JCCHS follows huge win with trouncing of East Jackson
THOUGH they had to play nearly the equivalent of two high school baseball games to get it, the Jackson County Panthers scored a huge 8-6 road win Friday in 13 innings over North Oconee.
Jalen Banks went 3-for-6 and supplied the go-ahead RBI in the top of the 13th to put Jackson County ahead 7-6 as the team knocked off another team ahead of it in the subregion standings.
“The good thing I think about the game the other night was that there were some opportunities, particularly late, where things didn’t go our way and we fought through it,” said coach Tommy Fountain, who pointed out that North Oconee had two chances to win the game in extra innings, but couldn’t push runs across.
Conversely, Jackson County’s Tuesday win over rival East Jackson lasted just five innings.
The Panthers – who have won four of their last five contests – pelted the Eagles with 10 runs in the first two innings and coasted to a 12-2 victory on the road over their in-county rivals. Jackson County has won its two games thus far with the Eagles 25-5.
Andy Williams went 2-for-2 with three runs scored and an RBI, while Quin Grogan was 2-for-2 with a double and an RBI. Adding to the hit parade were Jalen Banks, who was 1-for-2 with three RBIs, and Tony Holton, who went 1-for-2 with two runs and an RBI.
Jackson County scored six runs in the first inning and four more in the second.
“There was no doubt that first inning set the tone,” Fountain said.
The 10-0 lead allowed Jackson County to clear the bench and save some of their pitching arms. Fountain was able to pull Banks, who started on the mound, after just three innings of work.
The win over North Oconee Friday was much more taxing and dramatic.
Banks’ big hit in the 13th drove home Nick Corso, who pinch ran for Andy Williams after Williams reached base with a double. The Panthers then added an insurance run when John Florentine was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to give Jackson County a two-run edge heading into the bottom of the 13th.
“At that point, it was almost a war of attrition,” Fountain said.
Tony Holton had a huge offensive night, going 3-for-7 with a triple and two RBIs. Kelly Moates went 1-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs. Trey Sorrells had an RBI and a double.
North Oconee led 3-0 after one inning but Moates’ homer cut North Oconee’s lead to 3-2 and Holton’s triple tied the game at five.
The teams remained tied at five after seven innings.
On the mound, Matt Bridgeman pitched the final three innings – striking out five and allowing only one hit – to pick up the win.
“He really looked dominant,” Fountain said, noting that Bridgeman rebounded from a rough outing in his previous mound appearance.
Starting pitcher Austin Robinson turned out a marathon performance, throwing 10 innings and striking out 12 batters before giving way to Bridgeman. He allowed six hits and six runs (five of which were earned). Robinson was able to overcome a shaky first inning in which he served up a lead-off home run and surrendered two more scores.
“He settled down and kept getting stronger and really kind of put us on his shoulders and kept us in the ball game,” Fountain said.
The Panthers jumped ahead 6-5 in the top of the 10th inning with an RBI from Sorrells, but North Oconee tied the game in the bottom of the 10th after two Jackson County errors. Robinson, however, picked a runner off second and pitched the Panthers out of a jam to keep the game tied at the end of 10.
“That was huge,” Fountain said.
By the 13th inning, Jackson County was down to pitchers-only in the dugout.
“If we hadn’t scored right there, we would have been in some trouble,” Fountain said.
Fountain said his only other experience with a game of this length came while he was playing college baseball. He pointed out that Friday’s contest lasted so long that both the Jackson County soccer teams completed their games against North Oconee while the Panthers were still on the baseball diamond.
“It was crazy,” Fountain said. “It was dad gum near to four hours of baseball.”
With the victory over Titans, Jackson County has knocked off two of the top teams in the 8-AA South subregion – North Oconee and Elbert County.
This was a game Jackson County was confident it could win.
“We knew from the last time that we played them, that we could play with the guys,” Fountain said. “I think the first time we played them, it was tied up late and they had a few breaks go their way and we didn’t. I don’t think there was ever any confidence issue going into it.”
Including a game today (Wednesday) against Jefferson – weather permitting – the Panthers have seven games remaining in the regular season as the race for the four region tournament spots out of the 8-AA south division appears wide-open. Jackson County sits at fourth with a one-game lead over fifth-place Jefferson.
Fountain points to one major factor in determining who wins the subregion.
“I think the biggest thing from here on out is who has got the deepest pitching staff,” Fountain said.
That said, the coach believes “Elbert and Hart are sitting there with all kinds of arms.”
“And we’ve got more than we thought we did and its helped us it’s kind of evened the playing field some,” he said.
Jackson County is also hitting the ball better than it did earlier in the year with more players producing in the lineup, with Fountain mentioning players like Banks, Moates and Josh Andrews specifically.
“The good thing is that we’ve had some guys here recently that have stepped up that we felt like could help us but they hadn’t produced up to this point,” Fountain said. “And they’ve started producing and I think that has made the difference. We’re not just relying on two or three guys anymore.”