Jackson County lost more games than it won in a weekend tournament but accomplished its mission in terms of exposure to tougher competition in an out-of-town setting.
The Panther baseball team (2-2) fell to North Springs, 4-1, on Friday (Feb. 14) and Allatoona, 8-2, on Saturday (Feb. 15), before beating Lithonia 5-2 on Saturday at the LakePoint complex in Emerson.
“It was such a wonderful experience for our kids,” coach Matt Bolt said. “We grew a lot as a baseball program. We grew a lot as a family … It was good to take those kids away from Jackson County and get them kind of out of their element.”
Jackson County’s win over Lithonia highlighted the Panthers’ tournament.
Kedrick Zimmer pitched a gem, allowing five hits and two runs (one earned). He walked just one batter and struck out six as the Panthers won in their finale at LakePoint.
“He threw really well,” Bolt said. “We’re early in the year and want to keep our kids on a pitch count and Zimmer was rolling. He was doing a great job, and he was pounding the zone.”
Zimmer, an ambidextrous pitcher, threw right handed Saturday for all seven innings as he continues to work on fundamentals from the left side.
The Panthers only committed one error behind Zimmer. Offensively, Jackson County broke open a 1-1 game with four runs in the bottom of the third inning. Bradley Pruiett delivered a two-run double during the inning.
“We played some good baseball and got a good win,” Bolt said.
The Panthers were limited to four hits in the loss to North Springs, a playoff team in Class AAAAA last year, to start the tournament on Friday.
“We went into (the) North Springs (game), and I felt like we completely went away from our approach offensively until late in the game,” Bolt said.
Jackson County had nine pop-outs in the loss. Bolt noted that his team also squandered late scoring opportunities.
Tyler Zipfel took the loss, throwing six innings, allowing six hits, four runs (all earned) and three walks while striking out two.
Jackson County’s Saturday loss to Allatoona came to a team that won 25 games last year and reached the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals.
The Panthers outhit Allatoona, 6-5, but the Buccaneers plated six runs in the third inning to take a 7-0 lead and distance themselves from the Panthers.
“They were chomping at the bit to play Allatoona,” Bolt said. “Allatoona is the No. 3 team in six-A right now. They were excited to play them. They knew it was a very tall task, but it was a good experience for us.”
Jackson County began the week with a 5-4 over Elbert County on Wednesday (Feb. 12).
Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Jackson County struck for three runs to take a 5-3 lead en route to the victory over the Blue Devils, who won 20 games last season and advanced to the Class AA Sweet 16.
Pruiett went 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI, while Ayden Griswold went 2-for-3. Nick Streuer (1-for-2), Logan Holycross (1-for-2) and Jonathan Steeb drove in one run each. Jackson County finished with 10 hits.
“We played really, really good against Elbert County,” Bolt said. “We stuck with our approach at the plate. We put pressure on the defense. We executed at a very, very high rate against Elbert.”
Jack Thomas came on in relief of Zimmer and threw two innings for the win, allowing a hit, a run and a walk while striking out two. Ben Wiley pitched two innings for the save, allowing an earned run and striking out one batter.
The Panthers will return to action Wednesday (Feb. 19) at Apalachee at 5:30 p.m. Games at Clarke Central (Feb. 24, 5:55 p.m.) and at home against Oconee County (Feb. 25, 5:55 p.m.) will follow.