Southern Illinois University Edwardsville signee Aaron Jackson did it all for the Metro East Bears in their first game of the Great Lakes American Legion Baseball Regional.
Jackson notched the win as the starting pitcher and blasting a two-run homer on the way to a 4-1 victory over Rockport, Ind.
The game, which was supposed to take place Wednesday night at Gordon Moore Park, was played Thursday morning at GCS Stadium. Due to the schedule being pushed back, the Bears played Madison, Wis. at 10 p.m. Thursday, after the BND print deadline.
Depending on the outcome of that game, Metro East plays again at either 4 or 7 p.m. Friday. Check www.bnd.com Friday morning for results.
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Jackson, who has not taken a loss this season as a starting pitcher, threw the full nine innings, giving up his single earned run in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Rockport's Kolton Keown. On his way to victory, Jackson struck out eight, while giving up seven hits.
"This is what we've seen from him (Jackson) all year," Bears manager Ken Schaake said. "As long as he keeps the ball down — where he gets in trouble — is when he gets it up a little bit. He was living down below the waist, as opposed to up above the waist."
Jackson also provided the Bears' key hit of the game. After shortstop Jordan Hovey walked in the bottom of the fifth, Jackson sent a home run over the left field fence to give Metro East a 4-1 lead.
Jackson, who expects to play primarily third base in college, said winning the game meant a lot to him.
"I love hittting home runs, but I also knew this could be my last game pitching," Jackson said. "I didn't expect it to be, but with college coming up I thought about it this morning, that it could be my last time pitching on the mound. It's one of my favorite things to do; I just love being in control of the game and doing what I want."
Jackson was able to keep Rockport off the board for much of the game thanks in part to his ability to get a first-pitch strike. Jackson said mixing in his offspeed pitches was critical to his success.
"I was throwing my curve, which has been my best pitch all my life for me, but I throw my slider a lot today, and that was working," Jackson said. "(The slider) caused a ton of rollovers to third and short, and I also got a lot of swing and misses on it."
Schaake said seeing Jackson use the slider and curveball is nothing new to him; it is just the way Jackson throws.
"Aaron's a backwards pitcher, if you will," Schaake said. "Most pitchers lead with their fastball, and Aaron told us at the very beginning, 'I feel just as comfortable throwing my breaking pitches if it's 3-0, 3-1 or I'm pitching from behind.' This team would've definitely been a fastball hitting team, but he had them off balance with the off speed pitches and spotted the fastball when he needed to."
Helping Jackson hold Rockport to two runs was a strong performance by the Metro East defense, most notably a putout by centerfielder Matt Zielonko in the eighth inning with Rockport rallying.
"I was really hoping that ball would get through the infield so I would have a chance," Zielonko said. "You sit out there all game waiting to throw someone out there like that. You just get a good throw and keep it low."
Schaake said the Zielonko's throw was important to the Bears' victory, and he was surprised by his centerfielder's play.
"I wouldn't have given him (Zielonko) much of a chance when we got the ball with where the runner was, but he had a very strong throw right on the line, one hop, and (Nick) Paulda put the tag on," Schaake said. "That was huge; you can't say anymore about that."
With a win in their first game of the regional, the Bears do not have to deal with the same pressure they put on themselves in the state tournament, where they lost the first game of the tourney and had to come back through the losers' bracket.
"You're always kind of in a fight mode, but you're more in survival mode when you've lost the first game. It's a huge difference," Jackson said.