With Jefferson’s all-time leading hitter in the house, perhaps it was fitting that the Dragons dialed up some offense.
Fueled by an eight-run third inning, Jefferson beat Class AAAA No. 1-ranked North Oconee 12-7, Friday (April 9) at home on a night when the Dragons retired the jersey of Jake Fields — a .561 career hitter for Jefferson from 2007-2010.
The Dragons (18-7, 12-3 Region 8-AAAA) scored 11 of their 12 runs with two outs as they took the series with the region-leading Titans, 2-1.
Holding a 2-1 lead in the third inning with two outs, the Dragons combined four hits with three walks and a hit batsman to plate eight runs. Mason Cooper capped the big inning with a three-run blast over the left field wall to put Jefferson up 10-1. Cooper finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs.
"That's what you talk about in practice — two-out hitting makes the difference in ball games," Jefferson coach Tommy Knight said. "I'm proud of our guys, the way they get up there and fight and scrap. A lot of them were with two strikes, too. Two outs and two strikes, and they end up getting a hit."
The third inning included an RBI double from Jase Peoples, an RBI single from Bowman Horn and a two-run single from J.J. Rapp.
Prior to the explosive inning, Jefferson got a two-out RBI single from Cooper in the first inning and an RBI double from Jake Walker in the second inning.
The Dragons would need a good portion of the padding from that 10-1 lead as North Oconee answered with five runs in the top of the fourth inning. Jefferson tacked on two more two-out runs in the bottom half of the inning to take a 12-6 lead.
For the second time in the series, the Dragons called on Peoples — a freshman — for a long relief outing. And once again Peoples held off the Titans, pitching the final three innings, allowing two hits while striking out six in closing out the game. No runs were charged to Peoples. The young Dragon fanned North Oconee star Bubba Chandler to end the contest.
"That's the second time he's done that," Knight said of Peoples' quality relief appearance. "His stuff is good. If he's around the plate, his stuff is good. That's twice he's done that during this week."
Coleman Watkins, who earned the win, started on the mound and lasted until the fourth inning when he was pulled for Rapp with the Dragons ahead 10-1. Rapp was then pulled for Peoples in the fifth when North Oconee put runners at first and second and no outs and the Dragons leading 12-6.
With the win, Jefferson atoned for a 12-4 loss to North Oconee Wednesday (April 7) and earned a big series win.
"After the big loss on Wednesday, we just talked about (how) you've got to go out there and believe in yourself and you've got to compete every at-bat, every out, every strike," Knight said. "I think we're as good as anybody around. They're very good, and I think we can play with them. We can play with anybody we play."
The night began with Fields’ No. 16 jersey being unveiled on the right field wall alongside the retired jersey of Chris Beck, who pitched in the MLB for four seasons and was in attendance Friday for the occasion.
In addition to numerous career records — including his .561 batting average (also a state record) — Fields holds Jefferson single-season school records for batting average (.628) and home runs (18).
"Jake Fields is one of my favorite players I've ever had," Knight said. "Not only one of the best ball players we've ever had, but one of the best kids we've ever had."
Knight made sure Fields was unaware he was being honored for his prolific career when he arrived at the ballpark. The coach said Fields was a player always reluctant to have his accomplishments highlighted.
"It's fun to see him enjoy that moment, even though he didn't like it," Knight said. "He looked at me right when he realized what was going on and said 'If I had realized what you were doing, I would't have come.' I said, 'I know. That's why we didn't tell you.'"
Jefferson is now off until Thursday (April 15) when it travels to Woodward Academy for a non-region game. Knight said the rest will be beneficial.
"That's two tough series in a row with Flowery Branch and with North Oconee," he said. " ... We were looking at that (region) bye week thinking that's a good thing we've got that bye week where we can rest up and get some people healthy hopefully and start that last region series in a little better spot than we are health-wise right now."
Jefferson plays East Hall in a three-game series during the final week of the regular season.