While the East Jackson baseball team would have picked a better ending to its series with Stephens County, the Eagles had plenty to feel energized about following a three-game region set with the Indians.
East Jackson (5-14, 2-7 Region 8-AAA) took two of three from Stephens County to win a region series for the first time this year.
“It was big,” coach Scott Myers said. “We’re young. We’re really young. We’ve got three seniors, and one junior, so, we’re just trying to plug away and see what we can do.”
The team will break from the region schedule with a Wednesday (April 7, 5:30 p.m) non-region home game with Rabun County. But with its series win against Stephens County, the Eagles sit in fourth-place in 8-AAA over the Indians, holding the tiebreaker between the two teams. The top four teams qualify out of the region for the state tournament.
East Jackson, Stephens County and Monroe Area are all battling for the No. 4 seed. The Eagles play Monroe Area next week in a critical region series concerning that state playoff spot.
“That’s the goal every year,” Myers said of trying to qualify for the playoffs. “It doesn’t change. We’ve just got to keep plugging away.”
The team certainly put itself back in the playoff conversation with last week’s series with Stephens County.
The Eagles, who had entered the three-game set with an 11-game losing streak, opened with a 5-4 road win last Tuesday (March 30) before splitting a home doubleheader Friday (April 2), winning the first game 7-6 before losing the nightcap 12-1 in five innings.
East Jackson rallied for wins over Stephens County in each of the first two games of the series. The Eagles trailed 3-1 in the series opener and 5-1 in the first game of Friday’s twin bill.
“We’re just going to have to keep fighting and try to stay positive, and as much as we can teach these guys to always compete,” Myers said of those rallies. “With baseball, you never know. One hit leads to two hits, which leads to four hits, and so on.”
In last Tuesday’s (March 30) opener, Gavin Beck went 2-for-4 to lead the Eagles. Dylan Varner went the distance on the mound, allowing five hits and four runs (three earned) without issuing a walk and striking out three batters.
East Jackson, after trailing 3-1 in the first inning, jumped ahead with four third-inning runs and never relinquished the lead.
Payton Garner and Beck started the inning off with a pair of singles. Garner pulled the Eagles within a run, 3-2, after scoring from third on a wild pitch. Randy Smith tied the game 3-3 with an RBI sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Beck from third. East Jackson then cashed in on a Stephens County miscue with Tristen Pressley and Aiden Holley scoring on an error on a pop fly, putting the Eagles ahead 5-3.
Stephens County got a run back in the bottom of the sixth, but Varner only allowed one baserunner after that in closing out the win.
In the first game of Friday’s (April 2) doubleheader, East Jackson trailed 5-1 entering the bottom of the fourth inning before tying the game with four runs. Justyn Jacobs drew a bases-loaded walk, Garner brought home Braxton Standridge with a sac fly, Anthony Carpenter scored on a wild pitch and Jacobs later scored on an error.
After falling behind 6-5 in the fifth inning, the Eagles rallied again with an RBI single from Standridge to score Randy Smith, and a sac fly from Jacobs to score Standridge.
Bradyn Redding held the Indians off the scoreboard in the sixth inning, as did Aiden Holley in the seventh inning as the Eagles secured the win.
Standridge finished 3-for-3 with an RBI, while Varner was 2-for-3 with an RBI.
In the 12-1 loss to close Friday’s (April 2) doubleheader, the Eagles fell behind 12-0 after three innings and were limited to three hits by Stephens County starter Cruz Mullinax, who struck out out 12 batters and just walked one. The Eagles had knocked Mullinax out of Tuesday’s game in three innings, but the Indians’ starter thrived on Friday night.
“We’ve got to swing it better,” Myers said. “Even though that kid was on tonight, we’ve got to swing it better. We’ve got to get better offensively, but we’re still learning. We’re still young.”