JACKSON County would have preferred the year end under different circumstances, but it finished with a win nonetheless.
Playing in the Region 8-AA’s consolation postseason, Jackson County beat Banks County 11-5 Thursday to close an 11-14 campaign.
Jackson County had hoped to finish the year in at least the 8-AA playoffs but will use the victory over the Leopards as fuel heading into the offseason.
Coach Tommy Fountain noted that his team finished the year 9-7 after a slow 2-7 start.
“It was nice to go out with a win,” Fountain said. “That kind of sets the tone for the offseason. I told the guys after the last game that we started the season 1-5 through our first six games and 2-7 through our first nine games. They had forgotten that. We could have simply shut down shop at that point, but we won the next four out of six and got ourselves right back in the thick of things. Unfortunately, I think we kind of ran out of gas, having to work so hard to get ourselves back where we needed to be.”
Against Banks County, Matt Bridgeman pitched two and one-third innings for the victory, striking out five batters.
John Fernandez actually started and threw two innings, giving way to Jalen Banks in the third. Banks recorded two outs but walked the bases loaded and was pulled in favor of Bridgeman.
John Florentine made his second mound appearance of the year, pitching the sixth. Kolin Zimmer finished the game off, recording three outs in the seventh as Jackson County finished the consolation portion of the schedule 3-1.
“We decided before the game to get Fernandez, Banks, Bridgeman and Florentine innings on the mound,” Fountain said. “Florentine was our top pitcher as a sophomore, but did not pitch much last year due to some arm issues. He worked some on the mound this offseason, but we didn’t get to use him much, so it was fun to get to see him go out on the mound in his last game. “
Fountain also pointed to the solid pitching efforts of both Fernandez and Bridgeman in the season finale.
“Fernandez and Bridgeman were their normal selves,” he said. “Fernandez pitched to contact and threw a lot of strikes. Bridgeman, as he’s done all year, came on in a tough situation and got us out of it.”
Fountain also said Zimmer pitched well for the third straight outing, surrendering just one run in the seventh after entering the game with two runners on and no outs.
Offensively, Jackson County “swung the bat pretty well,” Fountain said, as his team scored 11 runs on 10 hits.
Trey Sorrells belted a two-run homer and had three RBIs. Others with multi-hit games were Tony Holton (two hits, double, two runs, RBI), Andy Williams (two hits, double, three runs) and Austin Robinson (two hits, one run, RBI). Troy McIntyre also had an RBI single.
Fountain said his team will have to be much more consistent next season in all phases of the game.
“We had moments where we looked like world-beaters on the mound, at the plate, and defensively,” he said. “But, we also had moments where we didn’t look so good. Baseball is a long season and can sometimes be a roller coaster, so you’ve got to be consistent in everything that you do. Emotionally, physically, mentally, you’ve got to be consistent.”
Fountain said that’s the difference between teams that play on into May and those who pack up their gear in April.
“It’s a process and we had moments this year where we showed we finally had it figured out ... just not enough of them to get where we wanted to get,” Fountain said.
Though Jackson County failed to reach its goal of qualifying for the region playoffs, the season had its merits, Fountain said.
“We didn’t quite get there, but we still managed to win the most region games we’ve won since I’ve been here,” he said. “To tie for fourth place in our ridiculously tough subregion and battle for a playoff position for 18 games will only help this group of returning guys. Our goal next year will once again be to find a spot in the playoffs. Elbert County, Jefferson, and North Oconee return a lot of guys, so it’s not going to get any easier. But, we believe that we’ve got the talent returning, with a pretty strong senior class, to get it done next spring.”