JACKSON - Holding on to a one-point lead going into the third period while taking the top position is not usually a comfortable spot for most wrestlers, but for Jackson Memorial it's exactly where the Jaguars feel right at home.

Their trademark ability to neutralize opponents on the mat from the offensive position was on full display in Friday night's 35-15 win over fifth-seeded Long Branch in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. The fourth-seeded Jaguars won three 1-0 decisions with third-period rideouts to turn a potential nail-biter into a comfortable win that put them into Saturday's semifinals, where they will face defending champion and No. 1 seed Howell at 3 p.m. right down the street at Jackson Liberty High School.

Jackson Memorial sophomore Tanner Kelly used a third-period rideout against Long Branch's Lamont Reid for one of three 1-0 decisions by the Jaguars that helped them reach the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals. (Photo by Scott Stump)

"We're known to be better mat wrestlers than on our feet, and we do have good conditioning, so we feel comfortable in a match where we're up by one and we're in the top position,'' Jaguars coach Aaron Gottesman said.

"We like to get our one point up and then we like to ride out to win matches,'' said senior heavyweight Brody Graham. "We're very confident with the way we can ride on top, and we drill it every day."

Both teams did a strong job of limiting bonus points, as 10 of the 14 bouts were decided by three points or less, so it was Jackson's work in the toss-up bouts that let it avoid any upset at the hands of the Green Wave, which led 6-3 after the first three bouts thanks to decisions by Jiovani Gomez (132) and Dan Mullan (145). Senior 152-pounder Sean Leahey then did a good job of getting bonus points when he scored on a takedown and got back points right before the final buzzer sounded to secure a 22-5 technical fall win over Vince Vaccaro at 5:59 that gave Jackson an 8-6 lead it would not relinquish.

Then came a stretch of two crucial toss-up bouts at 160 and 170, and the Jaguars won them both. Senior Jaret DiGiantomasso was granted an intentional escape by Long Branch's Mike Shohet at 160 to start the second period, and DiGiantomasso made it stand up by eventually riding out Shohet for the whole third period to seal a 1-0 decision.

"They do a good job of getting out of the first period scoreless, and they do enough on top in the third period to not get any stalling calls,'' Long Branch coach Dan George said. "I thought we wrestled tough, but we're just coming up on the wrong end of close matches."

Jackson Memorial sophomore Tanner Kelly then gutted out a 1-0 decision of his own at 170 for a 14-6 Jaguars lead, as he also rode out his opponent for the entire third period. Kelly essentially wrestled on one leg against Long Branch junior Lamont Reid, who entered with an 18-4 record. Kelly said he may potentially have a torn MCL, LCL and hamstring in his right leg that has required an MRI to evaluate, so it was imperative for him to get to the third period with choice against Reid so that he could keep him on the mat.

"I knew he was too tough to get any points on in neutral because he's just too strong,'' Kelly said. "I had to try to just ride him out. Just stopping that first move was the main thing, and then just wearing on him."

"Tanner really pushed through,'' Graham said. "He was hurting, and that was big for the team morale. I always think the upperweights are important to get us going. When we're winning up top, it usually means we're doing well on the day."

Long Branch bumped usual 182-pounder Peter Wersinger away from undefeated Jackson Memorial standout Connor Bohringer, a two-time district champion, and Bohringer made short work of Hunter Marhan, pinning him in 1:09 for a 20-6 lead.

The Green Wave were hoping to get a win with Marsinger at 195, but Jackson Memorial junior Adante Davis foiled that maneuver with a 5-4 victory in the ultimate tiebreaker. Wersinger had a 3-2 lead in the third period when he was hit with a penalty point with 1:12 remaining for grabbing Davis' singlet to tie the bout. Both wrestlers escaped in double overtime to keep it tied at four before Davis chose defense in the ultimate tiebreaker and escaped with 11.8 seconds left for the win and a 23-6 advantage.

After Long Branch junior standout Joey Jasio stopped the bleeding temporarily with a 5-0 decision over Nick Shiminovich at 220, Graham all but mathematically sealed the win with a 1-0 victory at heavweight to improve to 22-1 on the season. He escaped in the second period and then rode out John Tomlinson for the whole third period to push the lead to 26-9. Sophomore 106-pounder Matt McGowan then officially clinched the win one bout later with a 5-4 win over Justin Farnsworth in which he built a 4-1 first-period lead and held on.

Long Branch fought the whole way against the Jaguars, who won 10 bouts but only secured bonus points in two of them.

"Any time you lose three matches 1-0 and get ridden the whole third period, you're right there,'' George said. "We've got to fight harder because at the end of the day, our road (in the upcoming NJSIAA Tournament) goes through South Plainfield, and they're similar to Howell and Jackson Memorial. They're tough on top."

"You look at their boxscores, and even the kids with not-good records, they don't give up much bonus,'' Gottesman said about Long Branch. "They keep it in every match. It's the style they wrestle."

As for Jackson, the Jaguars have suffered three gut-punch losses this season, one on criteria to Brick and two others to state powers Brick Memorial and St. Peter's Prep by a total of three points.

"One different move, one pin and it's different,'' Kelly said. "It's just been more motivation for us. Just like our football team lost to Brick and then came back and beat them in the playoffs, we want to do the same thing."

"This tournament could be some redemption for us, a way to show that we can win those ones,'' Graham said.

First they will have to get past undefeated Howell, a team the Jaguars could see again in the state tournament in South Jersey Group V. An upset of the Rebels could potentially set up a championship match with rival Brick Memorial, the No. 2 seed, which beat the Jaguars in a 27-26 instant classic during the regular season.

"That has just fueled the fire,'' DiGiantomasso said. "It has given us incentive for the upcoming weeks between the SCT tomorrow and the states after that. If we beat Howell, we're going to bring it against Brick. We're looking for redemption."

Box score

Jackson Memorial 35, Long Branch 15

132: Gomez (L) d. Christie, 8-6

138: Hamann (J) d. Flannigan, 6-4

145: Mullan (L) d. Reese, 3-0

152: Leahey (J) tf. Vaccaro, 22-5 (5:59)

160: DiGiantomasso (J) d. Shohet, 1-0

170: Kelly (J) d. Reid, 1-0

182: C. Bohringer (J) p. Marhan, 1:09

195: Davis (J) d. Wersinger 5-4 UTB

220: Jasio (L) d. Shimonovich, 5-0

Hwt: Graham (J) d. Tomlinson, 1-0

106: McGowan (J) d. Farnsworth, 5-4

113: Spino (J) d. J. Hernandez, 6-2

120: Terranova (J) d. Conlon, 6-4

126: A. Hernandez (L) p. R. Bohringer, 2:56