THROUGH six games, Jackson County’s usually reliable bats have the Panthers mired in an early-season slump.
The Jackson County baseball team — which has scored just nine runs so far this year — dropped to 1-5 Monday with a 6-0 loss to Class AAAA Madison County in the Panthers’ final non-region contest of the season.
The team got a solid start out of senior John Fernandez but couldn’t string together enough hits — especially timely ones — in the loss to the Region 8-AAAA foe.
“We’re still not hitting the ball,” coach Tommy Fountain said. “At this point, I really don’t have an explanation for it. We’re taking way too many fastballs and getting ourselves behind and then we’re taking strikes for third strikes over and over again with guys in scoring position.”
Jackson County was limited to three hits in the loss. Trey Sorrells doubled and Jalen Banks and Josh Andrews had infield singles.
Madison County led 2-0 for most of the game, then broke the game open with three scores in the top of the fifth and another in the sixth.
Fernandez started and pitched four and two-thirds innings before exiting in the fifth with Jackson County down 2-0.
“From a positive standpoint tonight, John Fernandez did a great job,” Fountain said. “He’s a senior. (He) hadn’t had a chance to throw a lot of innings.”
Fountain noted that Billy Manis and Kolin Zimmer also had solid relief performances and said that the team’s pitching seems to be its strong suit now, something of a departure from past Panther teams.
“So if we can start stringing some hits together, we might can do some damage,” Fountain said.
Jackson County hopes to start doing that damage in the next few games. The Panthers, who are 1-2 in 8-AA South play, have subregion contests against North Oconee (today), East Jackson (Friday) and Jefferson (Monday). All are at home. Fountain calls these games “huge.”
“Now we’re sitting in a situation where these next three games are going to give us a lead early in the region or put us where we’ve got to play catch-up,” Fountain said.
The coach said this team has the potential to turn things around.
“If we’ve learned anything this year, when we play like we’re capable of, we’ll have a chance against anybody,” Fountain said. “Now, it’s time to go make those things happen.”
Prior to the Madison County loss, Jackson County was coming off a 3-2 loss to Class AA’s no. 10 team, Hart County, Friday on the road.
The Bulldogs scored three unanswered runs to hand the Panthers their second subregion loss.
Jackson County led 2-0 for the majority of the game, but Hart County pushed across a run in the bottom of the fifth and two more in the sixth.
Panther pitcher Jalen Banks didn’t give up a hit until the fourth inning but took the loss. Banks threw five and one-third innings.
Offensively, Austin Robinson had two hits and an RBI, while Andy Williams and Manis both had doubles. Tony Holton and Quin Grogan each had hits.
Grogan singled home the Panthers’ first run in the first inning, followed in the second inning by Robinson, who singled home Manis.
“We out-hit Hart 6-4 and Banks showed he belonged,” Fountain said. “Unfortunately, we gift wrapped them a run in the fifth inning, and then couldn’t get a break with the bases loaded in the top of the fifth.”
Fountain noted some things on the coaching end that he might have done differently.
“I think I probably could have gotten us another run or two by playing a little more small ball, and I think I left Jalen in one batter two long,” he said. “I hate it for the guys, because it was a game we should have won, and I probably didn’t do the best job I could have done managing the game.”
Fountain noted that his team fared well against Hart County’s no. 1 and no. 2 pitchers and had a chance to blow the game open in the fourth inning.
“Unfortunately, we hit it hard right at somebody and they made a great play,” he said. “If we can get pitching performances like Jalen and Austin gave us, we’ll have a chance to win every game we play.”
Before the Hart County loss, Jackson County downed Oglethorpe County 3-1 Wednesday on the road for its first win of the year.
Robinson (1-0) picked up the win for Jackson County, throwing a complete-game, five-hitter. Jackson County also committed no errors.
Grogan, Robinson, Williams, Troy McIntyre and Kelly Moates all had hits for the Panthers, while Hunter Newman provided a pinch-hit RBI.
“It was good to get a win on the board against a good Oglethorpe County team,” Fountain said. “They turned around and beat East Jackson 14-4 on Thursday, so for Austin to shut them down the way he did was impressive.”