Jaguars boys try to capture 4th straight Group IV title



I t will be a more intense day than usual for Jackson Memorial High School’s boys bowling team if it nails down a fourth straight NJSIAA Group IV championship on Feb. 27 at Brunswick Zone-Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick.

Later that day, the group champions go right into the Tournament of Champions at the same house.

In the past, those two championships were held on different days. But with snow postponements and a PBA tournament tying up Carolier Lanes last week, the scheduling got compressed.

What makes it tougher is that Jackson Memorial and many other teams have not played for a while since the section championships.

“It’s about three weeks from the sectionals to states,” said first-year coach Anthony Bilello, whose team won the South Jersey sectionals. “No one wants that long a layoff, but everybody has the same thing. We have as good a chance as before.”

The Jaguars practiced hard after school the first three days this week to get ready, and they proudly carry a repeat Shore Conference Tournament and a South Jersey sectional championship into the state finals.

“These guys are motivated and feel good about their chances,” Bilello said. “They’re champing at the bit. If they keep their intensity level up, they’ll be fine.”

What further helps Jackson Memorial is that Mason Kimball has been practicing with the team the past two weeks after missing much of the season with a broken ankle. He’ll be ready to step in if someone has an off day.

Five seniors are in the starting lineup, led by anchor Joe Starace, who was second in the Shore Conference A South Division with a 215 average. Eric Hansen, bowling in the third spot, averaged 209, and leadoff bowler Jason Gold bowled 206 for the league season. Freehold Township High School won A South by one game over Jackson Memorial. The other starters are Drew Seich, who took over the No. 2 spot when Kimball was injured, and Chris Nicholson in the No. 4 spot. Freshmen Steven Gold and Steven Nicholson, both younger brothers of varsity starters, are also reserves who are ready to step in if needed.

Jackson Memorial, which also finished fourth in the Ocean County Team Tournament, has come on strong since then.

In the Shore Conference Tournament, played Baker style but going only by total pins, Jackson Memorial coasted by Manchester Township High School, 1,029- 1,004, in the semifinals and then beat Jackson Liberty High School, 1,084-990, in the finals. It reached the Baker championship rounds by rolling a season-high 3,352 in the qualifiers, which led the field, behind Starace’s 725 series. Starace rolled a 268 and 256 in the last two games. Gold smashed a 703 series, opening with a 242 game and following with a 236.

In the sectionals, Seich made his biggest contribution of the season with a 242 in his last game for a 621 series. Jackson Memorial won the section by 13 pins over Brick Memorial High School with 3,066 total pins.

“We got a big lift from him in that last game,” Bilello said.

Eighteen pins separated the top four teams.

Gold bowled three games in the 200s, topped by a 221 middle game, in a teamhigh 646 series. Starace added a 628 series off a 232 high game.

“Everyone contributed when it counted,” said Bilello, as Nicholson rolled a key 243 game. “Winning the Shore Conference Tournament was big, and then in the sectionals, we led after the first game and second game, and the guys didn’t want the season to end and finished it off with a 1,032 final game. We had spares and strikes when we needed them. The guys were really clutch and all bowled together as a team. They left no open frames. It seems every week, we’ve been bowling a little better, and at this point, we’ve been bowling the best we’ve done all year.”

Bilello believes they can do that again for one more day.