Sure, the Jackson County baseball team is going after early-season victories. But it’s also using these February games to cultivate depth the rest of the way.
The Panthers are off to a 2-2 start after splitting doubleheaders with West Hall (Wednesday, Feb. 17) and Bethlethem Christian (Friday, Feb. 19).
“In a perfect world, we’re 4-0 right now,” third-year Jackson County coach Matt Bolt said. “That’s obviously want we want, but this (past) week there were a lot of opportunities to try to build depth.”
Bolt noted that 18 Panthers played in a five-inning contest in Game 2 against Bethlehem Christian.
“We’re just trying to maximize the amount of guys that we get out there right now, so from that standpoint, it was pretty good,” the coach said of the opening stretch.
Meanwhile, Jackson County’s starting pitching rotation of Derek Vaughn, Kedric Zimmer and Bryson Evans has been stellar. The trio has a combined ERA of 0.00 through four games.
But the Panthers are trying to develop more arms in the early going.
“Again, we spent this (past) week trying to find depth,” Bolt said. “We’ve got five or six guys we can trust to go out there and throw strikes and compete and get the job done, and we’re just trying to add on to that.”
In the Panthers’ Game 1 win over West Hall, Vaughn threw four shutout innings, allowing three hits while striking out four in a 6-2 Jackson County win. The Panthers picked up the four-run win despite being limited to two hits. Sam Bradley went 1-for-2 with an RBI. Nick Streuer did not have a hit, but drove in two runs. Evans worked the final three innings after reliever Phillip Glander was pulled, holding the Spartans scoreless and hitless while striking out five.
In the night cap against the Spartans, West Hall pitching combined for a two-hit, 2-0 shutout of the Panthers. Jackson County starting pitcher Hayden Gregory allowed just two runs in a four-inning start, surrendering five hits and striking out five in the loss.
“We played really good defense, we pitched well, but we didn’t execute from an offensive stand point,” Bolt said.
Jackson County opened Friday’s doubleheader with Bethlehem Christian with a 6-4 win. Zimmer tossed four innings, allowing two runs — neither of which were earned. He struck out five batters.
Bradley, a freshman who is hitting nearly. 500, went 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Jace Grounds went 2-for-3 and drove in two runs. Streuer went 3-for-4.
The Panthers lost the nightcap 6-5. Evans threw three shutout innings, but Jackson County’s bullpen surrendered six runs over the final four frames. Bradley went 1-for-2 with two RBIs, leading the Panthers at the plate.
Jackson County now faces one of its biggest weeks of non-region play. The Panthers were slated to host Class AAA No. 7-ranked Oconee County Tuesday (Feb. 23). Jackson County will play Class AAA No. 4-ranked Cherokee Bluff Wednesday (Feb. 24, 5:55 p.m.) at home, followed by a road doubleheader with Stephens County Saturday (Feb. 27, noon and 2:30 p.m.).
“We’re excited for the opportunity,” Bolt said. “Again, we’re establishing depth right now, but anytime you get to go against quality opponents of Oconee County, Cherokee Bluff and Stephens County, it’ going to be a lot of baseball, but a lot of fun baseball.”