WITH Jackson County having beaten East Jackson overwhelmingly in each of the first three meetings, coach Panther Tommy Fountain knew the dangers in trying to win yet a fourth game this year over the Eagles.
In fact, he even noticed one bad-luck omen prior to his team’s 12-5 loss to East Jackson Tuesday.
“I think there was a letdown,” said Fountain, whose team won the three previous meetings by a combined 40-10. “My wife even told me before I left this morning that she wasn’t going to come today because she’d been at the first three. If my wife has that opinion, I’m sure it’s in a bunch of teenaged guys’ heads.”
With a season-sweep of East Jackson squandered after Tuesday’s loss and .500 finish overall now unattainable, the Panthers (10-14) will look for other motivational factors heading into Friday’s season finale – a double header at home against Banks County. Mostly pride.
“It’s the last game of the season,” Fountain said. “We need to go out on a high note and get to 12 wins. Friday is going to either leave a sour taste in our mouth or a sweet taste in our mouth, and we’ll make sure the guys understand that and come prepared to play.”
Against East Jackson, Jackson County led 2-0 after the top of the first inning, but East Jackson scored the next seven runs en route to the win.
The Panthers threw four different pitchers while the Eagles’ Sam Williamson threw a complete game.
“The Williamson kid did a good job on the mound and kept us at bay at the plate,” Fountain said.
Jackson County cut East Jackson’s lead to 7-4 in the fifth, but East Jackson posted five scores in the bottom half of the inning to finish off the Panthers.
Trey Sorrells had two hits and two RBIs for Jackson County, while Austin Robinson and Quinn Grogan had RBI singles.
Fountain said it was disappointing to not complete the sweep of East Jackson. The first three came during the regular season and carried postseason implications for Jackson County. This final meeting was to merely fill out the schedule during the consolation rounds of the Region 8-AA postseason. Neither Jackson County or East Jackson made the region tournament.
“It’s still important,” Fountain said. “We’ve got to beat those guys every time we step on the field and play them. There’s no question about that. Ultimately, we didn’t get it done tonight (Tuesday).”
Jackson County was coming off a much better performance Friday – a 5-0 win over East Hall.
Kolin Zimmer threw a gem, pitching six and one-third innings, giving up three hits and striking out 12 in his first start of his Jackson County career.
“Enough can’t be said about how well Zimmer pitched,” Fountain said. “He’s been used out of the bullpen a lot this season, and this was his first start. He’s been working on a slower curve ball to go along with his fastball and hard slider. Friday, it was all working for him. He wanted to finish the game real bad, but he kind of ran into a wall in the seventh and was laboring.”
Tyler Kropp entered with two runners on in the seventh and closed the game out, forcing a ground out and then recording a strikeout. This was only his third appearance of the season.”
“Tyler Kropp came in and got the job done,” Fountain said.
Offensively, Jackson County struggled until late in the game when it scored all five of its runs in the fifth inning. The Panthers finished with four hits.
Tony Holton, Chase Dunlap and Sorrells all had one hit each and contributed RBIs in the pivotal fifth inning. Holton also stole home to give Jackson County its fifth run of the game.
Defensively, the Panthers backed up Zimmer with a standout performance, committing just one error.
Jackson County was able to play each of its position players in the game, “which was a bonus,” Fountain said. “It was also nice to see Zimmer and Kropp do well on the mound, because they’ll be back next year as seniors and we need them to both to step into an even bigger role on the mound.”
Fountain noted that he’s trying to get many of the Panthers’ other returning arms on the mound in this final stretch, which started with a 7-3 victory over Oglethorpe County last Wednesday (April 20).
“Austin Robinson and Jalen Banks did a great job holding Oglethorpe to three runs on Wednesday, and then Zimmer and Kropp stepped in up another notch on Friday,” Fountain said. “This last week, we’ll try to balance getting our returning guys plenty of innings on the mound, while giving our two senior pitchers – John Fernandez and Matt Bridgeman – a chance to go out on a high note.”