If the Jefferson baseball team is to reach the Elite Eight for the third time in seven seasons, it will have to go through the state’s best to do it.
In a marquee second-round pairing, the Dragons (23-8) — after two weather postponements — will face Class AAAA No. 1-ranked Marist on the road Wednesday (May 5) in a doubleheader starting at 4:30 p.m. A third game, if needed, is set for Thursday (May 6) at 5:30 p.m.
This is not the first meeting this season between the two Class AAAA powers. Jefferson, ranked No. 6 in Class AAAA, lost 2-1 to Marist on Feb. 25.
“We’ve seen them before,” Dragon coach Tommy Knight said. “They know us. We know them. It’s going to be a good series, and we’ve got to go there, so that’s to their advantage. I feel good about our guys. We’re in a good spot right now.”
The winner of this series faces either LaGrange or West Laurens in the Elite Eight. Jefferson last reached the quarterfinals in 2018 en route to a state title. The Dragons advanced to the Elite Eight in 2015 as well en route to a state finals appearance.
Jefferson, a No. 2 seed in the state-tournament bracket, is coming off a doubleheader sweep of Mt. Zion-Jonesboro, having overcome a sluggish start to race past the third-seeded Bulldogs.
The Dragons won 10-4 in Game 1, after trailing 3-2 in the fifth inning, and then breezed to a 13-3 Game 2 win in five innings. Knight said his team allowed too many baserunners in the opener.
“They’ve got three or four guys on that team that can absolutely swing it at the plate,” Knight said. “Then we weren’t around the plate enough, so we walked several of them and they got on. With the speed they’ve got, they created some things for themselves to their credit.”
Jase Peoples enjoyed another standout performance in what's been a breakout season for the Dragon freshman. Peoples homered twice in the doubleheader — including a Game 1 grand slam — and drove in a combined eight runs. He went 5-for-7 at the plate over the two games. Peoples also threw four innings for the win in Game 2, allowing three hits and two runs (both earned) with four strikeouts as the Dragons finished off the Bulldogs.
“He’s had some times when he’s looked like a senior,” Knight said of the ninth grader. “And (Wednesday), he really looked like a senior for us. He had a great doubleheader.”
Peoples helped spark Jefferson’s late-arriving offense in its Game 1 win. After the Dragons trailed 3-2 after the top of the fifth inning and stood tied 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth, Peoples hit a grand slam to highlight a game-breaking, seven-run sixth inning.
Peoples finished 2-for-3 with six RBIs in Game 1, while J.J. Rapp also produced a big performance, going 4-for-4 with three RBIs. Others with multi-hit games were Nick Sellers (2-for-3, RBI) and Matthew Perrin (2-for-4).
Rem Maxwell was the Game 1 starter on the mound, allowing two hits and two runs (neither earned) with seven strikeouts and four walks. Landon Richards earned the win, working the final three frames (two hits, two runs one earned, one walk).
The Dragons then opened Game 2 with six first-inning runs en rout to a run-rule victory. That included a two-run blast from Peoples, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
“That’s the way you want to start the next game after a close game,” Knight said. “The score didn’t reflect it, but it was a close game (in Game 1) … That puts the other team on their heels, and you’ve got all the momentum. In baseball, as with any other sport, momentum is everything. Once we got that first inning, you felt pretty comfortable.”
Richards went 3-for-3 with a triple and two RBIs RBIs, while Maxwell went 2-for-4 with two triples and three RBIs. Mason Cooper, Sellers and Matthew Perrin all went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Jefferson finished with 16 hits.
Knight said his Dragons are now excited to return to the Sweet 16 following a quick playoff exit in 2019 followed by no baseball postseason in 2020 due to COVID-19.
“When you don’t go deep the year before, like we’re used to doing, it’s almost like three years (away from the playoffs),” Knight said. “It’s been a little bit of a time in between, but hopefully we can go down to Marist and keep things rolling. I’d like to play as deep as we can this year.”