JACKSON — Throughout the first month of the season Jackson Memorial had a long way to go in its quest to win another state sectional championship. A mostly inexperienced squad lacked the traits of their predecessors and struggled to find an identity. The qualities that fueled championship teams in 2015 and 2016 did not embody the current group of Jaguars, but their time was coming.

“We talked about being a Jag and what it means to be on this mat and wrestle with the history Jackson has,” said senior Matt McGowan. “The older teams used to limit bonus points and pull out the close wins, and that’s not what we had been doing. But at the right time, we came together.”

The Jackson team that took the mat throughout the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship was one that found its mojo; getting pins and bonus points when necessary, wining toss-up bouts and simply finding a way to win in the third period. The Jaguars did all of that on Friday night when they defeated Brick Memorial, 34-22, in front of a raucous crowd at Joe Perry Gymnasium to claim their third consecutive Central Jersey Group IV sectional championship.

The Jaguars won nine of the 14 bouts against their Class A South rivals for their second win over the Mustangs this season, with Friday’s triumph delivering Jackson its ninth sectional title in program history. Senior Tim Hamann at 152 pounds and junior Dave Lemay at 220 came through with much-needed pins while freshman Kyle Epperly at 160, freshman Vinnie Scollo at 106 and sophomore Chris McDonald at 113 gutted out tight victories to fuel the win.

Jackson will wrestle Mendham in the NJSIAA Group IV semifinals at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North. The winner will take on the winner of the Phillipsburg-Kingsway match in the Group IV championship.

“Coming into the season a lot of people had written us off,” said Jackson head coach Doug Withstandley. “The preseason rankings we fell at No. 8 or 9, and in my opinion we’re the third best team in the Shore.”

“We knew what we had coming into the season, and throughout the season we’ve dealt with injury and even kids quitting the team, and the guys have shown great resiliency. Any time we’ve had a bad match we’ve challenged them more and pushed them harder, and they responded well.”

“Everyone talked about us rebuilding this year and that we’ll be down and maybe we’ll be back in a couple of years, but we do a really good job of preparing the JV kids and the younger kids so they’re ready for the varsity lineup when their name’s called,” McGowan said.

With Brick Memorial sophomore 160-pounder Ean Mueller out with an injury since late January, it forced the Mustangs to make some moves in the middle of their lineup. They inserted Jaden Crippen at 152 and bumped senior Chris Richardson to 160 in the first two bouts.


Hamann, the Region VI fourth-place finisher in 2015, made quick work of Crippen with a fall in 37 seconds to give Jackson a 6-0 lead. But it was Epperly’s 2-1 win over Richardson, a 20-bout winner, that proved biggest. A takedown late in the second period gave Epperly a 2-1 lead, and although Richardson rode him out in the third period, Epperly (11-7) prevented Richardson from getting a turn to hold on for the one-point win.

“To step in as a freshman with our schedule, Kyle Epperly has wrestled well all year,” Withstandley said. “The first half of the year he had a losing record, but that isn’t a reflection of the way he’s wrestled throughout the year.”

The teams traded decision victories in the next three bouts as Brick Memorial junior Sam Williams won 6-0 over Leo Shimonovich at 170, Jackson senior Dan Bergeron scored an 8-2 win over Jack Tango at 182 and Brick Memorial junior Ron Hopping defeated Frank Fowler-Umana 4-2 at 195. Jackson’s lead stood at 12-6 entering a crucial stretch.

At 220 Lemay took on Brick Memorial junior Willie Garner. In the regular-season meeting between the two teams Lemay won by 18-5 major decision, and the Jags were expecting a similar results. However, entering the third period Lemay led just 1-0. Lemay’s best position is top, so when Garner selected defense to start the third period he was both surprised and excited.

“I knew we needed to make up in certain bouts and needed to improve, and I knew I needed to get a couple turns,” Lemay said. Twenty one seconds into the third period, Lemay flipped Garner to his back and pinned him to give Jackson an 18-6 lead.  

