JHHS closes baseball season strong

Jonesboro-Hodge closed the baseball season by beating Class 4A Wossman 10-7 and 15-0 before mauling Mansfield 26-9 in a district 3-2A contest to improve their season record to 6-12 overall. Impressed? You should be! What is so special about winning only a third of the games on the schedule? Glad you asked as the effort portrayed by the Tigers this season deserves acknowledgment.
An old adage says that a coach or a team shouldn’t be considered a winner or loser by the record compiled in a season but rather by how good they were at the beginning of the year compared to the end. That is why even though the Tigers had a losing record and didn’t qualify for the postseason what first-year head coach Zach Cheatwood, assistant Carlos Hicks and the team have accomplished has to be considered a winning effort.
To fully understand how far JHHS has come this year you have to go back to before the season even started. Coming off back-to-back, four-win seasons, the Tiger’s hopes got dealt a serious blow. Before they even had their first practice it was learned that they would be forced to compete without their best hitter and pitcher from a year ago. One was lost due to transferring to another school and the other because of an injury suffered during the football season.
Adding to the uncertainty was that JHHS would be sporting a new head coach for the fourth year in a row and most of the players were not only young but had never stepped on the field in varsity competition before.
The start of the season was predictable. In the first four games, JHHS lost by scores of 14-1, 17-0, 19-2, and 13-3, not once playing more than five innings before being “ten run ruled”. Undaunted, the coaching staff and mostly never before tested Tigers kept working.
In game five the Tigers played for five innings again but in this one a breakthrough was felt as the 11-1 victory over Arcadia, marked the earliest JHHS had won a game since 2018. It looked like the Tigers had turned a major corner as even though JHHS lost their next game 13-9, it was a competitive battle and they followed that up with an 11-5 victory over Lakeview. The work was starting to pay off, especially at the plate, as the run total in each game was way more than the total of the first four games combined.
Then disaster struck. In the contest against Castor, two of their infielders collided hustling after a ball, severely depleting the already razor-thin roster. The result was four straight losses as Cheatwood frantically attempted to plug the holes. Players were now forced to man positions they had never lined up at before. Instead of folding the tent though, the Tigers continued to work daily to better their skills.
This led to another milestone achieved by Cheatwood and crew. Again, Lakeview was the opponent and again, JHHS came out on top. The difference was this time it was a District 3-2A battle, breaking a twelve-game district competition losing streak. District leaders Winnfield and Many were next and as expected JHHS came out on the short end but in keeping with the theme of being resilient and overcomers this year, the Tigers once again achieved something that hasn’t been done in a long time.
By beating Wossman in the doubleheader, JHHS won two games on the same day for the first time since the 2017 season. It also gave the Tigers more victories in a season since 2018. Not only did the Tigers win but the growth of the team was fully evidenced. Before the sweep, Ajay Tew had been the only Tiger hurler to record a victory. All season Cheatwood had been working to develop more “arms”, but until Tuesday the effort had been futile. Having pitched in only four innings combined prior, Trey Trosclair and Marquis Baker both recorded their first-ever victories on the hill, with Baker firing the first no-hitter of his young career. The 15 runs put up by the Tigers also set a new “high-water” mark for runs scored in a game this year. That is until the final game of the year.
Talk about going out in style! On the heels of scoring a season-best in runs, JHHS exploded for 26 runs to beat Mansfield in the district 3-2A and regular-season finale. By pounding out 13 hits and being the recipient of 12 walks and 6 errors, the Tigers scored in every inning, including 10 in the top of the fourth inning that blew the contest open.
Duke Tew had the best game of his brief career by smashing a pair of doubles driving in four runs and scoring three. Waylon Evans also came up big by going 3 for 4 with three RBI, 3 stolen bases and 4 runs scored. Trey Trosclair also scored four runs and stole two bases while Dakota Knox got two hits, scored 2 runs, stole 3 bases, and knocked in four. Also contributing was Peter Ulloa with a triple, two runs scored and 2 RBI, and Maquis Baker, who scored four runs, stole three bases, and knocked one in. Ajay Tew also slapped a double and picked up the win on the mound. 

With the three wins in the final week of the season, the Tigers have climbed to #28 in the final Division IV rankings. As it stands, the only way JHHS would make the playoffs is if two teams above them are not able to go to the postseason for one reason or the other. 

Judge the JHHS season how you will. If you want to be critical and look only at the 6-12 record and that they may not qualify for the playoffs, that is your right. Rest assured though, those that witnessed the drastic improvement achieved from the beginning of the season to the end will tell you that the 2023 edition of Tigers are winners.

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