Jackson Memorial High School head wrestling coach Aaron Gottesman had simple instructions for senior 120-pounder Zack Baker before he took the mat for the final bout of the Jaguars’ nonconference match against South Plainfield on Saturday.
“I said, ‘Today, you can be the man, and sometimes being the man doesn’t require you to win. Know the situation,’ ” Gottesman said.
Baker’s job against Ryan Walsh, the District 12 106-pound champion last year, was to not get pinned or lose by technical fall. A loss of any other kind and the Jaguars would win the match.
Mission accomplished. Baker held Walsh to a 5-1 decision and enabled Jackson Memorial to hang on for a 22-20 win at Joe Perry Gymnasium.
Baker was able to stay off his back by not letting Walsh cradle him. The cradle has long been a trademark of the proud South Plainfield program.
“You look at him (Walsh) and you know he’s going to be a cradler. He’s built very similar to the Huxford family,” said Gottesman, referring to Zach Huxford and Alec Huxford, who both wrestled for Jackson Memorial in recent years and, like Walsh, were both tall and lanky. “You just know that’s what’s going to come.”
Baker avoided being cradled for more than a minute in the second period after Walsh recorded the first takedown of the match. After Walsh chose top at the start of the third period, Baker was able to escape in 22 seconds. He then avoided being cradled over the last 47.9 seconds after Walsh scored his second takedown. Baker wisely gave up a stalling point in the final seconds.
“He did a very good job of battling and doing what he had to do for the team to win for the team, not win for himself,” Gottesman said.
Jackson Memorial did an excellent job at wrestling as a team against the Tigers, who were the NJSIAA Group III champions the last two seasons and the No. 1 ranked team in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20 Poll last season.
South Plainfield is not the powerhouse it has been in recent years because the “Murderer’s Row” portion of its lineup, led by four-time unbeaten-for-his-career state champion Anthony Ashnault, graduated after last season. However, the Tigers are still a solid team and entered the match ranked No. 16 in the NJWWA Top 20.
In a throwback-type match to another era, the Jaguars (8-1), who are not the powerhouse in recent years but still a solid team, did not give up one bonus point in the seven bouts they lost. There were just two bonus points in the match. Jackson Memorial’s Connor Bohringer (182) and Ken Bradley (195) both won by major decision. Both teams were penalized a team point for unsportsmanlike conduct after bouts. South Plainfield’s penalty came after 170. Jackson Memorial’s penalty came after 195.
A key for the Jaguars was they held the Tigers’ Daniel Hedden (126), the District 12 champion at 113 last year, Ray Jazikoff (145), the District 12 runner-up at 120 last year, Inan Sikel (152), the Region III third-place finisher at 160 last year, Jordan Handwerger (160), the District 12 runner-up at 170 last year, and Walsh to decisions.
“Whenever you could limit the damage, it at least gives you a shot to win,” Gottesman said.
Jackson Memorial also got a key win at heavyweight as Austin Ostrander escaped in the first portion of the second overtime and then rode Luke Avelar out in the second portion of the second overtime to record a 2-1 win.
“We knew this was going to be a dogfight, but it was a fight we thought we had a chance to win,” Gottesman said. “As we say, we need to put 14 kids on the mat who all wrestle their best. When they do that, we will be a very competitive team. We’re getting closer and closer to that.”
Close was the name of the game during the tri-meet that also involved a solid Wall team. Jackson Memorial edged the Crimson Knights, 28-26, on a 9-0 major decision win by Austin Clark (126) in the final bout. Wall had grabbed the lead with consecutive wins by Denzel Tovar (113), the Region VI third-place finisher at 106 last year, and Joe Demuner (120).
South Plainfield recorded a 30-27 win over Wall as a Hedden pin in the next-to-last bout gave the Tigers a 30-24 lead. Kyle Bythell (132) then held Chad McClelland to a 4-2 decision in the final bout.