Jets’ turbulent season ends with two-game skid to Patriots

PROVIDENCE GROVE 6, JORDAN-MATTHEWS 5

Posted 6/16/21

In the first game of the series last Tuesday, the Jets had a shot to win after scoring two runs in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 3-3, sending it into extra innings.

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Jets’ turbulent season ends with two-game skid to Patriots

PROVIDENCE GROVE 6, JORDAN-MATTHEWS 5

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Posted

SILER CITY — If there were a roller coaster based on the Jets’ 2020-21 season, it’d be one bumpy ride.

It went like this: a 3-1 start with 50 runs scored, followed by a four-game losing streak (outscored 40-8), then another 3-1 stretch before capping it off with a two-game skid.

The final game of the season was played last Wednesday, June 9, against Providence Grove, where the Jets lost, 6-5, in yet another one-run defeat to the Patriots.

And despite the up-and-down year, in the end, the Jets still had a shot at the playoffs.

Sitting at third in the PAC 7 2A Conference, Jordan-Matthews had a path to the postseason with second-place Providence Grove standing in its way for the final two games of the regular season.

Under the pandemic-amended postseason rules this year, each of the top two teams in the PAC 7 is given an automatic playoff bid.

With the Jets at 6-4 in the conference (6-6 overall) and the Patriots at 7-3 (8-4 overall), J-M needed to sweep Providence Grove to propel itself into second place — behind the unstoppable Randleman Tigers (12-0 in PAC 7) — and the playoffs.

In the first game of the series last Tuesday, the Jets had a shot to win after scoring two runs in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 3-3, sending it into extra innings.

But after a couple of scoreless frames for J-M, Providence Grove freshman Logan Fox stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and connected on a single for the Patriots’ biggest hit of the season, scoring sophomore Karson Bowman from third to walk it off and clinch the PAC 7’s no. 2 playoff spot.

It was a heart-wrenching moment for a Jets team which overcame mid-season struggles to position themselves for a playoff run.

“He gave me slider, I threw a slider and he hit a little blooper up the middle and scored a run,” senior Huston Causey, the Jets’ lead-off hitter and pitcher in Tuesday’s ninth inning, said. “It was rough.”

With both of the PAC 7’s automatic bids filled and only two wild card spots up for grabs in the 2A East region, Fox’s walk-off single eliminated the Jets from postseason contention, setting up a game the following day with very little — if anything — on the line.

“It’s been a frustrating week … and it’s hard to get your guys up after (last night’s game) to play a full game that doesn’t mean anything,” John Headen, J-M’s head baseball coach, said after Wednesday’s game. “This is a hard week of a pill to swallow … but man, that’s baseball, that’s what you want the season to be about. You want your last game to be playing for the playoffs and we were there.”

Despite the heartbreaker the night before, the Jets didn’t let the weight of losing a shot at the postseason cloud their ability to play hard in their season finale.

It didn’t take long for J-M to get on the board.

All four of the Jets’ opening batters in the bottom of the first inning reached base — a single by Causey, a walk by freshman Ian McMillan, an error that allowed senior Carson Rickman to get on and another single by junior Carson Whitehead.

During Rickman’s at-bat, a passed ball allowed Causey to score — after having already stolen third base earlier in the at-bat — to make it 1-0.

Then, Rickman — the Jets’ 2020-21 Offensive Player of the Year — got to first after Patriots senior third baseman Nathan Humble whizzed a ground ball over the head of sophomore first baseman Lemuel Coltrane, allowing McMillan to score and giving J-M an early 2-0 advantage.

A sacrifice fly later in the inning by sophomore Conner Martin put the Jets up 3-0.

The lead wouldn’t last long, though.

J-M had its worst defensive inning in the top of the second, primarily thanks to three errors, two of which led to a couple of Patriots runs.

Much like the Jets in the previous inning, the first six Patriots reached base on positive plays in the second, including four singles, two errors and a walk. The final error of the inning came on what should have been a routine fly ball to center field, but Causey misjudged it and dropped the ball, scoring another Providence Grove run with two runners on base.

J-M senior Cody Spohn made a beautiful diving catch in left field during the following at-bat, saving an even larger explosion, but the damage was already done: the Patriots had scored five runs in the second, making it 5-3 and vaporizing the Jets’ three-run lead.

“For all of the boots we’ve made, we’ve also made ESPN-type (defensive) plays too,” Headen said. “Last night we almost turned a triple play … but their emotions, their energy was up. These young kids have got to learn how to have that energy when they walk on the field, not after (a big) play.”

By the time the fifth inning rolled around, the Jets trailed 6-4 and had cleaned up most of their defensive sloppiness.

After Whitehead walked to lead-off the inning, J-M sophomore Jackson Headen reached base on what would have been a fielder’s choice, but the ball — intended to tag out Whitehead — sailed past second base, allowing Whitehead to get all the way home.

Headen, however, tried to get from first to third after the defensive miscue, but was tagged out fairly easily, wiping out a potential runner in scoring position for the Jets, who were now within one run, 6-5, with just one out.

Aside from a walk later in the inning and an error in the sixth, the Jets wouldn’t reach base for the rest of the night. They were held hitless after the fourth inning and for the second straight game, they fell to the Patriots by a single run.

J-M finishes the season with a 6-8 overall record (6-6 in the PAC 7), with most of its losses to formidable opponents, including four defeats to Randleman and Providence Grove alone.

Though they’ll lose a couple of important seniors — Causey, Rickman and Spohn, to name a few — the Jets have a nice, young nucleus to build around in the future.

One of those young pieces is freshman pitcher Kelton Fuquay, who started the game for the Jets and had a fairly successful outing, allowing four hits and two earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched. If he can become more consistent, Headen said, he’s likely to play a major role in the Jets’ success down the line.

“He’s done great, he goes to Trinity and can’t get out of the first inning, then he comes out here and we can’t get him out of the innings because our defense ran his pitch count up,” Headen said. “It’s nice to see him come out and pound the zone, get some outs and have a quick (first) inning, but I wish we could have kept that going for him and him have a really long, nice outing.”

Others include McMillan, Martin, Whitehead and Headen, each of which will benefit from a longer, more in-depth offseason after playing in their first varsity season this year.

Through camps, workouts and summer competition, Headen plans to have his team ready for next spring with their sights set toward the postseason.

“Our pitching will continue to develop and we’re going to have to fill a hole or two on the infield and outfield, but they’re going to mature,” Headen said. “And our bats are going to mature drastically … these guys are going to grow a lot.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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