The Jackson High School baseball team finished the 2016 season with a bitter taste in its mouth. The Polar Bears were 29-0 last May before a 3-2 upset loss to Stow in regional semifinal play ended dreams of a perfect season and the second state title in program history. Though disappointed, there's no sign of a hangover into the current campaign.

“We learn a lot from those situations, and what we really took away from (last year) is how humbling the game of baseball can be,” Jackson coach Bill Gamble said. “You have to make sure that you take advantage of every opportunity you get, and I think that's really the lesson we took from it. There's no carryover ad there's no unfinished business. That team graduated. That chemistry is gone. We've talked to this group of seniors, and it's their turn to leave their niche in the program and build on that tradition. For the most part we've been able to execute.”

The purple army enters Tuesday night's home game against Green (the first of back to back games against the 14-1 Bulldogs) with an 18-1 overall record, and that total includes a perfect 8-0 record in Federal League play. Jackson is currently the state's top ranked team in Division I.

The Polar Bears suffered their first loss of the season in last Friday's contest with Tallmadge, a 7-4 setback that was shortened to five innings because of rain. Jackson bounced back with a 7-1 triumph over Medina Highland at Akron's Canal Park on Sunday. Jackson also has non conference victories over St. Edward, St. Ignatius, Brunswick, Strongsville, Upper Arlington and Toledo St, Francis to its credit.

“There are so many moving parts this time of year,” Gamble admitted. “As the calendar moves from April to May, we're just trying to refine teaching points and emphasize some of the things I think we can do a lot better. On the mound I think we need to get better at throwing first pitch strikes, and our strikeout to walk ratio is not where it needs to be. Those are things we have to clean up. We've got two really important games with Green, and I'm sure those will help determine the outcome of our league. We've got a lot on our plate in front of us. We like to say that we want to make May matter.”

12 players graduated from Jackson's 2016 squad, and 10 of those athletes are now playing college baseball. Holdovers leading the way are catcher Dillon Dingler and pitcher Kyle Nicolas. Dingler is headed to Ohio State to continue his playing career, while Nicolas will pitch at Ball State. Cade and Jake Mottice are continuing the family tradition in the Polar Bear program, while Ben Warren and Nick Harrison are also senior class anchors. Younger players making solid contributions include a pair of sophomores, pitcher Yianni Skeriotis and second baseman Trey Wright. Freshman Josh Romans is the team's starting shortstop.

Jackson is the top seed in the Canton District, and the Polar Bears open tournament play next Friday against the winner of next Thursday contest between Dover and Wooster. Although they are clearly tournament favorites, Jackson isn't about to take any opponent for granted.

“One thing people outside our program don't see is how competitive our practices are,” Gamble said. “Things like that lead to a very competitive atmosphere, and we're able to carry that over into our games. We have long hard practices and a tough off season, and I think that's something that separates us.”



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