LAST YEAR’S appearance in the state playoffs broke a 30-year postseason drought for the Jackson County baseball program. This year’s Panthers wasted no time securing a return visit to the state playoffs.
Jackson County (18-6, 9-4) beat Hart County 4-2 Monday to clinch a spot in the Class AAA playoffs for the second-consecutive year. The Panthers followed up that victory with a 4-1 win over East Jackson Tuesday.
“It’s pretty good,” Jackson County senior outfielder Ben Brissey said of getting back to state. “I’m excited for all the guys. Some of the new kids, they get to experience what being at the varsity level is like. Playing in the playoffs, no matter what seed you’re in, you’ve got to be happy where you go.”
Coleman Barbee threw a complete game Monday, and Patrick Overstreet went 2-for-3 with a homer, two RBIs and two runs scored as Jackson County recorded its school-record 17th victory of the year.
Barbee — who earned the win last year when the Panthers clinched a playoff berth against Hart County — allowed seven hits, two runs (both earned) and five walks while striking out six. In addition to Overstreet, Joel Ellis had a big night offensively, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Andrew Fogarty also drove in a run, going 1-for-3 with an RBI. Chris Griggs, Brett Bowen and Nick Corso each had one hit for the Panthers.
With Jackson County trailing 2-1 in the third inning, Overstreet crushed a two-run shot to put the Panthers ahead 3-2. It was Overstreet’s eighth homer of the year.
Overstreet, who transferred to Jackson County from Winder-Barrow for his senior season, said beating Hart County — which entered the game in first place — to earn a playoff spot was big.
“Knowing they’re the no. 1 team in the region, it feels good, definitely, to clinch against them,” Overstreet said. “We’ve just got to come back Wednesday and hopefully get the sweep and maybe move us up in the rankings.”
Jackson County closes its region slate today (Wednesday) in a rematch at Hart County. The Panthers are still shooting for the no. 2 seed out of Region 8-AAA but are at least assured a spot at state now.
“It’s a breath of fresh air; it’s kind of like you take a deep breath,” Jackson County coach Tommy Fountain said of clinching. “By the same token, that’s not where we want to be. We feel like if we can get a good seed out of this thing, then we’ve got the parts to even make a little bit of a run for a couple of rounds (in the state tournament).”
Fountain points out, however, that the path is much tougher with a low seed so the Panthers very much need to secure that no. 2 spot out of the region.
What’s more, earning a no. 2 seed would insure Jackson County’s seniors of playing at least one playoff game in front of their fans.
“That would be pretty good if, our senior year, we get to host a playoff game and all the kids in the school come out and watch us,” Brissey said. “That would be pretty nice.”
Panthers sweep rival Eagles
JACKSON County avoided a letdown following its big, playoff-clinching victory over Hart County Monday, beating East Jackson 4-1 Tuesday.
“We knew we had a job to get done and we got it done,” Panther coach Tommy Fountain said.
Nick Corso went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and two steals, while Joel Ellis was 1-for-3 with two RBIs and Jacob Banks was 1-for-3 with an RBI. Both Patrick Overstreet and Ben Brissey were 1-for-3 with a double and run scored.
Jackson County used three pitchers in the victory. Jase Latty (3-0) worked the first four innings to earn the win, allowing five hits while striking out two. Overstreet threw two innings, allowing one hit and striking out four. Chris Griggs then worked the seventh, allowing two hits.
“It was a pretty good high school baseball game and we got out of there with a win,” Fountain said.
Jackson County beat the Eagles 6-0 last Wednesday (April 16) in the first matchup between the teams. The two were supposed to play again this past Friday, but the game was pushed back due to rain.
•JACKSON CO. 6, EAST JACKSON 0 (APRIL 16): Andrew Fogarty threw a complete game and struck out 11 as Jackson County downed cross-county rival East Jackson 6-0 last Wednesday at home.
“You’ll take a 6-0 win,” Fountain said. “They came to play. It’s a rivalry situation. Anytime you get into one of those situations, you throw records out the window.”
Forgarty (5-2) gave up only three hits and walked just one in picking up the win.
“Fogarty struck out a bunch of guys,” Fountain said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but when they got some runners on base, he got a couple of key strike outs.”
Corso went 3-for-3 with two singles and a double to lead Jackson County offensively. Colby Cole was 1-for-2 with a double, Cal Tolbert went 1-for-1 with an RBI single and Travis Vickers was 2-for-3.
Jackson County led 2-0 after four innings but added three insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth and one in the sixth.
“While I think we came out flat — and I thought we didn’t play as well as we could — you take it for what it is and you take the win,” Fountain said.
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