Jackson County Comprehensive High School dropped a close game Monday to North Oconee, after sweeping two region opponents in four games.
The Panthers (11-7, 5-2 in 8-AAA) remain in a strong position in the region standings but must be careful about dropping any more conference contests if it hopes to host in the first round of the state playoffs.
The team is scheduled to meet the Titans again Wednesday and then takes on Franklin County, East Jackson and Hart County.
All of the region teams are playing back-to-back series against one another with just a day or two in between. JCCHS coach Tommy Fountain likes the schedule setup, especially down the home stretch.
There is no hiding from it, he said. Well-rounded teams with pitching depth stand a better chance, making the contests fairer overall.
“I am a big proponent of playing the two-game series,” Fountain said. “It prevents teams from matching up their ace against you every time you play and really shows who has the most pitching depth. Plus, I believe it helps to prepare the region more for the state playoffs.”
The Panthers are hovering near the top of the standings and played like it against Elbert County (9-9, 1-6).
On Friday, the Panthers scored eight runs on eight hits to blank ECHS. Jase Latty and Chase Dunlap combined for the shutout, with Dunlap picking up the win.
Dunlap, who went two-for-four, Chandler Malecki (1-4, 2 RBI), Jacob Banks (2-4, 2 RBI) and Ben Brissey (1-4, 2 RBI) led the team at the plate.
The first game between the squads was last Wednesday. The Panthers won 4-2, with Coleman Barbee picking up the win and Casey Dunfee earning the save.
Brett Bowen (1-3) and Malecki (1-3, 1 RBI) and Colby Cole (1-2, 1 RBI) led the team in hitting.
A week earlier JCCHS had dispatched Morgan County 6-3 and 9-7 to move ahead of the pack in the region.
“To get the sweep against anybody in this region is important,” Fountain said. “To be able to do it two series in a row is huge. You can’t ask for anything more than your guys to respond on the road in a tough environment the way we did last night. Once again, it took us a couple of times through the lineup, but we made adjustments and the plate and our bats really got going … If we can manage to at least get a split (with North Oconee) and maintain our spot at the top of the region, we’ll be happy. North Oconee is a very good baseball team and it’s gonna be a dogfight every inning.”
JCCHS is scheduled to host Franklin County (8-11, 4-3) at 5:55 p.m. Friday and then travels to Carnesville on Monday.
The series will be followed with a series against East Jackson (2-14, 1-6), with the Panthers traveling to Nicholson first on April 17 and hosting the Eagles on April 19.
The management of pitchers will be key as the next two weeks of the regular season grind on, Fountain said, referring again to the back-to-back region schedule.
“You have to have three-to-four quality pitchers to win in this setup, which prepares you for the three-game series in the playoffs. It also makes you have to try and win one game at a time,” Fountain said. “If you start trying to save pitching for certain games and opponents, it can come back and bite you in the rear end and really mess up a week. With a team like us, where our pitching is so young, it is a concern on how their arms will handle the games down the stretch. But, I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job of protecting guys’ arms up to this point. We’ll just have to show up and play our best baseball and let the chips fall where they may.”