The Jackson Post 158 Senior American Legion baseball team played the role of appreciative host during Saturday's winners bracket final of the District 14 tournament at Legion Field.
"They made some errors. We just capitalized," Jackson's Cody Heisserer said.
Defending District 14 tournament champion Dunklin County Post 303 committed six errors, leading to six unearned runs as Jackson nabbed an 8-4 victory that vaulted Post 158 into today's championship round of the four-team, double-elimination event.
"We were fortunate. The game could have been different," said Jackson coach Mark Lewis, whose squad improved to 35-15.
The district tournament winner qualifies for the zone event and since Cape is already in as the host squad, if Post 63 captures the district title then the runner-up also qualifies.
"It's nice that we know we're already in the zone," Lewis said. "But that doesn't change our approach. We still want to play well and win the championship."
Jackson and Cape will square off at 4 p.m. today. Cape needs to beat Jackson twice in order claim the crown. A second title contest, if needed, would follow at about 7 p.m. today.
"We're in a good spot, but now we have to finish it off," Lewis said. "We have to come out and play. It's not going to be easy."
It wasn't easy Saturday against top-seeded Dunklin County (22-14), which jumped on Jackson ace Heisserer for a quick 2-0 lead on a two-run homer by Logan Carter in the bottom of the first inning.
"I just left a pitch up," Heisserer said. "I just had to shake it off."
Heisserer also had to shake off a brilliant defensive play that robbed him of a three-run homer in the top of the third inning.
Second-seeded Jackson already had scored an unearned run in the frame, thanks to two errors, to make it 2-1. Post 158 had two runners on with two outs when Heisserer hammered a ball to left field.
Dunklin County left fielder Dustin Spencer reached over the fence to catch what would have been a home run.
Heisserer gained a measure of revenge when he blistered a two-out, two-RBI double to highlight a three-run fifth inning that gave Jackson its first lead at 4-2. All three runs were unearned thanks to two more errors.
"I was just looking for a pitch to drive. I got a pitch down the middle," Heisserer said.
Post 158 never trailed again, although the A's pulled into a 4-4 tie on a two-out, two-run double by Zach Watkins in the bottom of the fifth.
Jackson took advantage of Dunklin County's final two errors in the sixth inning to score two runs without getting a hit.
Lane Thompson walked to load the bases. Trent Wills grounded into a fielder's choice RBI as James scored the go-ahead run. Harris also came home on a wild throw.
"We just made too many mistakes," Dunklin County coach Jamie Johnson said.
Jackson added insurance runs in the eighth and ninth innings, both earned. Wills had a sacrifice fly in the eighth and Caleb Rowald an RBI double in the ninth.
Rowald's biggest contribution was on the mound as he notched a save with four shutout innings after relieving Heisserer in the sixth.
"He threw really good," Heisserer said.
Rowald allowed four hits and no walks while striking out five. He escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh inning, getting a strikeout and fly out, to preserve a 6-4 lead.
"It was real tough, but I knew the guys would back me up if I threw strikes, and sure enough they did," Rowald said. "Coach trusts me, and I"m glad to be able to do it."
Heisserer allowed five hits and four runs in five innings to earn the win. He struck out eight and walked five.
"Cody spent a lot of energy," Lewis said. "Caleb came in and did a good job. He's been a good guy for us in middle relief and some starts."
Both teams had nine hits. Heisserer and Rowald led Jackson with two hits apiece. Carter and Jacob Trammell both had two hits for Dunklin County.
Jackson continued its strong defense with no errors after committing just one during Friday's opening-rund win over Cape.
"We've been playing good defense," Heisserer said. "We've been doing everything right."
Logan Blackburn was the tough-luck loser, allowing eight hits and one earned run in seven innings. He struck out two and walked two.