FANNIN COUNTY cued-up “Dixie” on its PA system every time it launched a home run Friday against Jefferson. By the end of the day, the tune was seemingly on repeat.
The top-seeded Rebels swatted six homers and piled up 28 runs in a Friday double header sweep – winning 11-4 and 17-14 – to take the best-of-three series from the young Dragons (9-13) and end Jefferson’s season in the first round of the region playoffs.
“I’m pleased with where we were,” Jefferson coach Tommy Knight said of the season overall. “From day one practice to where we’re at right now, it’s not the same group of kids.”
The Dragons managed to reach the region playoffs despite losing 11 seniors from last year. Jefferson goes into next season with a host of starters back as it tries to earn the state tournament berth that eluded it this year.
“I’m happy with the way we progressed and where we’re headed with this group,” Knight said. “So, yeah, it’s baby steps when you’ve got a young group, but I thought they did well and they handled themselves well. “We’re going to get better. Next year will be a different ball game.”
The final day of this season wasn’t without drama, though.
Down 15-4 in fifth inning of game two and in danger of being run-ruled, the Dragons posted a seven-run rally to stave off elimination temporarily. Then, trailing 17-11 in the bottom of the seventh (Jefferson played as the home team in game two), the Dragons scored twice and brought the tying run to the plate before Fannin County recorded the final out.
“We got way down, and the kids really showed some character and kept fighting and got themselves back in the ball game,” Knight said. “When the ball game ended, we had a chance to tie it and keep playing.”
Making the long trek to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Jefferson took a 1-0 lead over the unbeaten Rebels (15-0-1) in the first inning of game one with an RBI single from Drew Carson. But Fannin County grabbed a 2-1 edge with solo home runs in the bottom of the second and third innings, setting the tone for the day. The Rebels eventually built a 7-1 advantage heading into the fifth inning.
“They swing the bat well – probably the best hitting team we’ve seen all year by far really,” Knight said. “Our pitchers haven’t given up runs like that all year.”
Max Ford provided the Dragons with an offensive spark with a two-run homer in the top of the fifth to briefly reduce Fannin County’s to 7-3, but the Rebels scored four times in the bottom fifth to lock-up game one.
Fannin County wasted no time establishing itself offensively in game two. The Rebels’ Garrison Sisson led off with a homerun – the first of four in the nightcap – to ignite a five-run first inning for Fannin County.
With Jefferson down 5-1 in the bottom of the second, Jason Demos answered with a blast to left centerfield to cut the lead to 5-4, but Fannin County responded with 10 runs over the course of the third, fourth and fifth innings.
Turns out, the afternoon was just getting started.
Jefferson rallied furiously in the bottom of the fifth inning with RBIs from Drew Carson, Andrew Bartek, Austin Thompson, Andy Nicholas, Ford and two from Nathan Carson to turn a blowout into a 15-11 ball game, and Dragons remained in striking distance the rest of the way. With Jefferson down 17-11 in the final inning – and darkness setting in at a Fannin County field with no lights – Jesse Tallent delivered a two-out, two-run single and Demos followed with an RBI double to pull the Dragons within three runs.
But the Rebels survived by forcing a Kevin Ross fly out to end a wild game two. The teams combined for 31 runs in the nightcap.
“Those games are fun to watch but not a lot of fun to coach,” Knight said.
Now the focus is on 2012.
Jefferson goes into the offseason but with far less overhaul than it did a year ago when it had to replace 11 seniors.
“We’ve got just about everybody coming back,” Knight said. “We lose Nathan Carson and Jason Demos. We’ll miss them. But the kids we’ve got coming back, (for them) to get some experience in a game like this, that’s going to make us better for next year. It’s just all a growing process when you play ball games like that. I’m proud of them.”