Jackson County baseball coach Matt Bolt delivered a postgame speech to his victorious team Friday night. He’s confident it wasn’t a season-ending speech.
The Panthers beat Franklin County 3-2 in the second game of a doubleheader after taking one on the chin, 15-1, in the opener. The Panthers now enter what will at least be a two-week hiatus from play as Jackson County — and many other schools — are shutting down classes and extracurricular activities in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Bolt said he’s confident everything is being done to ensure more baseball will be played this spring.
“I 100 percent believe that we’ll be back on the field,” he said. “We’ve got to take a couple-week break, unfortunately. Maybe it will help our kids mentally come back a little bit stronger. But I told our kids when they come back, be ready to play some good baseball.”
Jackson County (5-9, 2-4 Region 8-AAA) made sure it entered into this break on a winning note after a lopsided loss to start Friday night.
The Panthers committed seven errors and managed just two hits in Game 1 as the Lions (8-6, 2-1 Region 8-AAA) handed them their most one-sided loss of the year. Jackson County drastically cleaned up the defensive effort in Game 2, playing error-free baseball, while starting pitcher Kedric Zimmer threw a complete-game, four-hit gem.
“When we do the things that we’re supposed to do, when we throw strikes, when we play really good defense, when we execute at the plate, we’re a pretty good baseball team,” Bolt said. “And that was my message to our guys.”
Zimmer allowed just one walk and struck out six batters in going the distance. Asked what was working for Zimmer, Bolt responded “everything.”
“He was able to mix his looks up, mix his pitches up,” Bolt said. “He threw four pitches for strikes. He was able to mix his timing up. He did really, really well tonight. This is one of his better performances that I’ve seen him have here in this program. He did a really good job, and we needed a win and he got it for us.”
Bolt pointed to the effect Zimmer has on the defense, too.
“It’s very evident that our defense is very confident in him when he’s on the bump,” Bolt said. “We play with a little more swagger when Ked is on the bump. He’s a heck of a baseball player, and we’re very glad that he’s on our team.”
Logan Holycross provided the big hit in Game 2, singling up the middle to score Grant Hardegree in the bottom of the sixth inning to break a 2-2 tie. Hardegree, who went 2-for-3, scored two of the team’s three runs.
Bolt praised Holycross for delivering in the clutch.
“One thing we’ve struggled with this year is having big hits with runners in scoring position … it was big for him to come in and produce something late in the ballgame and help us get that win,” he said.
Zimmer then retired the Lions in order, including striking out two batters, in the top of the seventh inning to end the game.
Zimmer out-dueled Miles Dodd, who surrendered five hits and three runs (two earned) in six innings.
Nick Streuer brought home the game’s first run off Dodd, grounding out in the bottom of the first inning to plate Hardegree. After the Lions took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning on a two-run double by Mike Miller, Hardegree scored in the bottom of the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly from Bradley Pruiett, tying the game.
Game 2 stood in stark contrast to Game 1, during which Franklin County scored 15 runs in four innings before the Panthers pushed across their lone score in the bottom of the fourth inning. The game ended after the fourth inning via run-rule.
With play suspended now, Region 8-AAA’s athletic directors will meet and discuss how region play may be tapered or modified to compensate for the lost time. Bolt said he’s not exactly sure what they will decide.
“I’ve just tried to be as transparent with our kids as possible and tried to explain to them how important wins are right now that could help us moving forward,” Bolt said. “Our full intentions are to play baseball and to come back ready to roll, and I hope our kids come back and expect to win baseball games because that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
In the interim, Bolt has encouraged his players to throw and hit on their own (coaches cannot direct any workouts or allow access to practice facilities) and remain active.
“We told them just to make sure they stay active,” he said. “Don’t be laying on the couch for two weeks. Get out and run, be a kid, have some fun and get your school work done.”