One run can make all the difference. Good or bad.
The Jackson Indians didn’t win it all this year, but they did set the all-time program record for wins and finished third overall in the Class 6 State Tournament. It’s the best finish the Indians have ever achieved and their first trip to the State Final Four.
This season the Tribe not only broke the all-time wins record, they also shattered several individual single-season performance records during the historic campaign. It was a banner year on many levels, and ever though they didn’t bring home the ultimate prize, it was still a season to remember and everyone involved should be incredibly proud.
Jackson was cruising at light speed to close out the season, ripping off 17 consecutive victories, but they ran into a buzzsaw in the Francis Howell Vikings in the State Semifinals. Howell barely edged out the Indians 9-8 after a ferocious and inspired late-inning comeback, but the Tribe just couldn’t get over the hump.
Defense was an issue in this one, as Jackson committed four errors that led to four unearned runs, but the Indians gutted it out and showed their resolve. They actually started off on top in this one with a 2-0 lead in the first after Steven Schneider smacked a two-out, two-run single to right.
The Vikings would answer in the next inning though and tie the game up at 2-all. Then the wheels came off. Jackson allowed five runs in the fifth and then two more in the bottom of the sixth and found themselves suddenly trailing 9-2.
Things didn’t look good, but the Indians had plenty of fight left in them. In the final inning, down by seven runs, the first five batters all reached to start a massive rally. Cooper Rhodes had a two-RBI double and Caden Bogenpohl singled in another to cut the lead to 9-5. Then a bases-loaded error brought in two more runs to make it 9-7. Things were getting tight.
The lead was cut to one when Schneider stole third and came barreling around the bag on an errant throw to make it 9-8 with only one out. Unfortunately the Indians’ luck ran out and the next two batters flew out to end the game and a shot at the Championship.
That game didn’t end the Indians’ season though. The third place tilt was still looming, and it was a chance to get some revenge for Jackson. The Tribe was pitted against the Nixa Eagles, who had beaten the Indians back in April, sweeping both games of a double-header.
With third place on the line, Jackson looked to one of their aces in John-Paul Sauer to try and add one more huge win to their record-setting season. Suffice it to say, he came through in spades.
The Indians edged the Eagles 2-1 and Sauer was brilliant. He tossed a complete game, allowed just one run and only gave up four hits and a walk against six Ks. He didn’t need a lot of run support, but he got just enough with the offense coming through in the clutch.
Jackson took an early lead in the first on a Rhodes RBI-single, but that one run wouldn’t hold forever. Both pitchers went to work for the next six innings throwing up blanks. In the top of the seventh inning the Indians loaded the bases with one out and then used a little trickery with a suicide squeeze by speedster Grant Dotson. The run scored and Jackson had a huge insurance tally to make it a 2-0 game.
Nixa fought back in the bottom of the final frame, generating a run with two singles and a walk with just one out. But Sauer bared down and slammed the door with a strikeout and pop up to the catcher to close out the complete game victory.
It wasn’t the championship, but being the third best team in the state in Class 6 is truly an impressive accomplishment. Not to mention it’s the best finish in program history.
The Indians won 34 games this season. Thirty-four! And they played an incredibly tough schedule, so those 34 didn’t come gift-wrapped. Congratulations are in order for everyone involved with this magical season, players and coaches alike.
Special shoutouts to Baden Hackworth for breaking the single-season 2B and RBI records (16 & 51 respectively), Dotson for breaking the single-season stolen base record (41), Bogenpohl for breaking the single-season HR record (10) and eclipsing 100 strikeouts on the mound, and to Quinton Borders for breaking the single-season hits record with 48 bullets.
Congrats to Sauer as well for allowing just six earned runs all season for a minuscule 0.61 ERA and 0.53 WHIP. The dominant right-hander went 8-1 and gave out just eight free passes against 93 strikeouts in 67.2 innings.
It was a historic and fantastic and thrilling season for the Tribe, and despite losing a core crop of Seniors to graduation, this program seems primed to shine for years to come.
Congratulations to everyone Indian-related on a banner 2023 campaign.