JACKSON TWP. - Senior Ron Bantang was less than 100 percent on Wednesday for his Jackson Memorial boys soccer team's biggest game of the season but he found a way to make an impact in limited playing time.

It was a microcosm of Jackson Memorial's season as whole to this point: the Jaguars have been banged up, short-handed and pushed to the limit but after Wednesday's effort, they are once again division champions.

Bantang was involved in the game's lone goal and with the senior center back sidelined by a lingering ankle injury from last week, the defense held firm to seal a 1-0 win over previously-unbeaten Southern Regional. The victory clinches Jackson Memorial its third straight Shore Conference Class A South championship.

Southern junior Kevin Kiernan (left) and Jackson Memorial senior Ron Bantang (right) race for the ball. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Southern junior Kevin Kiernan (left) and Jackson Memorial senior Ron Bantang (right) race for the ball. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Jackson Memorial entered the first day of practice as the favorite to win Class A South but faced several challenges along the way. The Jaguars lost leading scorer Dan Russo to the New York Red Bulls Developmental Academy, returning All-Shore defender Ben Schnaak to a hamstring injury and, more recently, Bantang to his injury.

"Winning a championship always feels good but this one is definitely rewarding because of all the adversity we had to go through," senior defender Connor Lucas said. "We knew teams were going to be coming after us and a lot of guys have stepped up to fill those spots."

Despite the hits to the lineup, Jackson Memorial made it to Saturday's Shore Conference Tournament seeding meeting with one loss and none inside the division.

On Wednesday, the Jaguars beat their competition for the title each of the past two years and avenged a 2018 road loss to the Rams. Southern generated more chances and possession over the course of the game but Jackson Memorial made the most of their best chance.

Zach Rogacki fired a long throw-in that Tyler Howlett flicked to the right post with his head. Bantang battled for position and knocked the ball off a Southern defender and in for a 1-0 Jackson Memorial lead in the 26th minute.

The Jaguars kept the Rams at bay thanks to an eight-save, shutout performance by sophomore goalkeeper Charlie Harrison.

"Losing Nick Kinzler in goal was probably our biggest concern coming into the season," Bantang said. "Charlie has gotten better every game and he played great today so we are happy with the play we are getting at keeper."

The biggest save, however, came from senior Frank Savarese in the 34th minute. Southern leading scorer Kevin Kiernan hit a one-hop shot that struck a Jackson Memorial defender in the middle of the 18-yard box and popped over Harrison's head. The ball was ticketed for the goal, but Savarese tracked it to the goal-line and headed it away from the goal mouth before it crossed into the goal.

Kiernan also got a quality chance from the left angle in the 64th minute but Harrison covered the near post and made the save to deny the Rams' best second-half scoring opportunity.

Kiernan confounded Jackson Memorial last year and made himself dangerous throughout Wednesday, but the Jackson Memorial defense, led by Lucas and senior Chase Olejarz, did not break.

"He is so fast when he gets the ball and turns that you just have to do your best to keep him from getting where he wants to go," Lucas said. "He made some runs today, got some shots but we had somebody on him."

With Schnaak nearing a full-on return to the lineup and Bantang closer to full strength, Jackson Memorial is expecting to hit its stride for next week's Shore Conference Tournament. Despite their A South dominance, the Jaguars are searching for their first tournament title - Shore Conference or NJSIAA sectional - in more than two decades.

"We are getting close to full strength at the right time," Bantang said. "We haven't had that all year and a lot of guys got a lot of confidence stepping up and replacing Dan and Schnaak. Now that we have everybody, we are ready to go win a championship."


Box Score

Jackson Memorial 1, Southern 0

Southern (8-1-1, 4-1-1)000
Jackson Mem (11-1, 6-0)101

Goal (Assist): (JM) Ron Bantang (Tyler Howlett) 26'
Shots: Southern, 9-5
Saves: (S) Kayce Bennet 2; (JM) Charlie Harrison 8


More From Shore Sports Network