New Jackson County baseball coach Jonathan Gastley has said his Panther team likes to compete.
Well, this group is getting ample opportunity to do that in a demanding early-season slate.
The Jackson County baseball team, chock full of new starters, crammed six games into the first seven days of the season — all on the road — and emerged with a 5-1 record.
“They’re playing really well right now,” Gastley said. “But I always tell them, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. So what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to stay consistent on what we’re doing, and keep playing the way we’re playing.”
The Panthers were scheduled to play their seventh game in eight days on Tuesday, facing Central Gwinnett at home in the second game of a two-game series with the Class 7A program.
Jackson County won the first game of that series with the Black Knights, 17-6, on Monday in Lawrenceville. The Panthers rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the second inning in winning their third consecutive game.
“I told them there in the second inning, it’s just about catching and throwing, and we’ve just got to go out and play,” Gastley said. “They didn’t let a little bit of adversity like that bother them. That was a great positive that us as coaches wanted to see there. I felt like they did a good job coming back from that.”
A seven-run fourth inning marked the turning point as Jackson County regained the lead at 9-5 and never looked back.
Chris Griggs (3-for-5), Reed Drake (3-for-6) and Mason Williams (2-for-4) drove in three runs each to lead the Panthers, who finished with 15 hits.
Starting pitcher Logan Youngblood gave up five runs in the first two innings (two were earned) but rebounded to earn the win, throwing shutout innings in the third and fourth. Youngblood allowed three hits in four innings of work, striking out four.
Conner Meyers came on and worked the final three frames, allowing one run and two hits while striking out one.
Gastley praised the chemistry on the team and the contributions being made throughout the roster, from the team leaders to the reserves.
“They’re stepping up; they’re competing,” Gastley said. “I just think top to bottom just the way they’re playing and the way they’re encouraging each other and doing the little things the right way says a lot about this whole group.”
Here’s a rundown of the five games leading into Monday night’s win over Central Gwinnett:
•JACKSON CO. 5, CHESTATEE 0 (TUESDAY, FEB. 14): The Panthers opened the Jonathan Gastley era last Tuesday with a 5-0 win over Chestatee on the road. Tyler Barber, Tanner Crump and Caleb Mathews combined to throw a five-hit shutout. Barber earned the win. Jackson County managed its five runs off just three hits.
•JACKSON CO. 11, NORTH OCONEE 5 (WEDNESDAY, FEB. 15): On the strength of an eight-run third inning, the Panthers beat North Oconee 11-5 on the road. Griggs spearheaded the offensive effort, going 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs. Elijah Butler went 2-for-5. Griggs struck out 10 batters over five innings to earn the win. He allowed five runs (four earned) and six hits.
•ATHENS CHRISTIAN 2, JACKSON CO. 0 (FRIDAY, FEB. 17): In their first loss of the year, the Panthers were limited to three hits in a 2-0 defeat at Athens Christian. Conner Meyers and Grey Akins threw three innings each, surrendering no earned runs and limiting the Eagle lineup to just three hits. Meyers took the loss.
•JACKSON CO. 12, PEACH COUNTY 2 (SATURDAY, FEB. 18): Jackson County homered four times against Peach County in a 12-2 thrashing Saturday in Carrollton. Those going deep were Mathews (2-for-3, four RBIs), Griggs (3-for-5, three RBIs), Kyle Maxwell (1-for-3, RBI) and Butler (1-for-5, RBI). Others contributing at the plate were Williams (2-for-4), Akins (2-for-3) and Youngblood (2-for-3). Jackson County finished with 17 hits. Griggs picked up the win, allowing two runs (both earned) and six hits with one strikeout over three innings.
•JACKSON CO. 6, CENTRAL-CARROLLTON 1 (SATURDAY, FEB. 18): The Panthers pounded out 16 hits in a 6-1 victory over Central-Carrollton in Carrollton. Williams enjoyed a 3-for-4 day at the plate with two RBIs. Wyatt Otto went 3-for-3. Barber earned the win, striking out nine over six innings. He allowed just one hit and one run.