papoutsakis scored on a counter-attack in the 50th minute and freshman Ki Costa ripped a shot to the upper part of the net from 20 yards out in the 62nd to pull Point Beach within a goal.

The Garnet Gulls would only get off one more shot on Shore goalkeeper Evan Coffey though and the Blue Devils came closest to scoring when Kessler's header bounded off the top of the crossbar in the 76th minute.

With his five goals in two games to open the season, Kessler now has 61 in his career. Thirty-nine of those goals came during his All-Shore junior season, which was the most in the Shore Conference. If he can score 39 goals over the remainder of his senior season, he would end his high school career with 100.

"I'd really like to get to 100 goals individually and as a team, I want to win the Group I championship," Kessler said. "During the regular season last year, it was a little easier to score because I was the only forward in our formation, so I almost had to get the goals. During the postseason, we played with two or three guys forward, and I just happened to be the one finishing a lot of the time.

"It can be anybody, though. When playoff time comes, I'm not out there looking to get the goals. I'm just trying to help our team score and win games."

Shore has begun its Class B Central and NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I title defense by winning its first two games and the Blue Devils will go through the division schedule as the team every B Central team wants to beat. Although they survived last year's division season by going 13-0-1, the Blue Devils expect to get the best from every team in what already appears to be an improved B Central.

"There are some scrappy teams in this division and we aren't trying to play the way they play us," Pontier said. "We want to try to avoid people on the field and most teams are trying to make it a physical game, which doesn't play to our strength. It's a good learning experience for our guys, but it's definitely challenging."