THE JACKSON County baseball team is headed to the beach. Well, sort of.
The Panthers, coming off a 19-9 season, will make a six-hour, nearly 400 mile trek this weekend to Pensacola, Fla. to play in a summer baseball tournament hosted by Pensacola Catholic High School.
“For our guys, it’s an opportunity to get away, and it’s an opportunity to play some pretty high-level competition,” said coach Tommy Fountain, who added that the team would get in a little beach time as well between games.
This is the second-straight year the team has made the Florida trip. While down in Pensacola, Jackson County will face Auburn (Ala.) High School, Parkview (Ga.), Pine Forest (Fla.) and Washington High School (Fla.).
June has been a busy month for the Panthers, who are playing six to seven games a week, and several players have put the time to good use.
Ty Smith, who transferred to Jackson County last year from East Jackson, has enjoyed the strongest summer offensively after the Panthers lost five of their top bats out of last year’s lineup.
“It’s been a work in progress offensively, but Ty has been one of the guys who has stood out,” Fountain said.
Defensively, Brett Bowen, who normally plays third base, is logging a lot more time at short stop since Chris Griggs, a short stop last year, is being called on more to pitch this year. On the right side of the infield, Tyler Sartain is settling in at second base. In the outfield, Travis Vickers has taken over in centerfield for Nick Corso, who graduted, but the corner outfield spots are still up for grabs.
On the mound, Fountain said Jase Latty “has been kind of the highlight of what we’ve seen this summer,” while Max Wilson has enjoyed a break-out summer of sorts with some of his performances. In particular, Wilson has developed an effective change up.
“He’s really, this summer, put himself in a spot where we’ll use him a lot on the mound this coming spring,” Fountain said of the rising senior.
Fountain said he’s pleased with how his team has played defense, pitched and developed depth on the pitching staff. But he said the offense, which is without Joel Ellis (labrum and rotator cuff surgery), is still lacking.
“We should be better offensively than we are right now,” Fountain said.
The Panthers hope to start changing that as the summer slate wraps up. After returning from the Pensacola tournament, the team closes with the Jackson County Shootout (June 26-28).
But for now, the Panthers are looking forward to their trip to Florida.
“It’s kind of a good way to face good competition and have a little fun in the process,” Fountain said.
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