For one team, the playoff picture is too congested to study. For the other team, there is no playoff picture.
What that leaves is a two-game series against teams separated by less than 10 miles whose simple test is to win.
“I’ve kind of looked at scenarios, there are so many possibilities with everyone playing each other,” Jackson County coach Tommy Fountain said, alluding to his team being in a three-way tie for second place in region 8-AAA. “I know we have been saying it all year but we really have to take it one series at a time.”
That means handling East Jackson Comprehensive High School this week. The teams plan to meet in a game Wednesday at EJCHS (12-9, 6-4) and Thursday or Friday at JCCHS, depending on the weather.
For the 2-17 Eagles, the 2013 season has been a struggle. Head coach Matt Pruitt says a win against rival Jackson County would still prove invaluable to the morale of his team.
“You always want to beat your rival,” said Pruitt. “But it would mean a little more to us this year, given how we’ve struggled. Here at the tail end of the season, it would be good for our outlook finishing out the year and looking toward next year if we could take one or both from them.”
The Eagles fell to the Panthers in both contests last year, but Pruitt feels that his young Eagle team has the talent and work ethic to put together a winning effort – even if they are underdogs.
“I think our pitching has matched up well with most teams we’ve faced, and I expect that to be true in this series,” he said. “From what I’ve gathered, they’re young, but they scratch and claw and do what But in order to solve that formula, Pruitt will need strong performances from some of his key players.
Pruitt says he expects senior pitcher and centerfielder Austin Johnson to have a big impact in the Jackson County contests.
“Johnson has done a phenomenal job on the mound for us,” said Pruitt. “He’s been a little up and down with the bat, but he’s a critical part of our team, with his play and his leadership. I know it would mean a lot for him as a senior for us to get a win in this series.”
Pruitt also praised the recent performance of freshman Ty Smith.
While Pruitt originally wanted to ease Smith into the varsity level of play, he was forced into action as a starting catcher and at the heart of the Eagles’ batting lineup.
“He’s just tried to take all the instruction we’ve given him, work hard, and play ball,” Pruitt added. “There are always some growing pains with freshmen, especially freshmen catchers, but his have been about as you could expect. He’s done a great job for us this year. His future projects to be pretty bright if he approaches the game with the same good attitude and work ethic over the next three years.”
For Fountain’s team, there is little room for error with the three-way tie for second place including the Panthers, Franklin and Morgan county teams and Oconee and Hart counties right behind the pack.
“There is a chance we could clinch by Friday and there is a chance we could win out and not clinch until the last game,” Fountain said. “We just have to win and let the chips fall where they may.”