The 2013 season has been a struggle for the East Jackson baseball team, and heading into a two-game series with 12-9 Jackson County, things aren’t likely to get any easier for the Eagles.
While the 2-17 Eagles are not in the hunt for a region title, head coach Matt Pruitt says a win against rival Jackson County would still prove invaluable to the morale of his team.
“You always want to beat your rival,” said Pruitt. “But it would mean a little more to us this year, given how we’ve struggled. Here at the tail end of the season, it would be good for our outlook finishing out the year and looking toward next year if we could take one or both from them.”
As with all of its region opponents, East Jackson will play two back-to-back games against the Panthers – one today (Wednesday) at home, and one on Friday at Jackson County.
The Eagles fell to the Panthers in both contests last year, but Pruitt feels that his young Eagle team has the talent and work ethic to put together a winning effort – even if they are underdogs.
“I think our pitching has matched up well with most teams we’ve faced, and I expect that to be true in this series,” he said. “From what I’ve gathered, they’re young, but they scratch and claw and do what it takes to win. Coach Fountain obviously has them playing good ball, and I think they’ve had enough success at this point to where they expect to win, and that’s an important factor. I think the keys are the same as they are in any baseball game: the team that gets the best pitching, plays the best defense and minimizes mistakes will always have the edge. That’s always the winning formula, assuming you can put together a few runs to go with it.”
But in order to solve that formula, Pruitt will need strong performances from some of his key players.
Pruitt says he expects senior pitcher and centerfielder Austin Johnson to have a big impact in the Jackson County contests.
“Johnson has done a phenomenal job on the mound for us,” said Pruitt. “He’s been a little up and down with the bat, but he’s a critical part of our team, with his play and his leadership. I know it would mean a lot for him as a senior for us to get a win in this series.”
Pruitt also praised the recent performance of freshman Ty Smith.
While Pruitt originally wanted to ease Smith into the varsity level of play, he was forced into action as a starting catcher and at the heart of the Eagles’ batting lineup.
“He’s just tried to take all the instruction we’ve given him, work hard, and play ball,” Pruitt added. “There are always some growing pains with freshmen, especially freshmen catchers, but his have been about as you could expect. He’s done a great job for us this year. His future projects to be pretty bright if he approaches the game with the same good attitude and work ethic over the next three years.”
****UPDATE: The Panthers defeated the Eagles in their first matchup on Wednesday, 12-0.