SILER CITY — With every passing inning last Thursday, hit after hit, Jordan-Matthews continued to put cracks into Eastern Randolph’s foundation, one that had been sturdily constructed the day …
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SILER CITY — With every passing inning last Thursday, hit after hit, Jordan-Matthews continued to put cracks into Eastern Randolph’s foundation, one that had been sturdily constructed the day before.
As the damage multiplied and the cracks grew wider, a Wildcats’ collapse was imminent.
In the sixth, the inevitable happened: Eastern Randolph went from a well-built structure to a massive pile of rubble as the Jets collected four hits to break the game wide open late in the contest with the Wildcats, taking home an 11-1 mercy-rule win in just six innings.
A day before, J-M suffered its first loss of the year to the Wildcats, 4-3, in a game dampened by rainy weather. It was the only contest so far where the Jets didn’t score double-digit runs.
“We had a rough night last night,” said John Headen, head coach of the Jets, after Thursday’s game. “We had a game where anything and everything that could go wrong did, from rain delays and the breaks in the field and the calls in the field. Everything went in the opposite direction. And tonight, it seemed like a balanced field out there for us to be in.”
For Jordan-Matthews — a team which won its first two games of the season against T.W. Andrews by a combined 30 runs — Thursday night gave them a chance at redemption, a shot at proving those season-opening games weren’t flukes. It had no issues there.
Moving into the bottom of the sixth inning nursing a 5-1 lead, the Jets had insurance on their minds, striving to score a run or two to make it more difficult for Eastern Randolph to win or tie with just one half-inning left to bat.
By the time J-M was finished batting, however, there wouldn’t be a need for a seventh inning.
Eastern Randolph junior relief pitcher Cameron Moffitt walked two of the first three batters of the inning — freshman Kelton Fuquay and sophomore Sean Wagoner — then a bunt single by senior Huston Causey loaded the bases with just one out. Moffitt walked in a run during the next at-bat, making it 6-1 and keeping the bases loaded.
That was just the beginning.
When freshman Ian McMillan got to the plate, he found the pitch he wanted and ripped it toward center field, hitting the bottom of the wall and falling a foot or so short from becoming a grand slam. Instead, the hit held almost as much weight, resulting in a three-RBI double that gave J-M a 9-1 lead. It was all but over.
“I think we had a little chip on our shoulder coming into this game,” Causey said after the win. “We had to take care of business and do our thing.”
After a single by junior Carson Whitehead that also advanced McMillan to third, a dropped third strike resulted in senior Cody Spohn barely beating out a throw to first, allowing McMillan to sneak in from third to score, making it 10-1.
Then, on a single by sophomore Jackson Headen, an error occurred on the throw in the infield, which let Whitehead score to grab a 10-run lead, walking it off by virtue of the mercy rule. Jets win.
“The only thing this team lacks is the guns that stand up there and throw 90 miles per hour,” Headen said. “We feel like we can hit. … We feel like we can compete with most of the pitching we’re going to see right now.”
Aside from J-M’s first matchup against the Wildcats, its offense has been on a tear so far this season, scoring 50 runs in only four games. On Thursday, the Jets had a baserunner in every inning, even in those where they didn’t get a hit or score a run. They continued to give themselves opportunities.
In the second inning, for example, J-M led off with four straight singles that resulted in an early 3-0 lead, rattling Wildcats’ starting pitcher, junior Brody Gardner (3.0 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K). In total, J-M had 11 hits on the night to go along with five walks and a couple of batters that reached on errors, combining for 18 baserunners and 18 scoring opportunities.
And while the Jets don’t have pitchers who throw 90 mile-per-hour fastballs, they do have a couple of young, serviceable arms that keep opponents off the board.
Fuquay (3.1 IP, 4 H, ER, BB) and McMillan (2.2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, BB, 4 K) worked in tandem to limit the Wildcats offensively.
In the fourth, Fuquay began to struggle as Eastern Randolph collected back-to-back-to-back hits, the final of which resulted in the Wildcats’ only run of the game. This is when Headen made a pitching change, allowing McMillan to grab the last two outs without much trouble and stifling the last real chance they had at a multi-run inning.
Age is just a number
Jordan-Matthews is an incredibly youthful team, boasting plenty of underclassmen who play crucial roles on both sides of the ball, including 11 freshman and sophomores, six of whom swung a bat for them on Thursday.
Though the roster sports five seniors, after losing nearly an entire season of experience last year — all but five games — due to the pandemic, Headen says it feels like they’re still juniors who have been thrust into the role of being senior leaders.
“For the first time, I have a group of seniors that I haven’t had a whole season with,” Headen said. “But they’re really coming together and they’re great teammates that genuinely like each other and that’s made this a lot easier.”
The Jets (3-1) may have been tested very few times so far during this young season, but they’ll face their first true obstacle in a two-game series with unbeaten Randleman on Tuesday and Thursday this week. The Tigers have allowed just four runs this year in as many games.
“We’ll just see how it shakes out on Tuesday,” Headen said. “We just try to do the same thing (to prepare) every time, that’s us. We worry about ourselves, not anyone else outside of our dugout.”
“We’re excited,” added Causey. “We’re ready.”