Jefferson coach Tommy Knight was curious to see how his team would perform in a Region 8-AA contest on the road during spring break.
As it turns out, the third-ranked Dragons weren’t fazed by the week off from school and began the second-half of their region schedule with a 7-3 win over Riverside Military on Tuesday at Kalterjohn Field in Gainesville.
“You always wonder how your guys are going to play, but we played well enough to win today,” Knight said. “And that gets us started off in the second round in a good way.”
The win for Jefferson (14-3, 8-0 Region 8-AA) completed a season sweep of Riverside Military, after the Dragons beat the Eagles 7-1 on March 11. The win marked Jefferson’s 11th straight overall victory, and kept the Dragons alone atop the region standings with just six games remaining.
“These guys have played since they were freshman and sophomores, so they are game tested and playoff tested,” said Knight, who led Jefferson to the second round of the Class AA state playoffs last season. “We feel pretty good with what we can do.”
Riverside Military, meanwhile, entered Tuesday night two games behind the current No. 4 seed, Union County.
The positive news for the Eagles, though, is they held their own against Jefferson on Tuesday night, taking advantage of some key mistakes to score three runs on a night when hits were hard to rack up against Jefferson pitcher Micah Carpenter.
The Eagles have six region games remaining, with four of those coming against teams with a losing record (Social Circle and Greene County).
Mathematically, the Eagles still have a chance at making the postseason, even with an upcoming 10-day leave for spring break and multiple injuries to key players this season.
“It’s been a rough year, it really has,” Riverside Military coach Mike Hutch said. “We’ve had injuries, some situations that have occurred with some of our cadets, but the kids are still playing hard.
“Jefferson is one of the better AA teams in the state, but we played with them. It’s there. We are tired, and we are ready for spring break. When we get back from spring break, we should be OK.”
After scoring three runs in the top of the first inning — using three hits, including a two-run double by Alex Gaba — and two more runs in the third inning to take a 5-0 lead, Jefferson relied on the arm of Carpenter to hold the Eagles in check.
Carpenter allowed only two unearned runs on four hits and struck out nine in five innings of work to earn the win on the hill.
After allowing leadoff singles to start both the third and fourth innings, Carpenter was able to bounce back to strike out the side in each frame.
He didn’t run into trouble until the fifth inning, when he walked Ben Herman and Ricky Jones on back-to-back at bats. After a meeting with Knight on the mound, Carpenter rebounded with a strikeout before giving up a single.
An error at third base on what should have been an inning-ending play allowed both Riverside runners to score.
“I was spotting up my fastball really well,” Carpenter said. “I kind of lost control in that last inning, but my slider was working really well for me.”
Jefferson immediately got the two runs back in the top of the sixth inning, when Carpenter walked to start the inning and Andy Nicolaus drove in his pinch runner with a double, his second of the night. Nicolaus scored later in the inning on a squeeze bunt from leadoff hitter Christian Hutch, the son of Riverside’s head coach.
Riverside tacked on one run in the bottom of the seventh, when Herman scored on another Jefferson error.
“I told our kids, ‘If you just put the ball in play, compete with them, make them play defense,’ you saw what happened,” Hutch said, referring to Jefferson’s errors that gave them extra opportunities at the plate and on base.
“We only had four hits but we had three runs. We started putting the ball in play and being a little more aggressive, and hopefully things will work out for us.”
Nicolaus was 2 for 3 with two doubles, a run scored and an RBI for Jefferson, while Jake Franklin was 2 for 4 with a run scored. Herman finished the night 1 for 1 with a pair of walks and two runs scored for Riverside.
Riverside Military faces Greene County in a doubleheader on Thursday, while Jefferson visits Washington-Wilkes.