“I was a little surprised (Garner chose defense), but I wasn’t surprised Dave scored the fall,” Withstandley said. “He majored him last time so to see him score the fall this time was nice. That put us in good shape.”

“That was definitely huge,” McGowan said. “We come out there 1-0 and it’s a win, but Rivera comes out next and probably sticks whoever he wrestles and then the momentum is back in their favor. It was a big equalizer.”

Indeed Brick Memorial senior heavyweight Nick Rivera won by fall, pinning Naj’Zir Humbert in 41 seconds to get the Mustangs back in the match trailing 18-12. The next two bouts between Scollo and Mike Richardson at 106 and McDonald and Joe Rotundo at 113 was where Jackson Memorial began to pull away.

Scollo (26-2) was favored over Richardson (12-12), but a close bout was anticipated. Scollo scored first with a takedown to take a 2-0 lead into the second period, but Richardson scored an acrobatic reversal in the second to tie the bout at two. Scollo escaped and scored another takedown to go up 5-2 heading to the third period. Richardson chose top and got a turn for two back points to make it 5-4, and was close to getting another to take the lead. Instead Scollo escaped and held on for a 6-4 victory.

At 113 McDonald won 2-1 in ultimate tiebreaker, riding out Rotundo in the final overtime period for the deciding point. Each had an escape in regulation but neither could get out from bottom in the extra sessions. McDonald scoring first allowed him to have choice in UTB, and he took top to complete the crucial victory. The back-to-back wins gave Jackson a 24-12 lead with five bouts left.

“We knew it was definitely going to be a close match and we went out there and gave it our all,” McDonald said. “I knew I had to wrestle with my heart. The crowd was going crazy and that definitely fueled me.”

At 120 Jeremiah Nash led all the way and powered through a late push for a fall by Liam Rivera to win 9-4 and put Jackson up 27-12. The win was also the seventh for Jackson, meaning a win of any type at 126 pounds would clinch the sectional title. Sophomore Carsten DiGiantomasso used an escape in the third period to clip Ryan Andrus, 3-2, and secure the championship for the Jaguars. Even if Brick Memorial won by fall in the final three bouts to tie the score at 30, Jackson would have won on tie-breaking criteria based on having won the most bouts.

Brick Memorial sophomore Caleb Alvarado won by fall over Justin Burkert at 132 pound and star senior Gianni Ghione majored Ryan Bohringer, 9-1, at 138 to make it 30-22, but the only thing still in doubt was the final score. McGowan polished it off with an 11-0 major decision over Brian Wilson at 145 to send the Jaguars to the Group IV final four.

“My last match here, I wouldn’t have wanted it to end any way else,” McGowan said. “It was awesome.”


Box Score

Jackson Memorial 34, Brick Memorial 22

152: Tim Hamann (JM) p. Jaden Crippen 0:37

160: Kyle Epperly (JM) d. Chris Richardson 3-1

170: Sam Williams (BM) d. Leo Shimonovich 6-0

182: Dan Bergeron (JM) d. Jack Tango 8-2

195: Ron Hopping (BM) d. Frank Fowler-Umana 4-2

220: Dave Lemay (JM) p. Willie Garner 4:21

Hwt: Nick Rivera (BM) p. Naj'Zir Humbert 0:41

106: Vinnie Scollo (JM) d. Mike Richardson 6-4

113: Chris McDonald (JM) d. Joe Rotundo 2-1 UTB

120: Jeremiah Nash (JM) d. Liam Rivera 9-4

126: Carsten DiGiantomasso (JM) d. Ryan Andrus 3-2

132: Caleb Alvarado (BM) p. Justin Burkert 0:34

138: Gianni Ghione (BM) md. Ryan Bohringer 9-1

145: Matt McGowan (JM) md. Brian Wilson 11-0.

Records: at Jackson Memorial (15-8); Brick Memorial (13-7).


Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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