COVINGTON - In just its second season, the Alcovy High baseball team matched its win total from a year ago Friday night with an 11-7 victory over Jackson County.
And it's only midway through the 2008 season.
Not only did the Tigers (4-9 overall, 3-6 Region 8-AAAA South) keep their playoff hopes alive, they managed to do so in convincing fashion by plating a school-record 11 runs, including seven during the first inning.
"We've made a lot of progress," said Alcovy coach Joe Mobley, "and we're going to be good down the road. We're still not there yet, though, but our future looks very bright."
Prior to the win over the Panthers (4-10, 3-9), the Tigers dropped four in a row after coming off back-to-back region victories over Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central.
But superb pitching by sophomore Taylor Jackson and a plethora of offense earned the Tigers their fourth win.
"Coach (Mobley) said if I did good then I'd probably get more starts," Jackson said, who pitched Friday against Loganville in middle relief action. "I think that helped him make the decision to start me today."
In his first start on the mound, Jackson (1-0) was sensational, throwing 50 pitches in five and one-third innings of work. He allowed two earned runs on six hits, striking out four compared to one walk.
"Taylor is very economical with his pitches," Mobley praised. "He doesn't throw a lot of balls; he throws a lot of strikes, and that's why I like to put him out there because he's around the plate. He's just a solid kid who goes out there and gives you a good day's work."
But the Tigers found themselves trailing early after a Matt Bolt RBI single put the Panthers up 1-0 in the first inning. However, Alcovy countered by plating seven runs on five hits and three walks in the bottom of the frame.
In fact, not only did the Tigers bat around, but each player either scored a run or drove in an RBI.
"That first inning was huge," Mobley said. "The ballgame ain't over 'til the ballgame's over. I don't know what we'd had done otherwise if we hadn't scored seven in the first, but it was a great way to start the ballgame."
Alcovy's Jimmy Ingram, Shaun Carter and Ellis Fanning each recorded RBI singles in the inning. Jackson added an RBI triple to deep center field to complete the onslaught.
On the receiving end of the torrid offensive display was Jackson County starting pitcher Matt Broom (1-3), who only lasted two-thirds of an inning. He also allowed six earned runs, helping Jackson relax somewhat in his first start.
"The score really (doesn't) matter to me when I'm on the mound," Jackson said, "but if it's close I like it better. Having good coaching makes me feel like I can put the ball in more places around the plate."
After two scoreless innings, the Tigers increased their lead to 10-1 in the bottom of the fourth thanks to a monster three-run homer to left by Carter.
"Yeah, it was a big shot," Carter, a sophomore, admitted regarding his second homer of the season.
The Panthers closed the gap in the top of the sixth with solo home runs by Taylor Kennedy and Bolt, making it 10-3 and forcing Jackson out of the game.
But Alcovy got one run back in the latter half of the inning after sophomore Bryan Daniel blasted an RBI single up the middle, scoring Drew Parker who had previously walked.
Jackson County made a run in the end, adding four more runs in the top of the seventh to make it interesting. Broom led the charge with a two-run blooper to left to keep hope alive, cutting it to 11-7.
With runners on first and second, Mobley opted to go with yet another sophomore, this time southpaw Beau Thomas. After Sean Johnson reached safely on a fielding error by Fanning, Rob Williams strolled to the plate representing the tying run.
But Thomas delivered to earn the save, forcing a ground out to Fanning at second base, atoning for his earlier boot and ending the threat.
"It's huge for these guys' confidence," Mobley said of his team's ability to hold on down the stretch. "We sweated a little bit, but that happens in Major League Baseball everyday. It happens in baseball anywhere you go - you've got to have people ready to go in the seventh inning. So, it was huge for us to hang on and win."
Carter finished the day with a game-high four RBIs, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Fanning led the Tigers with three singles in four plate appearances.
"The big thing about that three-run homer is you never know when you have enough runs in baseball," Mobley said, "and today was a prime example. You'd think an 11-3 lead would be enough going to the top of the seventh, but you never know."
Overall, the Tigers batted .345 (10-for-29) with seven base on balls. Meanwhile, the Panthers were 9-for-30 (.300) while drawing three walks.
Kennedy, Bolt, Williams and Mike Powell each recorded two hits apiece to lead the Panthers.
"We grew up a lot from last year," Carter said. "We would have lost this game last year."
Alcovy will next host Rockdale County at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.