Jackson baseball coach Bill Gamble recalls the frustration that was a Division I sectional final loss to his alma mater, Perry, last season at home.
A few days later, he felt reinvigorated after speaking with his players.
“At the end of last year, we had an early exit from the tournament,” Gamble said. “We had some really good individual meetings after that and I could tell the guys were ready to get better. They were talking like ‘We are going to change this and we are going to do this.’ When you hear that type of ownership and passion, you like it.”
The talk carried over to the field this year as Jackson is in its first state semifinal game in program history after winning sectional, district and regional titles.
Jackson (25-5) will meet Cincinnati Moeller (24-4) at 1 p.m. today in a Division I state semifinal at Huntington Park in Columbus.
North Royalton (21-7) and Gahanna Lincoln (17-12) will start at 10 a.m. in the other semifinal. The Division I state championship will be at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“It has been crazy, honestly,” Jackson senior outfielder Jake Miller said. “It has been like a dream come true, especially since my dad [Kevin Miller] used to coach. My brother [sophomore pitcher Sam Miller] and I grew up in the dugout. We have seen a lot of really good players pass through who never got this opportunity to play in the final four and now we are fortunate to have the opportunity to play in the final four.”
Jackson reached the state tournament in 1947 under the old format, which featured eight teams and three rounds. The current format features four teams and two rounds.
Jackson’s opponent, Moeller, is the two-time defending Division I state champ and boasts two University of Kentucky recruits: shortstop Riley Mahan and pitcher Zach Logue.
Jackson has 14 seniors with big-game experience. Several Polar Bears won state youth championships in Columbus on 12-U and 13-U teams that carried the name the Jackson Jaguars or Jackson Bears.
“We always played for the Jackson teams since about 9 or 10 years old; that is what makes this even more special,” Jake Miller said.
Jake is batting .393 with 28 RBI and 24 runs. Sam is 7-0 pitching with an 0.89 ERA.
Senior Kyle Mottice is Jackson’s top hitter at .494 with 30 runs and 16 RBI.
“When we were younger, we knew we could be pretty good,” said Mottice, who came through with multiple clutch hits in regional wins over Mentor and Hudson. “We had high expectations entering this season with all these seniors and to be able to live up to those expectations is really awesome. We are having a lot of fun this year.”
Seniors Seth Vellucci (.358, 18 runs, 15 RBI) and Michael McCann (.324, 24 RBI, 14 runs) are also batting over .300. Senior Tim Turner is 7-0 pitching with a 1.08 ERA.
Turner (George Mason), A.J. Kloehn (Lafayette), Ryan Gusbar (Ashland) and Sam Williams (Eastern Kentucky) are seniors who have signed to play college baseball.
Mottice is being recruited by Wooster, Malone and Findlay for basketball and baseball.
Morehead State, Akron and Marshall are looking at him for baseball.
Seniors Jake Sima and Brennan Dingler also start in the field with sophomore Jake Pallotta and junior Jacob Kempt. Seniors Mitch Aman, Tyler Langenfeld, Beau Wiley, Zach Dickens contribute as reserves. McCann, Gusbar, Williams and juniors Zach Meese and Brent Solinger round out Jackson’s pitching staff.
“It is kind of hard to take everything in right now,” Vellucci said. “We are the first baseball team in Jackson history to make it to the state semifinals. … I think right now everyone is just living off the high of it and having so much fun in these tight games.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.