JACKSON -- Not only did the Jackson American Legion baseball team complete its 2021 regular season with a perfect record, but it was done with several inexperienced players.
Summer sports is such that teen-age ballplayers come and go. Some have jobs, others focus instead on preparing for the football season, and still others go missing on vacation. So Jackson head coach Blaise Jacobsen did what he needed to do to fill his roster.
“We had to put in some kids and try some kids out. It just happened to be a really good combination of younger kids and older kids,” Jacobsen said.
Now in the middle of the Sub-District 2B tournament, Jackson earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of an 8-0 regular season. Other teams may have played more games, but Jacobsen said some of the team’s wins have come against tough opponents.
The double-elimination tournament began on Thursday. Jackson and second-seeded Springfield received first-round byes. On Friday (June 9) at 1 p.m., the Jackson club was due to play the winner of Thursday’s game between fourth-seeded Windom and fifth-seeded Mountain Lake in Springfield.
On Thursday morning, Jacobsen said he was hoping to stay in the winner’s bracket so his squad could face Springfield in the 8 p.m. Saturday championship game in Springfield.
“They’re excited,” he said of his players. “We know we’re probably not the real No. 1 seed. We know Springfield’s pretty good.”
Springfield has enjoyed a history of exceptional teen-age baseball teams, including very recently. The high school team competed in the Minnesota state Class A tournament last month and came away with a third-place trophy. Jacobsen doesn’t know much about Springfield’s Legion team because his team hasn’t yet played it this summer, but he knows the town has many good teen athletes.
Still, Jacobsen likes what he’s got for the playoffs.
Pitching is a strength. “We put a lot of pressure on the hitters,” said the coach. “We’ve had pitchers doing double-digit strikeouts. And we had one who struck out 15 in one game.”
That would be Jacobsen’s son Gavin, who also plays on the Jackson amateur team along with his dad. A southpaw, Gavin is planning to play baseball at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato next year, and he throws in the mid- to low-80s. He uses a variety of arm slots, too, and is deceptive in his timing.
“The classic crafty lefty,” said Blaise. “Nobody really squares him up and hits him hard.”
Another strong pitching option is Trace Michelson, a big body who throws straight over the top and has a split-finger fastball in his repertoire.
The Jacksonians swing good bats and have good speed. They like to take extra bases.
“We’re a pest on the bases and we find our way on base all through the order,” said the coach.
Leadoff hitter Damien Phaly is a speedster who also plays a very good second base. Payton Handevidt is a fine all-around athlete who covers a lot of ground in center-field. Catcher Mason Pohlman is strong on defense, making Jackson a difficult team to steal on.
The top two teams from the sub-district tourney will advance to the District 2B tournament, set to begin July 15 in Wabasso.