WHEN Jackson County baseball coach Tommy Fountain took over the program in 2008, he knew doubt existed outside the program regarding its long-term success.
Seven seasons later, the Panthers have done plenty to silence those doubters, and Fountain praises this year’s senior class for that.
“When I took this job, I had a lot of people tell me, ‘you can’t do what you want to do at Jackson County … if you win there it’s a miracle’ and all this kind of stuff,” Fountain said. “And I just didn’t believe that, and this group of kids is a group that didn’t believe that. They’ve bought into what we do, and I’m proud of them.”
Here’s the résumé of this year’s seniors: three straight winning campaigns, three consecutive years of at least 16 wins, back-to-back state tournament berths for the first time in school history, and 19 wins this season, a school record.
One of those seniors, Andrew Fogarty, calls the strides of the past few seasons “a great accomplishment.”
“We’ve worked from day one,” he said of he and his fellow seniors.
“We’ve bonded. We’ve bought into the program, and we’re just doing everything we can to win. We’re just battling out there.”
Fogarty and this senior class can lay claim to another distinction: the first to play in the program from middle school all the way through high school under Fountain and his staff. That continuity appears to have paid significant dividends.
“I think that says a lot about that program and how important it is to what we do,” Fountain said. “You can’t say enough about that, and they’ve come a long way. I think winning breeds winning.”
And with 64 wins, this senior class is the winningest in school history. But with the way the program has progressed this class might not hold that distinction for long.
“We jokingly told them as we were doing the senior recognition, we said ‘yeah, you’ll be the winningest class until next year,’” Fountain said. “That’s kind of the goal, to have each class pass it to the next. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The next step for the program is to win a state playoff series, which the Panthers have a chance to do this weekend on the road against Atlanta-area private school, Blessed Trinity (19-7), the no. 1 seed out of Region 6-AAA. Jackson County faces the Titans at their turf field for a Friday doubleheader (4:30 p.m.) and then again for a single game Saturday (1 p.m.) if necessary.
“They’re a really solid ball team,” Fogarty said. “We’re pretty excited to be playing on a turf field. It’s going to be really cool, but it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before. We’ve seen Pike (County), we’ve seen Brookstone, we’ve seen Eastside, we’ve seen the best teams around. We’re not scared of them. We’re going to go at them with everything we’ve got, and not hold anything back.”
Of course, whenever the season does end, it’s going to be hard for Jackson County to part with this senior class, Fountain said. While the program has plenty of young talent waiting in the wings, the coach doesn’t want to say goodbye to this senior group, yet.
“That means we want to keep rolling as long as we can. We don’t want this thing to end (this) week,” he said. “We want to keep going.”
Jackson Co. vs. Blessed Trinity
•Blessed Trinity’s record: 19-7 (12-1 Region 6-AAA)
•Fountain’s comments on Blessed Trinity
— General thoughts:
“They’re going to be very sound. They’re Blessed Trinity. And they swing it. They are hammering the baseball.”
— On the Titans turf field (for which the team used Buford’s turf facilities to prepare):
“At the end of the day, it’ baseball. Whether you play it on concrete, whether you play it out here. We’ve played on a lot of different types of surfaces. Everything we’ve heard is that you get truer bounces. Balls that are down, stay down. Balls that bounce, keep bouncing.”
— On what it takes to win:
“If our guys are on (pitching well) on the mound, then we have a chance to beat anybody. So if we have them all on (pitcing well) on the same weekend, then we’ll make some noise and see what happens.”
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