JACKSON County enjoyed a milestone victory Saturday in the 8-AAA softball finals with more milestone victories to come possibly as the postseason continues.
The Panthers (17-15-1) beat Franklin County 3-1 Saturday to take the rubber game in the best-of-three championship series and claim the 8-AAA title trophy.
State tournament play begins this week. This is the program’s first trip to state since 2009.
“This means so much,” said Jackson County senior Victoria Fontana, who was on the last Jackson County team to go to state. “We went to state freshman year and ever since then we’ve been struggling, doing it with these girls. We’re so much of a family, it feels really great.”
The Panthers face a double header today (Wednesday) against Cartersville in the first round of the state tournament, starting at 4:30 p.m. Game three is Thursday at 4:30 p.m. if needed. Jackson County is at home for the first two rounds.
Peyton Sorrells threw six strong innings, scattering six hits in picking up the win on Saturday. Shelton Kendrix worked a perfect seventh inning to close the game out. Jackson County backed-up its pitchers by playing error-free softball in the field.
“We held it together,” Fontana said. “Peyton did a great job pitching and Shelton coming in as relief. Our defense was tight. Our hitting was great. We were up in the dugout. We just never let each other get down.”
Jackson County coach Chessie Laird now has a region title in only her second year as Panther head coach. She praised the defense’s role in the win.
“Our defense was lights-out today (Saturday),” Laird said. “The beginning of the game, I put something in the back of their minds. I said we need to play as hard as we can go. I need everything you’ve got. Our defense was amazing.”
It was Fontana who drove home Jackson County’s first run, beating out a two-out grounder in the bottom of the third that allowed Victoria Woods to score from third.
The Panthers then added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. Madi Pecht scored a run off an error and Mason Garland singled home Fontana to give Jackson County a 3-0 lead.
Franklin County (22-10) pushed across its only run in the top of the sixth when Taylor Waldrup picked up an RBI single.
But Jackson County got out of the inning without any further damage and turned the game over to Kendrix in the final inning.
The Panthers won the region title despite losing their top two pitchers from last year and their top hitter.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Laird said. “We definitely had our ups and downs from the end of the summer to the beginning of the season. We’ve just done a really great job. These girls have just taken every obstacle that came upon them and used that to help them dig deeper and give everything they can.”
The Panthers have now won 14 of their last 20 games. Jackson County hopes to continue that level of play at the Class AAA tournament.
The team is certainly excited to be there.
“It’s very overwhelming,” Fontana said. “It’s taking a little bit to sink in but coming Wednesday, we’re ready to face anything. We have the ability to go far.”
Offensive leaders for the region tournament were Jessica Baker (9-for-16, seven singles, double, home run, three RBIs, one run), Alyssa Dasher (5-for-16, stolen base, two RBIs, five runs), Fontana (5-for-19 two walks, six RBIs, four runs), Garland (4-for-17, two walks, three runs scored, two RBIs). Kendrix (6-for-19, walk, four RBIs, run), Andrea Ledford (4-for-13, double, two RBIs, two runs), Pecht (7-for-18, walk, stolen base, two RBIs, six runs), Cassie Satterfield (1-for-4, one run), Sorrells (7-for-16, walk, double, two RBIs, run), Kaley Tanner (three runs) and Woods (4-for-10, two doubles, walk, two RBIs, two runs).
From the pitchers’ circle, Baker picked up two wins. She faced 68 batters, gave up eight runs (five earned), 15 hits and had 7 strikeouts. Kendrix earned one save. She faced six batters, surrendering no hits or runs and had one strikeout. Sorrells had a win and a loss.
She faced 52 batters, giving up four runs (four earned), 11 hits and had 1 strikeout.
•JCCHS SPLITS FIRST TWO GAMES WITH FRANKLIN: Using a six-run sixth inning, Jackson County won game two of the Region 8-AAA championship series over Franklin County, 12-4, Thursday to force a game three.
Playing at West Jackson Park, Jackson County dropped the series opener 3-2, but rebounded in the nightcap by bringing 11 batters to the plate in the sixth inning, pounding out seven hits and pushing across six runs to break a 3-3 tie. Jackson County got RBIs from Andrea Ledford, Alyssa Dasher, Madi Pecht, Victoria Fontana, Shelton Kendrix and Jessica Baker in the pivotal inning.
“We would be very happy if we could do that consistently throughout the whole game,” Laird said. “It would have been very easy for us to give up in that second game. For them to come back and really dig deep and get the bats going … to be able to do that in a pressure situation, that’s a good job for our girls.”
Up 9-3 in the top seventh, Jackson County added three more insurance scores, highlighted by a two-run single by Shelton Kendrix.
Jessica Baker threw six innings for the victory. Kendrix pitched an inning of relief in the seventh inning.
The Panthers lost the opening game to the Lions, 3-2.
Franklin County got an RBI single and RBI double in the first inning — both with two outs — to take a 2-0 lead.
Franklin County added an insurance run in the top of the third to take a 3-0 edge.
Jackson County didn’t get on the scoreboard until the bottom of the fifth when two runs scored off an infield hit from Fontana.
•PANTHERS OPEN REGION TOURNEY WITH WINS: The third-seeded Panthers beat sixth-seed Elbert County and second-seed Morgan County Wednesday at West Jackson Park to secure a spot in the state tournament and advance to the region championship.
“These girls, they don’t let up,” Laird said on Wednesday night. “We’ve been working so hard. We’ve played a very tough schedule. We’ve done all we can to put us where we want to be.”
It was certainly an eventful first day at the region tournament for Jackson County.
The Panthers beat Elbert County 7-5 with a walk-off home run by Jessica Baker in the opening round.
Baker then threw seven innings and earned the win as Jackson County beat Morgan County 6-4 in the second round. The Bulldogs put runners at second and third and brought the winning run to the plate but Baker picked up a strikeout to end the game.
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